13 Foundation Grant Writing Tips for Nonprofits

Finding the right foundation to write a grant for is confusing, especially if the organization has no prior relationships to build on. Some foundations have open RFIs (Request for Information), open LOIs (Letter of Inquiry), RFPs (Request for Proposal) and others have open calls for applications around a campaign. The Knight Foundation, for example, has open LOIs and open applications around journalism (https://knightfoundation.org/apply/). 

Many nonprofits only make grants by invite-only, these are the ones that require relationships and introductions to get to an application. There are different strategies to getting in the door but no matter what a grant will need to be written. 

Here are 13 tips for writing a grant proposal:

  1. Keep the narrative on how the world or community will be different as a result of the work.
  2. Keep the narrative clear and to the point. If you find yourself copying and pasting from your website, realize that you might be diluting the core narrative. 
  3. Make a good match between what you think you need and what you are asking for. Make sure you’re not dead on arrival by pretending you’re something you’re not. 
  4. Be very clear about how much is being asked for, over how many years, and what it will be used for? 
  5. What makes the organization unique? What makes them different from their competition? Who else is working on this issue or these issues? 
  6. Include data that supports your claims about the program’s impact and outcomes or about its effectiveness in delivering services to people, places, or animals in need of them – use data whenever possible to convince funders that your organization is having an impact through their funding support 
  7. Be sure all of your plans are doable given the resources (money) available – if applicants fail to consider this at the beginning of their planning process they may find themselves unable to proceed with implementation when funding arrives (https://www2.guidestar.org/organizations/9-646-5872/nonprofit-grant-writing-tips)
  8. Be sure to include a clear sense of urgency in the proposal. Answer the question “Why now?”
  9. Make a convincing case for why your organization deserves funding and how you will use it effectively. Is there case study you can point to? 
  10.  Include financial information that makes sense for the foundation or foundation program in question – never send financials that are not requested. 
  11.  Include data about your organization’s effectiveness and impact (for example, if you run an animal shelter, provide statistics on how many animals have been adopted as well as any other data points, such as increased volunteering)
  12.  Explain how success and impact are measured. Note the methodology and what research your measurement assumptions are based on. If the grant is awarded, the foundation will depend on this kind of data reporting to tell the story of their impact to their funders. Check out our upcoming course on program evaluation.
  13.  Be sure to sum up all of these elements in a strong closing statement that leaves the reader with no doubt that the project will succeed and then conclude by thanking them for their attention and consideration of this grant proposal

Once the grant is written, it is sent to the foundation. The foundation will then decide if they want to move forward with the grant. If they do, they may send a letter of intent. This is a letter that says they are interested in the grant and want to move forward with a full application.  

Most grants are rejected but don’t let that be the end of the relationship. Try to use the moment to have a conversation with a contact at the foundation to see how you might improve future grant applications. If you can build a good relationship, and they believe in your work, they will most likely want to fund your organization in the future. They may also be able to make introductions to other foundations that fund similar areas.

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