Grant Writing For Dummies

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Chapter 1

Grant Writing 101

In This Chapter

arrow Knowing and showing what you plan to do with the funds

arrow Seeking grants from public and private sector sources

arrow Meeting all the requirements of a grant application

arrow Keeping an eye — and software — on the progress of your applications

arrow Dealing with acceptance and rejection

It often seems as if everyone wants a grant nowadays, but is everyone eligible for a grant award? With so much misleading information floating around out there, the answer isn’t clear. I’m here to dispel the myths and lay out the basics for you in black and white.

In this chapter, I get you familiar with the essential terminology and set the record straight on how to prepare for grant seeking and planning before you jump into the writing process.

Getting Up to Speed on Grant-Seeking Basics

Before leaving the grant-seeking starting gate without a seat belt or harness, I want to set the record straight about what a grant is, the many different types of grants, who awards grants, and who gets grants. The next sections explain common terms and lay out the basic information you need to know before you toss your hat (and hopes) into the grant-seeking arena.

Defining common terminology

Basically speaking, a grant (also known as a cooperative agreement) is a monetary award of financial assistance. The principal purpose of the grant is to transfer dollars from a funding agency or entity (grantor) to a recipient (grantee) who undertakes to carry out the proposed activities (set forth in an application for funding, in most cases) to fulfill a public purpose. I use all of these terms throughout the book, so understanding them is important. My definitions follow:

  • Grant/cooperative agreement: The distinguishing factor between a grant and a cooperative agreement is the degree of federal participation or involvement during the performance of the work activities.

    remember.eps A grant award is a contract between the funding agency and the recipient, with the grant supporting the activities and deliverables detailed in the proposal/application (and as solidified during the process of confirming the grant award). Reading the funding guidelines thoroughly is critical to your chance for success. (Refer to Part II for tips on how to dig up grant-funding opportunities.)

  • Grantor: A grantor (also known as a grant maker or funder) is the organization or agency that receives your funding request and decides to fund it or reject it. Grantors include the 26 grant-making agencies of the federal government, tons of state and local government agencies (including in the U.S. territories), and more than 100,000 foundations and corporate grant makers. Two categories of grantors exist:
    • Public sector funder: Any government grant maker (federal, state, county, or local unit of government) that awards grants with money that comes from congressional allocations, federal pass-through dollars to states and municipalities, or taxpayer dollars — the public sector.
    • Private sector funder: A foundation or corporate grant maker that uses funds from private sources — investments, contributions, donations, or grants — to fund eligible grant applicants.
  • Grantee: The organization or individual designated to receive a grant award. All grants require the grantee to use the funds as promised in the grant application. The grant award letter is considered a contract between the grantor and the grantee. Up until you’re awarded the grant, you’re a grant applicant; you become a grantee only if you receive an award.

So how do you get a grantor to give you a grant and make you a grantee? You send a grant application or proposal (also known as a funding request). A grant application is an advance promise of what you or your organization (the grantee) proposes to do when the grantor fulfills your request for funding. I fill you in on the pieces or sections of a grant application/proposal in the later “Outlining the pieces of a grant application” section.

Investigating different grant types

Every grant-funding agency publishes specific types of funding it awards to prospective grant seekers. When you know what you want to use grant monies for, you can evaluate whether your request fits with the type of funding the grantor has available. For example, if you want money for an after-school program, you can skip applying to a grantor that’s awarding only building/renovation grants.

Here’s the scoop on the different categories of funding offered:

