We often hear from nonprofit partners that the process of applying for a grant can be challenging and confusing. Here are answers to some of the questions we hear most frequently, and some general thoughts on institutional funding that we hope are helpful to organizations seeking support.

Q: How is a grant different from a donation from an individual?

A: For one, foundations, corporations, and government are institutions that grant funds that are not theirs personally.

Q: How is the process different from fundraising from individuals?

A: The application process is:

  • More formal
  • More professional
  • Less emotional
  • More time-consuming, sometimes
  • More public
  • More targeted

There’s value beyond the dollars.

  • The process will require you to articulate clearly and perhaps to think differently about your work.
  • Philanthropic groups can provide technical assistance in formal and informal ways—they can offer guidance, ideas, feedback, and thoughts on how to network effectively.
  • Funders are colleagues too—they can’t do their work without you.

Start by looking closely at your organization. Then research funding sources.

  • Spend time identifying foundations and corporations that are interested in your field and fund work like yours.
  • Read annual reports, newsletters, guidelines, lists of prior grants.
  • Use the Foundation Center library system; use the Internet, the Council on Foundations, www.Grantsmart.org, www.fdncenter.org, www.Guidestar.org
  • Don’t attempt to force a “round peg” request into a “square hole” foundation—look for a good fit. A mismatch will not yield good results.
  • Find a grant to meet your needs; don’t design a project just to get a grant.

Q: What about guidelines?

Guidelines are designed to help the funder as well as the grantee. They vary widely.

  • Get them.
  • Read them.
  • Follow them
  • Adhere to deadlines
  • Provide all the documentation requested

Program officers are people too!

  • Talk to them
  • Build relationships with them
  • Answer their questions
  • Listen carefully and hear them

Writing a proposal

  • Know what your organization and project are about and what you need.
  • Don’t assume a funder knows anything about your organization or program.
  • Answer ALL the questions posed in the guidelines.
  • Write clearly using good English and good punctuation.
  • Make it legible—double space and use a font size of at least 11.
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, and excessive statistics.
  • Avoid predictions of what might happen without the program.
  • Don’t promise more than you can deliver.


  • Think about your outcomes, not out-puts—not just the numbers served but rather, how will lives be changed?
  • How will you know if your program has been a success?
  • How will you measure success?

Q: What’s it like inside the world of funders?

  • Grantmakers know and talk to each other.
  • They expect quality and they look for it.
  • They have competencies that come from  personal and professional experience.
  • They have an overview of activity in the nonprofit sector that gives them a unique and valuable perspective.
  • Many grantmakers have worked in or studied the field they fund. They may know as much as you do about your work.
  • For corporations, grantmaking is often an extension of their marketing efforts. Make sure you understand their business, customers, and markets.

Tips on funding strategies

  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Keep looking for and adding new sources, constantly.
  • Don’t ever forget that individuals do 80 percent of all giving in the United States.
  • Foundations and corporations are a small slice of the total philanthropic pie.
  • Work in partnership with other nonprofits and with your funders.


Remember: grantmaking is as much art as science.

… If you have other general questions about the grant-seeking process, or specific questions about your fundraising efforts, please don’t hesitate to contact us.