Grantwriting Guide

Posted: Apr 6, 2010

Grantwriting is a combination of science, art, and politics. The various factors will play out differently, depending upon with whom you are dealing.

Be sure to conduct thorough research and analysis before you approach a funder:

  • What geographic/interest areas does the funder focus on?
  • Who and what has it funded?
  • What is the dollar range of its grants?
  • What does it require of applicants? Must you have a 501(c)(3) IRS status, for instance?
  • Who is on the board of the foundation? Do you know any of the members, or know anyone who does?
  • What has been the experience of other organizations working with this funder? Talk to people who have a history with the funding source.
  • What is the funder's history, origin, and institutional structure?

Government grantors and private foundations both

  • Want you to have clear goals;
  • Encourage or demand innovation;
  • Want you to think long-term (although they almost always fund short-term);
  • Want deliverables - specific, measurable outcomes achieved within a certain time period;
  • Like projects/activities that can be replicated elsewhere; and,
  • Don't want to be your only funding source.

Government grants

  • Generally have a fairly rigid proposal format and requirements;
  • Frequently have a rigorous preliminary proposal process, from which the most competitive applicants emerge and are asked to submit full proposals;
  • Have clear selection criteria and sometimes specified weighting of criteria clearly laid out and should be followed;
  • Often require local match (in cash or in-kind services). In many instances, the greater the amount of match offered, the greater the chance of selection;
  • Generally won't/don't fund advocacy work; and,
  • Are likely to have strings attached. Applicants need to read the fine print. Are there limits on shifting funds among cost categories, for instance? Is the grant made on a reimbursable, rather than an up-front payment basis?

Private foundations

  • May have specific geographic areas of concern/grantmaking - international, national, regional, state and/or local;
  • May have multiple areas of interest, and their interests may change over time;
  • Are a more likely source of funding for meetings/conferences, training, network support, etc., than government grants;
  • Are more apt than government grantors to have questions about staff competencies, board governance, hiring and training practices, and similar internal matters;
  • Generally involve meetings/phone calls between applicants and program officers. It may take years of communication with a foundation before you get a grant from it. On the other hand, you can be offered a grant based on the foundation's interest in your work, rather than on the basis of a formal proposal; and,
  • Tend, if they are large, to give big grants and discourage smaller grant seekers, and may want a smaller organization to work through a larger one.

Private businesses/corporate donors

  • May confine giving to the areas where they have operations;
  • Generally give smaller grants of $1,000 to $10,000;
  • May be responsive to requests to address special community needs/causes;
  • May provide services, equipment, or supplies, in lieu of or in addition to cash grants; and,
  • May give some grant-making discretion to local facility/store managers.



  • Institute for Conservation Leadership
    Offers a 12-month program which provides fundraising skills, training, and consulting support to participants as they implement new fundraising efforts. >>
  • The Foundation Center
    The "Virtual Classroom" offers free, interactive online training courses on funding research, grantseeking, and grantwriting. >>
  • EPA Grant-Writing Tutorial
    EPA offers an interactive software tool designed to walk the user through the grantwriting process and write more competitive grants. >>
  • Onyx Press Grants Collection
    "A Guide to Proposal Planning and Writing," by Jeremy T. Miner and Lynn E. Miner >>
  • The Grantsmanship Center
    TGCI's Grantsmanship Training Program is a comprehensive 5-day program that covers all aspects of researching grants, writing grant proposals and negotiating with funding sources. >>
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