Four Ways Grants Are Like Blizzards


As the DC area (where Altum is headquartered) prepares for what could be one of the worst snowstorms in the region's history, here are four ways that grants are like blizzards:

  1. They benefit greatly from preparation.  Everyone in the mid-Atlantic and beyond has spent the past several days buying groceries, snow shovels, ensuring that flashlights have batteries, and, if they're like me, ensuring that there's enough ground coffee in the house to be able to use a French press for the requisite caffeine fix if the power goes out.  While preparing to write grant proposals and manage the grant once it's awarded involves different components, preparation is equally important.  Proposals require thought, time, and attention, and it helps to have all of the components lined up well before the deadline to be able to write a compelling proposal.  And what happens if your organization gets the grant?  Are you prepared to execute the programs you proposed?  Do you have the right resources lined up/available to run the project?  Preparation is key.
  2. Timelines are beyond your control and can't be changed.  While there's more predictability to grant deadlines than to when blizzards will hit, the timelines are beyond your control.  Grant applications will have deadlines set by the funders, as will any post-grant reports.  And those deadlines can't be changed, even if they don't fit well with your schedule.  Just like an impending storm.  It's undoubtedly inconvenient for many people that this blizzard will hit starting this afternoon.  They had other things planned.  They don't want to rearrange their schedules to accommodate this one big thing.  But rearrange their schedules they must.  And with grant deadlines, grantwriters and others involved in the process must accommodate the funder's schedule, not the other way around.
  3. They can cost more than you anticipate.  Bad winter storms can cause some damage, and cleanup can be costly.  While grants help the organizations to which they are awarded, sometimes they cost more than the organization anticipates.  That's why it's important to evaluate the net grant - how much a grant is really worth - before applying for a new grant opportunity.
  4. They involve piles of white stuff.  Forecasters are predicting at least 2 feet of snow in the greater DC area.  But even two feet of snow doesn't stack up to the piles of paper that can be involved in the grantwriting process.  And that's where grants software, like PhilanTrack, comes into play. 

Learn How PhilanTrack Can Help

And stay safe!


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Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 22, 2016, 02:37 PM

Net Grants - How Much Is That Grant Really Worth?


I just got back from the Grant Professionals Association conference in St. Louis.  It was a great conference with lots of learning opportunities for grant pros.

I presented a session entitled "The State of Grantseeking and Its Implications for Grant Professionals" that drew some conclusions about what the current state of grantseeking means for everyone involved in the grantseeking process.  One of the issues that rose to the forefront was the increased competition for grants with limited available resources. 

Several people asked about how to make the case to others in their organization (say, senior management) that a particular grant was not worth pursuing, particularly given limited resources.  I mentioned the concept of a net grant calculation, and enough people asked me about it that I figured it was worth writing a blog post (it's something I've talked about before, but not in this forum).

So here goes. Fair warning: this is going to be a bit long.

The net grant calculation is a tool to help discern the net monetary value a grant will provide to your organization -- so the grant revenue net of expenses to get and manage the grant.  Fundamentally, it is:

Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant

For simplicity, just taking the amount requested as the grant amount is a good starting point, but it doesn't accurately reflect the expected amount of the grant.  Since this post is going to get long, and I want to get to the meat of this calculation quickly, I'll put the more  nuanced version of the grant amount (the expected amount) further down, and you can read all the way through if you're so inclined.

The total grant cost is not the cost to actually run the program you're trying to get funded.  You'll need that information, too, and it figures into the decision-making process about whether or not to pursue a grant, and which grants to include as part of your grants strategy, but it's not part of the net grant calculation.

The total grant cost is the total cost to find, apply for, get, report on, and otherwise manage the grant.  The individual components may vary depending on your organization or the particular grant you're pursuing, but here are the basic elements:

Total Grant Cost = (Hours Spent Researching Opportunity + Hours Spent Writing LOI (if there is one) + Hours Spent Writing Application + Hours Spent Communicating with Funder + Hours Spent Writing Reports + Hours Spent on Any Other Miscellaneous Grant-Related Activities) * The Hourly Salary of the Person Doing the Work

This can get a bit tricky.  Your organization may have multiple people working on different parts of the grant process.  And people get testy about salary information.  The most accurate version of this calculation will take into account the different hourly salaries for each person working on a particular part of the grant, but if you don't want to get into that level of detail, you can ballpark it or use industry averages.