  • Annual campaigns: Grants to support annual operating expenses, infrastructure improvements, program expansion, and, in some cases, one-time-only expenses (such as a cooling-system replacement).
  • Building/renovation funds: Grants to build a new facility or renovate an existing facility. These projects are often referred to as bricks-and-mortar projects. Building funds are the most difficult to secure; only a small percentage of foundations and corporations award grants for this type of project.
  • Capital support: Grants for equipment, buildings, construction, and endowments. This type of request is a major undertaking by the applicant organization because this type of large-scale project isn’t quickly funded. An organization often needs two to three years to secure total funding for such a project.
  • Challenge monies: Grants that act as leverage to secure additional grants from foundations and corporations. They’re awarded by grant makers that specifically include challenge grants or challenge funds in their grant-making priorities. These grants are contingent upon you raising additional funds from other sources. Typically, a challenge grant award letter directs you to raise the remaining funding from other grantors; however, that typically excludes government grants.
  • Conferences/seminars: Grants to cover the cost of attending, planning, and/or hosting conferences and seminars. You can use the funding to pay for all the conference expenses, including securing a keynote speaker, traveling, printing, advertising, and taking care of facility expenses such as meals.
  • Consulting services: Grants to strengthen an organization’s capacity can be used to retain the services of a consultant or consulting firm. For example, if you bring in a consultant to do a long-range strategic plan or to conduct training for a board of directors, you’re paying for consulting services, and you may be able to find a grant for that.
  • Continuing support/continuation: Grants additional funds to your organization after you’ve already received an initial grant award from that same grantor. These monies are intended to continue the program or project initially funded.
  • Endowments: Grants to develop long-term, permanent investment income to ensure the continuing presence and financial stability of your nonprofit organization. If your organization is always operating in crisis-management mode, one of your goals should be to develop an endowment fund for long-term viability.
  • Fellowships: Grants to support graduate and postgraduate students in specific fields. These funds are typically awarded to institutions. However, some fellowship grants are awarded by federal agencies; independent organizations such as foundations or associations (for example, the American Psychological Association); and academic, research, or policy institutions.
  • General/operating expenses: Grants for general line-item budget expenses. You may use these funds for salaries, fringe benefits, travel, consultants, utilities, equipment, and other expenses necessary to support agency operations.
  • Matching funds: Grants awarded with the requirement that you must match the grant award with your own monies or with in-kind contributions.
  • Program development: Grants to pay for expenses related to the expansion of existing programs or the development of new programs.
  • Research: Grants to support medical and educational research. Monies are usually awarded to the institutions that employ the individuals conducting the research.
  • Scholarship funds: Grants to eligible organizations seeking to award scholarships to eligible individuals. Remember that when funds are awarded directly to an individual, they’re considered taxable income (that is, the recipient owes taxes on them).
  • Seed money: Grants awarded for a pilot program not yet in full-scale operation. Seed money gets a program underway, but other monies are necessary to continue the program in its expansion phase.
  • Technical (consulting) assistance: Grants to improve your internal program operations as a whole (versus consulting on one specific program). Often, this type of grant is awarded to hire an individual or firm that can provide the needed technical assistance. Alternatively, the funding foundation’s personnel may provide the technical assistance. For example, a program officer from a foundation may work on-site with the applicant organization to establish an endowment development fund and start a campaign for endowment monies. In some instances, the funding source identifies a third-party technical assistance provider and pays the third party directly to assist the nonprofit organization.

Determining who can apply for a grant

The types of organizations or entities eligible to apply for a grant vary from grantor to grantor. Each type of grantor — government (public) or foundation (private) — always includes clear, published grant-making guidelines that indicate who or what type of entity is eligible to apply for those specific grant funds. To access these grant-making guidelines, simply visit the grantor’s website or request a paper copy by phone or e-mail.

Government agencies typically include one or more of the following types of grant applicants in their eligible applicant language:

  • State government
  • County government
  • City or township government
  • Federally recognized Native American tribal governments
  • Independent school districts
  • Nonprofits with and without IRS 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) status
  • Private, public, and state-controlled institutions of higher education
  • Public and Native American housing authorities
  • For-profit businesses
  • For-profit organizations other than businesses
  • International nonprofits (called nongovernmental organizations or NGOs)
  • Individuals

Most grants go to organizations that have applied to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for nonprofit status and have received the 501(c)(3) designation. Foundation and corporate grantors focus predominantly on nonprofit organizations and aren’t inclined to fund for-profits. However, a few grants are given to individuals (see Chapter 7 for details).

Since I’ve been writing grant applications, I’ve seen foundation grant awards made to cities, villages, townships, counties, and even state agencies. Although none of these governmental units are IRS 501(c)(3) designees, they’re still nonprofit in structure and can apply for and receive grant awards from the federal government, foundations, and corporations.

Recognizing the Value of a Funding Development Plan

remember.eps If you’re looking for funding to support an organization or a specific program, the first rule in grant seeking is that you don’t write a grant request without first completing a comprehensive planning process that involves the grant applicant organization’s key stakeholders: target population members (the people your organization serves), administrative staff, and the board of directors.

Without key stakeholder input on what your target population needs and the plan for closing the gap on these needs, you’re fishing without the right bait. You must have an organized funding development plan to guide your organization in adopting priority programs and services and then identifying all potential grantors you plan to approach with grant requests. A funding development plan answers questions such as the following:

  • What programs are strong and already have regular funding to keep them going?
  • What community needs aren’t being addressed by our organization or other organizations providing similar services?
  • What new programs need funding?
  • What opportunities exist to find new funding partners?
  • What existing grants expire soon?

When you answer these questions, you can begin to look at the multitude of areas where grants are awarded and start prioritizing the type of funding you need. (For more information on funding development plans, see Chapter 2.)

