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Successful Grant Seeker Strategies for Organizations and Individuals.


The author of this guide has secured over $800,000 in grants for organizations and Individuals. The guide lays out clear concise steps and successful strategies for successfully obtaining grant money from governmental and private sources. The guide was developed with organizations in mind but many of the same principals listed in this guide apply to the individual also.  So whether you are an organization, business or individual seeking grant money, you should read this guide in it’s entirety to increase your chances of obtaining grant money.

Getting Started

If you are thinking of a potential grant idea, the best way to start is to jot some ideas down.  Your ideas need not be very formal, and you may change them as they develop.  What kind of research would you like to do?  What kind of program would you like to administrate?  What kind of creative activity would you like to undertake?  You can talk to us about your ideas as well. 


Once you have something on paper, you can begin to expand upon your thoughts. Answer some of the questions below in writing.  Don’t let any question slow you down.  If you do not have an answer yet, that is ok, you can find one later. Make sure you ask the following questions:

Why – Why should your project be undertaken?  What problem are you going to solve?  What new level of excellence will you achieve?  Who will be better served by your program? –or- How will the research contribute to scholarship in your area? –or-   How will the artistic community benefit from your work? 

Causes – If you are solving a problem, what caused that problem?  Why has it not been solved already?  Why has the excellence you seek not been achieved before?  What are the obstacles to conducting the research, creating the program, performing the creative activity?  Why have they not been overcome by others? 

What – What measurable and objective outcomes do you want to accomplish?  At what point could you evaluate your program a success?  What will you need to know for your research to be complete (for the time being)?  What level of production or exhibition are you seeking in your creative work? 

How – How do you propose to achieve those objectives, overcome those obstacles?  What specifically will you do?

As you undertake this initial thinking-through process, do not be concerned if your ideas change.  You may start by thinking that you need computers to do X; and you may decide that in order to achieve your goals, you really need a part-time lab assistant to do Y instead. 








Identify and Develop a Project that Supports your Organization’s Core Mission


Although ideas for projects usually abound in non-profit organizations, proposal writers can try to generate fresh ideas by reading newspapers, journals or newsletters related to your organization’s mission and talking to colleagues about what topics seem to be getting the most attention in your field. Try to find a unique approach to solving a problem or combination of problems. If the funder receives 10 proposals dealing with similar issues, any unique angle your proposal offers will help make it stick out in the reviewer’s mind.

Brainstorming with stakeholders (the people who are supposedly going to benefit from the project) will help to generate ideas for projects. Involving stakeholders in the outline and design process will also make the project more practical and it will generate alternative methods for achieving the proposed objectives. Stakeholder involvement will also help ensure community support for the project during the proposal writing process AND after the grant is awarded!

However, it is not enough to have a good idea or goal. Good planning is needed to ensure the project’s success. In addition to the brainstorming and clarification processes mentioned above, a proposal writer must also do research on the feasibility of the project. A few questions to ask during these processes are:

  • What do you want to do, how much will it cost, and how much time will it take?
  • What difference will the project make and for whom: your organization, your students, your field, the state, the nation, the world, etc.?
  • What has already been done in the area of your project? By whom? What were the results?
  • How does the project fit within the mission of your organization?
  • Is the project strictly local in nature or can it be replicated in other places by other organizations?
  • Can the problems you claim to be addressing actually be solved?
  • How will you accomplish your goals? What is your plan?
  • How will the results be evaluated?
  • How will the project be maintained once it’s implemented?
  • Why should you (your organization), rather than someone else, do this project?
  • Why should this project be done now?







Write a Short but Detailed Mini-Proposal or Project Description


Once you have completed the outline and design processes (including the research mentioned above), you will need to describe the project in 2-4 pages. Include information such as the problem or need the project addresses, previous work undertaken to solve the problem, the proposed solution, required resources (including staff time to prepare the proposal), a timeline for the project, and anticipated outcomes for both the organization and those who will benefit from the project.

It is not necessary to document all expenses associated with the project at this time, but you do need to sketch out the broad outlines of the budget to be sure that the costs are reasonable in comparison to the outcomes you anticipate. If the costs appear prohibitive, even with a large foundation grant, you should then scale back your plans or adjust them to remove the least cost-effective expenditures. Even foundations with extremely deep pockets will be looking for the most effective and efficient ways to spend their money.

Writing this paper will be a lot of work, but it will help you clarify and test your ideas and it will provide you with information necessary to find an APPROPRIATE funder for the project. This document will likely serve as a rough draft for the preliminary/inquiry letter that you will be sending to various funders to determine their interest in the project, and it will make the process of writing the actual grant proposals much easier.

When you begin adapting this document to send to specific foundations and/or corporations, be sure to focus on the broader implications of the proposed project for all parties involved. The donor needs to believe that your project can help them achieve their goals. Consider the donor’s perspective. If your project appears to have wide-ranging benefits or it can be easily replicated by other agencies or in other settings (think local, state and national), the donor’s investment will be both wise and efficient. Even philanthropic organizations need to consider the issue of return on investment!

Research Potential Sources of Funding

If your organization does not have grants directories and databases of its own, check with the local public library and/or university library if available to locate books and reference materials on grant writing. Probably the single best source for information on grant seeking and foundations is the Foundation Center (-1-800-424-9836), which can direct you, to their local Cooperating Collections of grant publications in each state. These collections house literally hundreds of directories for foundations and corporations both in hard copy and electronic form. Foundation Center Cooperating Collections in Midwest.