And the components that go into the cost will vary, as indicated above, per organization and per grant.  Does your organization have multiple approval stages?  Do several people read and edit every grant application?  Does the funder do a site visit?  How many staff members are involved in that process?  How much of their time is committed to preparing for the site visit, beyond the time spent on the visit itself?  There are a bunch of other potential variables, and your mileage may vary. 

But at a basic level, and to make this more concrete, let's assume there's one person doing all facets of the grant process, and that person's salary is $60,000/year.   If that person has 2 weeks vacation per year, their hourly wage is $30.

Let's then say that this particular grant requires (and will require) the following number of hours from start to finish:

  • Research and find opportunity: 8 hours
  • Writing LOI: 8 hours
  • Writing proposal: 27 hours
  • Communicating with funder: 8 hours
  • Writing reports (interim and final): 20 hours
  • Other miscellaneous time spent: 10 hours

(These numbers are very rough ballparks, some drawn from data in Drowning in Paperwork)

Total number of hours spent: 81

Hourly rate: $30

Total cost grant cost: $2,430

Note: as indicated above, this is not the cost of running the program the grant will fund.  This is just the cost of getting and managing the grant. 

And this is a pretty simplistic example.  If you work in anything larger than a pretty small organization, more than one person is almost always going to be involved in the process.  And the larger the grant, generally the more complex and involved the application and the oversight, so all of the numbers are likely to be higher.

But let's say you're applying for a $50,000 grant.  In the best case scenario, the net grant value is:

Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant


$50,000 - $2,430 = $47,570

Not too bad.  But if you're applying for a $10,000 grant:

$10,000 - $2,430 = $7,570

The most money you will then have to spend on the program you're trying to fund is $7,570.  Is that enough?  Is that all restricted funding?  Will it cover any overhead?  That's another topic for another day, but something you need to take into account when creating a budget for a program and looking at income streams.

Now, to get more nuanced about the grant amount, the grant amount isn't really the grant amount.  Seems pretty simple, right?  The grant amount is the requested funding amount.  That's one way to look at it.  A more nuanced approach would look at the expected amount of the grant.  This can get more complicated, but I would propose taking three factors into the expected amount of the grant (which you can then choose to combine in the way that makes the most sense for your organization):

  • The amount requested
  • The amount the funder is likely to award
  • The probability of getting the grant

The amount requested: pretty straightforward.

The amount the funder is likely to award: even if the funder decides to award the grant (more about that below), the amount you requested isn't necessarily the same as the amount the funder will choose to award.  Look at the funder's history (what size grants have they awarded to your organization in the past?  To other organizations?  Are you a first time grantee?  Are you a repeat grantee that they're trying to wean from their funding?  Be realistic about all of these things) - and assess what you think the funder is likely to award, even if it's different from what you requested.

The probability of getting the grant: if this has been a repeat funder for years, the probability of getting the grant may be close to 100%.  If it's a new funder, or a new program, or funding priorities have changed, or funder personnel have changed, or the economy isn't doing well, or any number of other things, the probability of being awarded a grant will likely be less than 100%, sometimes much less than 100%.

You may choose to simply take the amount requested and the probability to calculate the expected amount.  I think looking at the amount the funder is likely to award is a better data point to get to the true expected amount, and ultimately the true net value of the grant.

To make this a bit more concrete, here's a specific example.  Let's say you're applying to a new funder (new to your organization, that is).  You see from their grant history that they tend to award grants ranging in size from $10,000 to $50,000.  If you can get more detailed information, you may see that the average grant size is $30,000.  So your math on the expected amount of the grant would go like this:

Amount requested = $50,000.  Amount funder is likely to award = $30,000 (this may be a bit conservative, but it's supported by data in this case, and it's better to be conservative than to overestimate the amount awarded).  Probability of getting the grant = 50%. 

So the expected amount of the grant = $30,000 * 0.5 = $15,000.

To apply that to the net grant calculation for the $50,000 grant we were looking at earlier:

Expected Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant

$15,000 - $2,430 = $12,570

That $50,000 is looking less appealing, isn't it?

