Tips for Grant Seekers

Focus on what the project will accomplish.

Accomplishments impact people and communities. Building a new building is not an accomplishment in itself. The building is only a tool for accomplishing some bigger goal for the community—helping homeless people leave the street or reducing juvenile crime by providing a safe environment for young people after school. 

Being clear about what you expect to accomplish with a project can help a funder understand how your effort aligns with its mission and goals.

Proposal letters should summarize fully developed proposals.

Funders usually have more requests than they can possibly fund. So you want your letter to be compelling. The most compelling letters are ones that summarize full proposals. Such letters convey a sense of depth and knowledge about the opportunity or need you hope to address. 

Also, if a proposal letter raises key questions the funder may call you with questions. If your letter is based upon a fully developed proposal the you'll be prepared to answer those questions. 

Proposal letters should be signed by a CEO or a key board member.

Proposal letters represent requests from the grantee organization. While a large organization has many programs and needs, a letter from a program director fails to convey the organization’s commitment to the project outlined in the proposal letter. Letters should be signed by the CEO or key board member. 

Proposal letters must provide timely contact information.

Your hope is that your letter sparks a positive response by the Foundation. Be sure your proposal letter clearly identifies a contact person for follow-up questions or for scheduling a site visit or an office visit. Also, make sure other staff knows who that contact is. Finally, ensure that the contact person is generally available or has designated an alternative contact person if not available for an extended time such as vacation.

Submit your proposal letter as soon as possible, but not before the project is ready.

The Foundation hopes to assist as many grant seekers as possible. Yet the number of deserving projects makes this a challenge. Grant requests may be turned down or deferred if it appears that it is too early in the project for the Foundation to pursue a grant. Grant seekers can improve their chances if they follow three guidelines:

  • If the project hinges upon a key commitment, be reasonably sure that commitment is in place before writing a proposal letter. Commitments from your top level donors are critical, especially for a major capital campaign.
  • Fully develop the vision for what the project will accomplish. Building a building is not an accomplishment itself. The building is only a tool for accomplishing a larger community good.
  • While it helps the Foundation to hear about your major campaign early, understand that a formal application generally will not be taken to the board of directors until you have raised (gifts in hand and formal pledges) at least 50% to 60% of the fund raising goal.

Remember that your budget is only a plan.

While budgets are important, they are only tools for understanding bigger issues. Your proposal letter should outline the opportunity/problem your organization wants to deal with and how it plans to approach the situation. Yet that line of narrative also raises the questions:
  • What resources do you need to complete this?
  • Where do you plan to get those resources?
A budget document begins to answer those questions. Yet, since it is projecting into the future, it is still a plan, not an accounting of past actions or expenditures.

A good budget is based upon solid assumptions, experience (often the experience of other organizations that may serve as a model for your project), and the track record of the organization in raising support.

Consider the timing of requests within the context of several years.

As the number of requests to the Foundation grows there is an effort to increase the time period between consecutive grants. If your organization has a major project coming up in a year or two that you believe would be of interest to the Foundation, you may want to refrain from making other grant requests until that time.

The Foundation generally wants to see 20 to 24 months between when a grant has been made and the submission of another proposal letter. This time-frame applies to all grants, whether awarded through the small grant program or through a board meeting.