Connecting to Public Sector Grant-Making Agencies

I probably receive more than 100 e-mails daily and just as many telephone queries weekly. Everyone wants grants! If you’re feeling clueless as to how to find potential funding for your organization, you simply need to use the Internet. You can search for potential sources interested in what your organization needs in the way of goods and services. Fire up your computer and start searching for the monies that may be waiting for your organization. While you’re at it, why not start with the big dog? Uncle Sam.

Anyone can approach the government for public sector funding opportunities. In fact, the U.S. government is one of the largest grant-making entities. If you want to score big in grant awards, you may want to consider targeting federal grant-making agencies.

remember.eps Two types of government grant awards exist:

  • A competitive grant is one where applicants compete against each other for a limited amount of funding.
  • A formula grant is awarded based on a predetermined formula (a set amount of money per person) established by the funding agency. Formula grants aren’t considered competitive. For example, public school districts receive formula grants from their state department of education, and the monies are paid on a per-pupil allocation. These types of grants are awarded year after year by merely filling in the blanks on a template to request the drawdown.

In the following sections, I help you understand what type of public sector grant money (or grantor) will pay you to implement your idea, project, or program.

Federal funding: Tapping into congressionally allocated dollars

The first place to look for big pots of money is in Uncle Sam’s pockets. The federal government is the epicenter of public funding. I’m not one to tout the availability of “free” federal grants, but I can tell you that the government does have money for specific types of grant applicants and projects. In Chapters 4 and 5, I give you the complete scoop on using the Internet to find and apply for government grants.

edge.eps A quick note for newly established organizations seeking government grants: Your organization needs to have established a credible track record for implementing, evaluating, and prudently managing funding from all sources before entering Uncle Sam’s vision field as a grant seeker.

tip.eps If you’re interested in looking at what the feds have to offer, take some time to browse the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), which you can find at The CFDA is the encyclopedia of grant-funding programs. Although it doesn’t tell you about open grant competitions you can apply for at a particular time, the CFDA does give you an overview of grant programs. To find active or current grant-funding opportunities from Uncle Sam, go to, which gives you daily funding announcements on money you can apply for now.

State and local government funding: Seeking public dollars closer to home

Each state receives grant monies from the feds and from tax revenues that are funneled into and out of the state’s general funds. After taking their fair (or unfair) share for administrative overhead, states re-grant the money to eligible agencies and organizations in the form of competitive grants or formula grants.

You can search the Internet to find state agencies that award grants. Examples of state agencies that re-grant federal monies are agriculture, commerce, education, health, housing development, natural resources, and transportation. You can also contact your state legislator’s staff at his local office or at the state capital for assistance in identifying grant opportunities within your state.

tip.eps There’s a wide variation in state grant making, as well as the level of transparency for grant opportunities. It’s always best to meet with your state-level elected officials and agency representatives to pave the way for successful grant seeking.

Scoping Out Sources of Private Sector Grants

Foundation and corporate grant makers are private sector funders. The rainfall of private-sector grant money is conservative, but it’s also continuously available to grant seekers who meet this type of grantor’s area of interest.

Where can you find out more about these grants? You can locate sources by visiting a Foundation Center Cooperating Collections site (usually at a state university library, community foundation, or other nonprofit information center). These sites are the only places where you can access the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online for free. Otherwise, you need to subscribe at one of the levels that best fits your grant research needs. (To find a Cooperating Collections site, visit

edge.eps If you’re targeting private sector funders, start with local organizations first to improve your odds of receiving funds.

Perusing foundations that award grants

Private foundations get their monies from a single-donor source, such as an individual, a family, or a corporation. You can find hundreds of private foundations in the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online or by typing “list of private foundations” or “private foundations” plus your state’s name into your favorite search engine.

Public foundations, on the other hand, are supported primarily through donations from the general public. That’s a no-brainer, right? Public foundations also receive funding from foundation and corporate grants, as well as individual donors. Lots of public foundations focus on the arts, environment, and faith-based initiatives. Again, the Foundation Center’s website can give you loads of information on these types of foundations.

remember.eps The grant-seeking and grant-making processes may differ for public and private foundations. Always contact potential foundation funders to inquire about their grant-making processes.

Scoping out corporations that award grants

Did you know that many of the biggest businesses in the nation set 5 percent or more of their profits aside for grants? Why is that, you ask? The reason is corporate responsibility — the approach that a successful business takes when it decides to make a financial commitment to the community where its headquarters are located or where it has operating locations.