Ok.  We've run through a lot of numbers and permutations here, but what does this all mean?  How can you use this in your day-to-day grantseeking activities?

  1. Take this framework as a starting point.  Put in the steps (anything that involves someone's time) that are relevant to your organization, and get as close as you reasonably can to hourly wage information for the people involved.
  2. Estimate the number of hours that will be involved in each grant you're thinking about pursuing.
  3. If nothing else, prioritize those with the highest net value.
  4. Think about opportunity cost.  If you're considering pursuing two grants, do you have the bandwidth to pursue both?  If not, which has a higher net value?  If you're looking at a whole portfolio of grants, what grants are you not pursuing (or what other fundraising or related activities are you not pursuing) that might yield positive results for your organization?
  5. Use the data produced from your calculations to help make the case to your boss or your board as to why you should or should not be pursuing or spending time on particular opportunities

You made it to the end.  You must be really interested in this topic.  This was long.  Particularly since you read this far, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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Author: Dahna Goldstein
November 20, 2015, 12:33 PM

Back to School - Grantwriting Basics

Back to school

If you've been on social media at all this week, you've probably noticed something: pictures of kids in clean, pressed clothes, posing (sometimes patiently) for their parents' obligatory first day of school photos.  Or, if you're a parent, perhaps you've taken (and posted) one yourself.

All of this back-to-school-ness has gotten me thinking about getting back to basics.  In elementary school, kids learn the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic (or 'rithmetic, for those really focused on alliteration).

What does getting back to basics in grantwriting look like?  For me, it's the three Rs of grantwriting: research, relationships, and writing:

  1. Research.  Good grantwriting starts with good research.  A really compelling grant application requesting funding for an animal shelter will never be successful when submitted to a funder that only supports education reform.  While that's an extreme example, less egregious examples abound: grantseekers submitting requests to funders whose priorities have changed without confirming the funder's current interests; grantseekers not thoroughly reading guidelines before submitting a request and being denied for not adequately meeting the requirements; grantseekers spending significant resources to apply for a big-name grant they are unlikely to receive, at the expense of smaller grants that are a better fit.  Another facet of research is being selective about which grants to apply for and which to skip.  Grantseekers are always looking for new funding.  But not every grant is a good grant or a good fit.  Some aspects of that relate to funding priorities and ensuring that the program, project, or initiative for which you are seeking funding fits within the funder's interests, but it's also important to calculate the net grant value (discussed in this blog post) before applying for a grant.
  2. Relationships.  Relationships are a key part of institutional fundraising, just as they are a key part of individual fundraising.  While grants are awarded by foundations, corporations, government agencies, or other types of organizations, the decisions are made by people.  Establishing and building relationships with those people is critical to grantseeking success.  When approaching a new funder, try to get to know the people.  It's beneficial in a number of ways: it helps the grantseeker gain a better understanding of the grantmaker's interests; it helps the grantmaker better understand the organization applying for the grant; it helps the grantmaker feel more valued in the process.  Grantmakers sometimes feel like they're treated by grantees like ATM machines: grantees are only interested in the check.  There are much more meaningful relationships that can and should be built with funders, not only because it helps the funder feel more valued, but also because both parties have much to learn from each other and can help each other.  Funders and grantees are all focused on addressing issues.  There is an immediate alignment of interests in that realization.  Connecting with funders - not only during the application process, but on an ongoing basis - can help inform both parties about what is working and what isn't working in addressing the issue or issues they both have in common.
  3. Writing.  Of course, a key part of grant writing is the actual writing.  As a grantseeker, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading your grant application.  Is yours the only grant application they will be reading?  How much will that person know about your organization before reading your application.  What do they need to know to evaluate whether your organization is going to be a good fit with their funding interests?  How will they be able to determine that your organization and your application stand out from the others?  Simply put, good writing is paramount.  When reading many applications, one that is poorly written can be easy to dismiss, regardless of the quality of the program the grant would support.  And persuasive writing is critical.  How are you making the case that the grantmaker should allocate some of its limited resources to supporting your organization?  Every decision to support your organization implies a decision not to support another organization.  Have you crafted your proposal in a manner that is sufficiently compelling for the funder to make that decision?  Have you used a good combination of qualitative and quantitative information to make your case?