One thing to consider when using the large directories of foundations and corporations is that many of them contain similar information. With very few exceptions (e.g., foundations whose giving is dedicated to one or two specific entities) there is no such thing as a “specialized” fonder, who gives solely to religious organizations, or only for operating capital. Thus, you’re likely to find many of the same funders listed in a variety of guides. Try to locate one really good general source, buy it if you can, and use it for everything.

Ask your colleagues for advice about grant writing and foundations as well. People who work in your organization as well as the organization’s board members will typically have information on appropriate foundations to contact. Asking people from other agencies about their ideas for potential funding sources and their experiences with particular foundations can also yield good information. You might also consider joining or at least checking into listserv’s and/or newsgroups dedicated to grant writing. These will give you opportunities to network with other proposal writers, ask questions about specific foundations and projects, and they can be a great source for innovative ideas.

It has been said that “grant writing is like playing the stock market; there is seldom a guarantee that your efforts will be rewarded, but the more you know about the process and the more you use this knowledge, the greater the probability for success.”

Identify Funders That Fit Your Organization’s Ideas and Projects

During your research you will likely identify several potential funding sources based on broad category/keyword searches. The next step is to weed out those funding sources that will require the organization to significantly change your project or to “stretch” its objectives to fit into the narrow guidelines of the fonder. It is more efficient, and in the end more beneficial to send appropriate requests to fewer organizations than to send a shower of appeals in the hopes that one may land in the right place.

The first step in the weeding out process is to request any informational materials (annual reports, lists of previous grants awarded) available from each of the funders. If you will be approaching a private foundation, you can also request a copy of their IRS form 990-PF, which provides basic financial data, a complete grants list, the names of the foundation’s trustees and officers, and other information on the foundation.

Read the materials very carefully and take note of anything that seems to be important to the fonder. Be very honest in your assessment of whether your organization truly meets the eligibility requirements in the grant guidelines. Make sure the foundation’s philosophies are a good match with your organization. As the proposal writer you may find it useful to use the suggestions in Figure 1. Be certain that you have considered the nature of the foundation/fonder, your strengths as a writer and the strengths and needs of your organization.





Clarify Any Questions about the Guidelines before You Start Writing


Do not begin filling out application materials until you have read every page thoroughly and are certain that you understand what the fonder is requiring of you. Hundreds of non-profit organizations lose out on money every year because they fail to follow the directions exactly. (See Reasons Proposals Get Rejected) Do not be afraid to contact the foundation’s program officer (unless the guidelines clearly indicate otherwise) with any and all questions. However, be certain that you have prepared specific questions in advance so that you appear organized and efficient and you do not leave a bad impression. The program officer can become your best advocate if they believe you are sincere and will present an organized, well-planned proposal.

This is where your colleagues and friends in other agencies can be of great help to you. If the guidelines request a form or use language you are unfamiliar with, then you need to clarify what these mean before you start the proposal. Liters and newsgroups can help with this as well. Grant writers are almost always willing to help each other in the search for funding.

Divide the Labor of Preparing the Proposal and Get Started

As the proposal writer; you will likely be responsible for writing the majority of the proposal. However, you may want to request help with budget section and with any highly technical sections (e.g., a technology grant that requires extensive description of computer hardware and networking terminology). Requesting help from persons in your organization who have expertise in these areas will improve the overall quality of the proposal and increase the chances of it being accepted. Some agencies have found it useful to form grant writing teams with responsibilities for researching, writing, and editing shared among employees to ensure the accuracy and quality of the proposals they send.

Gathering Background Information

The next thing you will need to do in writing the master proposal is to gather the documentation for it. You will require background documentation in three areas: concept, program, and expenses.

If all of this information is not readily available to you, determine who will help you gather each type of information. If you are part of a small nonprofit with no staff, a knowledgeable board member will be the logical choice. If you are in a larger agency, there should be program and financial support staff who can help you. Once you know with whom to talk, identify the questions to ask.

This data-gathering process makes the actual writing much easier. And by involving other stakeholders in the process, it also helps key people within your agency seriously consider the project’s value to the organization.




It is important that you have a good sense of how the project fits into the philosophy and mission of your agency. The need that the proposal is addressing must also be documented. These concepts must be well-articulated in the proposal. Funders want to know that a project reinforces the overall direction of an organization, and they may need to be convinced that the case for the project is compelling. You should collect background data on your organization and on the need to be addressed so that your arguments are well-documented.


Here is a check list of the program information you require:

  • the nature of the project and how it will be conducted;
  • the timetable for the project;
  • the anticipated outcomes and how best to evaluate the results; and
  • staffing and volunteer needs, including deployment of existing staff and new hires.


You will not be able to pin down all the expenses associated with the project until the program details and timing have been worked out. Thus, the main financial data gathering takes place after the narrative part of the master proposal has been written. However, at this stage you do need to sketch out the broad outlines of the budget to be sure that the costs are in reasonable proportion to the outcomes you anticipate. If it appears that the costs will be prohibitive, even with a foundation grant, you should then scale back your plans or adjust them to remove the least cost-effective expenditures.