Corporations that award grants usually have a website link labeled Community, Community Relations, Social Responsibility, Local Initiatives, Grants, or Corporate Giving. Use the Foundation Directory Online to view corporations with giving programs.

Understanding What Goes into a Submission

One of the biggest keys in grant writing is recognizing the different application formats and when to use them. Some grantors require more information than others. In fact, some grantors have reams of forms that you can quickly download and save as a PDF file to open when you like.

remember.eps Determine the writing format for each funding source you identify. Call or write each source and ask for its guidelines for submitting a grant application or proposal. Governmental agencies have their own application kits, and you can submit applications for these agencies only at certain times in the year. Foundations and corporations may also have their own formats. If not, they may instruct you to use a regional grant application format or submit a two- or three-page letter of initial inquiry. I cover the entire process for successfully compiling a grant application in Part IV.

Outlining the pieces of a grant application

A government grant or cooperative agreement application is a written funding request you use to ask for money from a government agency. Government grant applications are specific to each of the 26 federal grant-making agencies. Each federal agency has dozens of agencies under its wing that release Notices of Funding Availability (NOFAs), Request for Applications (RFAs), Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), or Request for Proposals (RFPs). Each NOFA, RFA, FOA, and RFP has different funding priorities and guidelines for what you need to write in order to submit a responsive and reviewable grant application.

Government and other types of grant applications generally require that you write narrative responses for the following sections (each of which I cover in more depth in Part IV):

  • Executive summary or abstract
  • Statement of need
  • Program design or methodology
  • Adequacy of resources or key personnel
  • Evaluation plan
  • Organization background/history or organization capability
  • Sustainability statement
  • Budget

A foundation or corporate grant application typically takes the form of a proposal. A proposal is a structured document that must follow each grant maker’s specific guidelines. Writing a proposal to a foundation or corporation requires the same adherence to the guidelines and incorporation of relevant information as completing government grant applications.

Note: Some foundations and corporate grant makers accept the Common Grant Application format; see the later “Getting your request in the door at foundations and corporations” section for more details on this format.

Looking at the feds’ application guidelines

Although government grant application formats vary from agency to agency and department to department, some common threads exist in the highly detailed, structured, military-like regimen that’s commonly referred to as an application package. These common threads include a standard cover page (a regional or national grant proposal format that includes a description of your organization and your request), certification and assurances forms, narrative sections, and the budget narrative and forms. And of course, all government grant applications require mandatory attachments or appendixes, such as résumés of project staff and copies of your nonprofit status determination letter from the IRS. (Head to Chapter 5 for more about the application package.)

remember.eps Always follow the pagination, order of information, and review or evaluation criteria guidelines. All government grants are awarded on the basis of your meeting point-weighted review criteria, which are written and published in each funding agency’s grant application guidelines. (Most grants use a 100-point system.) The review criteria tell you what the peer reviewers read and rate when they receive your grant application. With the competition being so hot and heavy for the feds’ pot of gold, you want to carefully craft an award-winning narrative that scores at least 95 points or higher. The grant applications recommended for funding typically score in the mid- to high 90s.

edge.eps As you read through the application guidelines, highlight all narrative writing requirements and look for sections that tell you how the grant reviewers rate or evaluate each section of the narrative. By formatting and writing to meet the review criteria, you can edge out the competition and increase your funding success rate. (I tell you how to prepare and write for the review criteria in Chapters 10 and 11.)

Getting your request in the door at foundations and corporations

Before you even consider approaching a foundation or corporation with a grant request, you absolutely must research each and every potential foundation and corporate funding source. Don’t rely solely on online grant research databases. Let your fingers do the typing to find each potential funder’s website. Read every link and become highly familiar with each source. Find out the organization’s funding priorities, the number of grants it awards annually, and the grant request range.

edge.eps As a new grant seeker of a particular funder, make sure your grant request is near the low end of the grantor’s grant range. Private sector funders don’t want to award mid- to high-funding award range amounts until after they test the waters with a small grant award. After you’ve demonstrated ethics, cost-effective grants management, and accountability to the funder, you can then ask for larger grants in future requests.

In the past, some private sector funders have been swamped daily with large volumes of unsolicited grant proposals. To circumvent this influx of steady reading and decision making, more and more private sector funders have moved toward requiring an initial letter of inquiry, which is a brief letter asking about the foundation’s interest in your project. If the organization is interested, it then asks you to submit a full grant proposal. If you fail to submit the letter of inquiry, you may find the door closed to your unsolicited grant proposal.