What do you think?  What are your back to school tips for grantwriters?  What other grantwriting elements are fundamental?

Grant writing software can help manage all facets of the grantseeking process.

Learn How PhilanTrack Can Help


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Author: Dahna Goldstein
September 11, 2015, 10:55 AM

Finding Your Path Just Got Easier

This is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation



About a year ago, I (virtually) sat down with my staff and told them I wanted to build an interactive program that would help individuals who are trying to develop their grantsmanship skills. I thought this concept might stimulate some interesting conversation. I had no idea how quickly the staff would latch on to it!

Why was their reaction to this idea so positive?

Because we had all been experiencing the same thing, over and over. GrantStation Members (about 25,000) were hungry to learn more. GrantStation Insider subscribers (about 250,000) were always asking about learning opportunities.

Grantsmanship is somewhat of a mystery to many individuals, and most people assigned with the task of grant research, writing, or management, not to mention strategic planning, are often looking for guidance.

So, the good news was we had identified a real need. Our challenge became, how do we build something that will actually help individuals improve their grant seeking skills?

After much contemplation, planning, testing and programming we launched, on June 18, a new, public website called the PathFinder.

The PathFinder is designed to help individuals develop their career path as grant professionals. The PathFinder library provides profiles of top quality resources that can strengthen an individuals ability to secure and manage grant awards. Each posting is vetted by our staff, so you are getting the 'cream of the crop'.

To get started, you can browse the library, search the resources, or use the Find Your Path tool to develop your own learning plan. You can get a full tour of how this site works by watching this short, introduction video posted on the home page.

Whether you consider yourself to be a novice, somewhat experienced or a professional, I believe you will find the resources to be of high quality and useful.

We've organized the resources into three categories: timely events, quick study, and deep dive. Timely events include live webinars, workshops and trainings, as well as conferences. Quick study items include articles, reports, blogs, and other items that take a little time to absorb. And, the deep dive resources all focus on interactive tools, books, certificate and master programs.

This site, like many sites nowadays, allows you to rate the resources, so once you’ve read a book or a report, taken a webinar or attended a training, please come back and rate the resource so others can learn from your experience!


Cynthia Adams has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofit organizations raise the money needed to do their good work. Many of her early efforts centered on raising funds to set aside wilderness areas in Alaska. In 1990 she started her first company, the Alaska Funding Exchange. This endeavor served as the testing ground for a national company, GrantStation, which opened its Internet doors in the fall of 2001. Cindy built this business because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world. Cindy enjoys hiking, gardening, and "movie night" with friends. Her husband, John Luther Adams is a composer, so she also listens to a lot of 21st Century music

Author: Dahna Goldstein
June 22, 2015, 06:32 PM

4 Myths about Applying to Family Foundations

There are over 80,000 foundations in the United States.  According to the Foundation Center, about half of those foundations are family foundations.  In 2011, there were 40,456 family foundations, and that number has increased since.  That same year, family foundations gave a total of $21,329,932,023 in grants, also nearly half of all grant funding.

private foundation grants

Family foundations are therefore both a prevalent part of the foundation funding world, and a critical source of funding.  The most recent State of Grantseeking report indicated that private foundations (which are not all family foundations, though they frequently are) were the most frequent grant funding source, with 78.5% of all nonprofits that received grants getting one or more grants from a private foundation.

So it's important for grantseekers to understand family foundations as a component of a grant portfolio and fundraising strategy.  Here are 4 myths about applying to family foundations:

  1. Family foundations only award grants to pre-selected organizations.  Many family foundations indicate that they do not accept unsolicited requests.  It's certainly the case that many foundations only give to pre-selected organizations.  But that's not the case across the board, even in some cases where the foundation indicates that it does not accept unsolicited requests.  If the foundation indicates that it does not accept unsolicited requests, do not send in a grant proposal.  But try to find out if the foundation's staff members (if the foundation has staff) or a board member would be open to a conversation to learn about your organization and how it would be a good fit for the foundation's grantmaking goals.  Not all foundations will be open to this, and by all means do not push it if the foundation does not want to meet with you, but in many cases, family foundations in particular simply do not have the bandwidth to handle a lot of unsolicited requests.  But they may well be interested in learning about new organizations, and may then invite an application or an LOI.  Be sure to follow whatever guidelines for communication the foundation prefers.
  2. Family foundations only award small grants.  Family foundations vary widely in terms of the size of their asset bases, and, in turn, the amount that they award in grants.  They also vary in terms of the number and size of grants they award.  Leaving aside the Gates Foundation, family foundations range from supporting one grantee to hundreds of grantees.  While some family foundations will give one large grant to one grantee, and others will give several small grants to a handful of grantees, the size and range of family foundations means that many of them are providing sizable grants.  The best way to find out what's possible with a particular foundation, if past grant information is not available on that foundation's website, is to look at the foundation's 990PF (the tax returns filed by private foundations) for the last two years to see how many grants the foundation awarded and the sizes of those grants.
  3. Family foundations only give locally.  Community foundations give locally - that's what they were designed to do.  In some cases, family foundations will be very dedicated to the community in which the donor or donor family grew up or currently resides.  But there are two trends that suggest that family foundations are increasingly giving nationally and internationally:
    • Donor interests are changing.  Foundations are able to determine their giving focus, and award grants to organizations that meet whatever criteria they set (and legal criteria, of course).  Family foundation interests and giving priorities are as varied as the interests of the donors who established the organizations.  It's not at all unusual for even a small family foundation to be making grants to organizations that are geographically distant from the foundation's office.
    • Family foundations are increasingly getting the next generation of family members (and sometimes even a third generation of family members) involved in determining the foundation's giving priorities.  Those second and third generation family members frequently don't live in the same area as the person or people who established the foundation.  In many cases, the foundation will still grant where it is located, and also grant to organizations that the next generation family members get to know where they live or where they have traveled.  Again, the best way to find out where a foundation grants, if it isn't listed on the foundation website, is to look at that foundation's giving history as reflected in its 990PF forms.
  4. With a small family foundation, it's easier to get a grant since the application process is less rigorous.  The fact that a family foundation is small doesn't mean that it's not sophisticated about its grantmaking, and it's a mistake to think so.  Some small family foundations are among the most engaged grantmakers, thinking strategically about how their giving, no matter how big or small, can have the greatest impact.  Thinking strategically doesn't necessarily mean having onerous requirements; some are very forward thinking in learning about potential grantees and developing relationships, and you can help them by doing your part to develop a good relationship.  Some family foundations have requirements that are not right-sized for the grants they are awarding, though the same is true for all types of foundations.  As with any grant pursuits, it's worth thinking about the net grant (the grant funding your organization will actually receive after the costs of applying for and managing the grant are taken into account). 

One common theme highlighted through the points above is that each foundation (whether family, corporate, community, or independent) is different.  It's incumbent upon the grantseeker to do research to find out about the specific foundation's giving priorities, preferences, requirements, etc. 

The other key theme that cannot be overstated is that building relationships is key to grantseeking success.  Regardless of the size of the foundation, who is on the board, and what the foundation's giving priorities are, building a relationship - and maintaining that relationship - is critical to getting a first grant, and to then getting subsequent grants.  Put yourself in the shoes of a family foundation board member or staff member.  Are you more likely to be receptive to a great proposal from an organization represented by someone who is a total stranger to you, or to a great proposal from an organization you've been hearing about because someone from that organization has taken the time and made the effort to engage with you about how the organization fits with your giving priorities and the foundation's grantmaking goals.  Relationships matter.  And your relationship-building responsibilities do not end once you have gotten the grant.  Keep building the relationship by keeping the funder in the loop throughout the life of the grant, and beyond.

Learn how PhilanTrack can help you build and manage relationships with family foundations and other funders. 

Request a demo


Image: Data from the Spring 2014 State of Grantseeking
Author: Dahna Goldstein
August 28, 2014, 10:30 AM

What Grantseekers Can Learn from the World Cup

I admit it.  I didn't really care about soccer before June 12, and I now have World Cup fever.  And I'm not even American (or a citizen of any of the other countries actually represented in the World Cup).  But it's been exciting to watch and follow, and to witness (on TV and social media) the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, so I'm jumping on the bandwagon.

What Grantseekers Can Learn from the World Cup

What's been most exciting has been the upsets, the underdog stories of those countries that should not have made it through to the round of 16, but have prevailed nonetheless.  Those stories, and the World Cup in general, offer some valuable lessons for grantseekers.