Whether the private sector funder is large or small, it most likely requires a cover letter as well as a variety of attachments. The attachments are a major portion of what counts with this group of grantors. The private sector funder may ask for the project’s evaluation plan, your organization’s structure or administration, your finances, and other supporting material.

tip.eps The most common grant application format is known as the Common Grant Application (CGA). The CGA format contains all the essentials: a cover sheet, a two-section narrative, and multiple attachments. Even if a grantor requests a different order of information, you can do a lot of cutting and pasting from a grant application written in the CGA format to create a non-CGA grant request. To determine whether using the CGA is appropriate in your situation, check the grantor’s guidelines by contacting it directly or seeking information in one of the many available grantor directories. Here’s a trustworthy website to download the CGA:

warning.eps Before you start writing in a generic format such as the CGA, check to see whether the region you operate in requires you to use a different format. The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a national network of local leaders and organizations across the United States that support effective charitable giving, can be found online at Most of the regional groups of foundation grant makers you can find at this site have designed their own specific grant application formats.

checkitout.eps To find contact information for the various Regional Associations of Grantmakers member offices, head to

I strongly encourage you to build a relationship with any potential private sector funder before you start begging for a grant. Courtesy and protocol mean everything in the private sector funding environment, so always establish communications via e-mail, a letter of inquiry, or a face-to-face meeting before sticking your hand out.

edge.eps If a board member at your organization happens to know a board member at the foundation or corporation you’re targeting for funding, board-member-to-board-member contact can help a ton. Foundations and corporations make decisions based on specific funding priorities, which change periodically, sometimes even annually, based on the direction that the board of directors wants to take the foundation or corporation. Although the program staff initially reviews your grant proposal and makes recommendations to the board of directors, the board has the final approval or veto. Remember, board members can override staff decisions.

Checking All Requirements for Grant Submission

remember.eps Whether you’re submitting a hard copy of your grant application or a digital version, always follow the funder’s instructions. I can’t stress this enough! Here are some additional must-do’s when preparing a grant application:

  • Read the guidelines three times: one time to understand the general instructions, a second time to focus on the technical formatting requirements, and a third time to note the narrative content requirements.
  • Highlight all technical and content requirements.
  • Call the funder (if permissible) to clarify any conflicting instructions.
  • Write in chronological order (the same order that the funder asks for the information in its guidelines).
  • Get a second and third set of eyes to read the guidelines and check your application document line for line. Your readers should be looking at grammar, punctuation, formatting, content, clarity, connection between the narrative sections, budget accuracy, and inclusion of all mandatory attachments.

Yes, No, Maybe: Tracking Submissions and Their Status

After you submit all your funding requests, you need to develop a tracking system that helps you keep up with their progress and cues you when the period of silence from grantors has been too long. Most public and private sector grantors specify a time frame for when they will announce grant awards somewhere in the application packet or in the published description of their application process. At the federal and state levels, you can even enlist tracking support from your legislative team. However, at the corporate and foundation levels, you’re on your own (unless, of course, members of your board of directors have friends and associates on the grantor’s board of trustees).

The old-school approach is to develop a manual or electronic tracking system to monitor what you’ve written, who received it, and the status of your funding request (pending, funded, or rejected). However, the new and easier way to keep track of submitted requests is to purchase grant management or tracking software. Look at lots of popular software packages to meet your needs. You can find out what’s available by typing “grant management software” into an Internet search engine. Software programs can start at $1,000 and go up to several thousands of dollars. However, many offer a free trial, so you can see whether the program suits your needs before you buy.

tip.eps Keeping track of how many grant requests you submit on an annual basis is a best practice. You also want to know how many of those requests were funded. For example, if you wrote 20 grant applications and 15 were funded (at any level), three-fourths or 75 percent of your requests were successful. Your success percentage is interpreted as your funding success rate. When you’re looking for a raise or promotion, or simply trying to start your own grant-writing consulting business, everyone who has control over your future will ask you for your funding success rate. Track it; know it!

Jumping for Joy or Starting All Over?

When you win, you celebrate, right? Well, yes, you celebrate, but you also notify your stakeholders of your success in winning a grant award. And you prepare for the implementation phase now that monies are on the way.

remember.eps If your grant request wasn’t awarded, you have some critical steps to take to determine why your funding request was denied and when you can resubmit it. Follow these steps (and refer to Chapter 20 for more details):

  1. Contact the funding agency and ask why your grant application wasn’t recommended for funding.

    You may have to ask for this feedback in writing so the grantors have a paper trail of whom they release information to and why.

  2. When you know where the weakness is in your grant application, develop a plan for rewriting.

    You want to rewrite the weak sections of your narrative and ready it for submission to other grantors and even for future resubmission to the same grant-making agency that rejected the first request. Grantors usually allow you to reapply in the next funding cycle (next year).