  • Learn the rules, and follow them.  For the uninitiated, soccer's stoppage time can be confusing, as can corner kicks vs. goal kicks.  Once you learn the language of soccer, once you learn the rules, it's much easier to follow.  The same is true of grantwriting.  There are good practices to follow, and many grantmakers will have their own rules.  Grantseekers that don't play by the rules set by a funder they're approaching have little chance of success.
  • You have to play the full 90 minutes (plus stoppage time).  When games are frequently decided by a goal, teams that only play hard for part of the game aren't likely to prevail.  The same is true for grantwriting in two ways: don't wait until the last minute to put together the grant proposal.  Things can go wrong at the last minute (a bad bounce in soccer, or the inability to reach the one person in your organization who knows the answer to a key question for the grant proposal), so it's best to work on grant proposals progressively.  The other way in which the need to play the full game is true in grantwriting is that every part of your grant proposal needs to be equally strong.  If you write a great needs statement but have a weak budget, your proposal is unlikely to be funded by many grantmakers.  A proposal that is consistent and compelling throughout will go much further.
  • But don't give up if you're down a goal near the end of the match. There have been several great stories of games that came down to the wire - games that were tied until the very end, or games where one team was down and then rallied in the last minute or two of play, or even into the stoppage time.  In grantwriting, if a grant seems just out of reach, stretch to go just a bit further to reach your goal.
  • Don't write off the underdogs.  It's true that a lot of grant funding goes to larger organizations - to hospitals, universities, or national organizations.  If your organization isn't one of those larger organizations, you may consider yourself an underdog in terms of grant funding.  This World Cup - and even the US team - has shown that the underdog should never be counted out.  If your organization meets a funder's guidelines and your programs fit with that funder's mission, think about going after the grant even if you're the underdog.
  • Winning outright isn't the only way to move forward.  The US team lost to Germany and still advanced to the round of 16 because it had the same number of points as Portugal, but a better goal differential.  The lesson learned here for grantseekers is that getting the big grant isn't the only way to win in grantseeking.  Of course, getting grant funding is the ultimate goal, but grants - particularly first-time grants - that are awarded are frequently smaller than the amount requested.  While that may not feel like a win, a) some grant funding is better than no grant funding, and b) getting a small grant, doing great work, cultivating the relationship with the funder, and submitting stellar progress reports about how the grant funds were used to help both your organization's and the grantmaker's missions can lead to larger grants in the future.

What do you think?  What other grantseeking lessons can be learned from the World Cup?


Photo: watching the US vs. Germany match in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 01, 2014, 11:36 AM

Relationships are Key for Foundation Technology Funding

This is a guest post by David Krumlauf

People who work for nonprofit organizations know only too well that they need good technology to be successful. Unfortunately, many foundations don’t quite get it yet. The foundation staff members who review and recommend grants are often confused by what organizations are asking for and why they’d need such a thing.

I’ve been doing IT support and funding for the “Core Grantees” of The Pierce Family Charitable Foundation for over 5 years and have seen how they struggle with their IT needs. I’ve seen the whole range of needs from full network upgrades to just a few minor server tweaks.

If you’re in that group that needs a technology upgrade but are struggling to get those needs funded, here are a few tips to help you be more successful:

  • Create a workable technology plan – You may not have an IT person on staff, but it’s worth finding someone (either a staff member or consultant) to do a network, hardware and software inventory, needs assessment and timeline. The more you know about what you have and what you need, the easier time you’ll have conveying your needs to potential funders. Technology upgrades aren’t always huge requests. Often it’s a matter of training, or minor software and hardware updates. I’ve seen increasing workstation memory, adding a spam filter and reconfiguring existing servers do wonders.  Check out Steve Heye’s blog for some great technology planning resources.
  • Build good relationships with foundations – Get to know the locally-focused family foundations in your area. Be bold! Contact their development staff and ask them to come for a site visit. Once you have them onsite, you can describe your technology challenges and how much better you could fulfill your mission if those were solved.
  • Keep it simple - It’s easy to use tech terms that might be unfamiliar to foundation staff when applying for grants. Use simple, straightforward language that won’t confuse the reader. You won’t get funding if the foundation staff can’t understand what you’re asking for.
  • Be comfortable with the grant reporting requirements - Too often grants come with complex reporting requirements. To build a long-lasting relationship with a foundation, be sure you give them what they’re looking for when they want it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification.
  • Bundle technology requests into program grants - If your program requires staff to be out in the field gathering data, adding a few mobile devices makes a lot of sense. Funders usually understand the need for the proper tools to do the job at hand.
  • Keep grant requests reasonable - Start small, meet the reporting requirements and build up to larger, more complex requests. Use your technology plan to determine what easy, not too costly solution works best for you.
  • Build trust - Once a foundation knows you, your work and sees your progress, larger tech grants will be a lot easier to obtain. Funders love working with grantees that they know will put their grant money to good use and be better prepared to fulfill their mission.
  • Give yourself time - Don’t feel like you have to fix everything all at once. This often creates more problems than good. Give staff the training and time they need to adapt to the changes you implement. “Baby Steps” is a good way to go.

So now you’re primed and ready to go. Don’t be shy about asking for what you need! Funders are always looking for good causes to help and more and more are getting the idea that nonprofits need good tools just like they do.


David Krumlauf

David Krumlauf is an old biology teacher, ISP owner and now Chief Technologist of a private Chicago-based foundation. He lives in a greenbuilt home in NW lower Michigan.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 20, 2013, 02:52 PM

Three Grantwriting Mistakes Nonprofits Make

mistakes grantwriters make

I guest blogged yesterday on about business plan mistakes that I see often as a judge for the social venture track of NYU’s business plan competition.  While the post addressed mistakes made by for-profit ventures and nonprofit social ventures, a lot of the mistakes that I see – and lessons learned – apply equally to nonprofits writing grant proposals to fund new programs.

Mistake #1: Developing a solution that’s in search of a problem.  Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow referred to this problem in an email yesterday as “If you build it, they will come.”  In fact, they won’t.  Too many nonprofits (like for-profit social ventures) come up with a great idea that should be of great value to their constituents.  Smart people get together in conference rooms and come up with great ideas.  They see problems their constituents are experiencing, and come up with solutions – all without getting input from said constituents.  In for-profits, this generally results in creating a product or service without a clear market.  In nonprofits, this can result in either creating a product or service without a clear group of people who will use it – or in creating a product or service without a clear source of funding.  Either result has problems, and both can be avoided by getting input for the relevant constituents along the way.  If you develop the service, will the people in your service area use it?  What will compel them to do so?  What might get in the way, and how can you overcome it?  Will they be willing and able to pay for it?  If not (which is frequently the case), how will you cover those costs?  Launching the program without knowing that you’ll be able to get sufficient support to make is sustainable, often manifest in saying, “Oh, we’ll just get a grant to cover those costs,” can be more harmful than beneficial to your constituents if you are then unable to secure funding.

Mistake #2: Claiming you have no competition.  Many grant proposals ask grant applicants to discuss their competition.  It may well be that there isn’t another organization in your service area doing exactly what your organization is proposing, but that doesn’t mean that you do not have any competition.  There’s direct competition, indirect competition, and there’s the status quo.  Think about your constituents.  What are they doing now?  Are there other organizations providing a similar service that is meeting the same – or a similar – need?  Even if there aren’t similar services being offered in your service area, your constituents are spending time and sometimes money on other things that will have to be displaced by your service.  You need to know – and be able to describe – what those things are, as well as any other services that compete more directly with what you’re proposing.

Mistake #3: Grant applicants must clearly articulate their theory of change.  Different organizations have different ways of framing theories of change and the social impact that is expected to result from the program or service being developed.  Whatever it’s presenting a theory of change, articulating SMART objectives, building logic models, or something else, it’s critical to be able to articulate the impact your organization is trying to achieve, how you plan to achieve it, and how you plan to measure the results of your activities.  In grant proposals, look for any specific requirements articulated by the foundation to which you’re applying; many foundations have specific formats in which they prefer to see goals, outcomes, and theories of change addressed.

What are some common mistakes you have seen – or made – in grant applications?  Feel free to share in the comments below.


Image credit: adapted from
Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 22, 2013, 10:30 AM

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