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What Foundations Want to Know

grant writing Sep 07, 2021

Grant funding is a crucial part of many nonprofits’ fundraising strategies. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, 17 percent of all charitable giving is given through foundations. Foundation also tend to give bigger gift amounts than many individuals, often in the $5,000 to a $100,000 range.  That’s a nice chunk of change, it you can get it.

Foundation funding is getting harder and harder to get. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.56 million nonprofits in the United States. Public charities, or 501(c)(3) organizations, make up about two-thirds of all nonprofits. Many of them are applying to the same foundations, competing with one another for funding. How do you make your organization stand out among the thousands of other nonprofits who have also applied to that particular foundation? What can you do as a grant writer to position your nonprofit as one of the best out there? What can you do to ensure a ‘wow factor’ is evident in your proposal when a reviewer assesses it? What can you do to secure your best chance of being funded?

The Questions Review Committees Want Answered

Have you ever written a grant proposal? What was your experience in writing it? Was it hard or easy? Was your request funded? Why or why not? Do you know so that you can repeat what worked and correct what didn’t?

Writing a successful proposal grant proposal is harder than it looks. Sometimes you are given detailed directions to follow, most times you are not. Sometimes you are given a written structure for how to present concepts, often you are not. Most often, you are given a page limit, sometimes even a word or character limit. It can be very difficult to present all the information you want to convey within these strict limits. Without a defined structure or with limited space, how do you know what information is most important to convey? How do you choose what to include and what to cut? What will help your proposal rise to the top when there are constraints, or alternatively, you are given little direction of what to include?

No matter what they ask for or how limited the space is for you to include it, there are eight crucial questions you must answer in every proposal you write. Answering these questions, no matter the format or space limitations, will ensure that your proposal is complete and propel it to the top of the pile. The eight questions are:

  1. What need will you meet?
  2. How will you meet the need you describe?
  3. How do you know you will be successful in doing what you say you can do?
  4. How will you measure your success?
  5. How much will your intervention cost?
  6. Do you have community support?
  7. How will you sustain your efforts?
  8. What makes you uniquely qualified to do what you say you can do?

Answering all eight questions, whether asked in the application guidelines or not, your grant proposal will stand out because you will have written a case for support that covers all the bases.

Review Committee Perspectives

As we talked about in Building Donor Relationships: Foundations, grant reviewers are looking for mission impact. They want to fund nonprofits who meet the community needs that the foundation is interested in impacting. They are most interested in what needs you see, how you meet those needs, what kind of success you’ve had meeting them in the past, and what makes you think you’ll be successful now.

You also have reviewers who are looking for something new, something beyond the same old things. Believe me, when you’re looking at a hundred or more proposals, it’s the unique ones that stand out. The agencies that know what makes them different than anyone else and are able to articulate it are the ones that make an impression. It’s much easier to remember and be impressed by a nonprofit that knows its niche than one who is just like everyone else.   

Then you have a reviewer or two who goes straight to the budget and asks all kinds of questions about costs and if they’re necessary and reasonable. They look at the project and organizational budgets and attached agency financial statements and want to see financial strength and good financial management.

You have other reviewers who are more interested in the nonprofit’s reputation in the community and how well they work with others. These reviewers realize that the problems nonprofits address are big, hairy, and bodacious. They know that it takes a community to solve community-wide problems. These reviewers want to see how the nonprofit and their programs at hand fit into the community.

Generally, foundation funding is one-year funding. Foundations don’t want to fund financial leeches. They want to make sure that the program being funded can exist beyond their limited funding, both during the term of the grant and after the grant has ended. They want to see that other partners have some sort of financial buy in, that they are not just paying lip service to the program being considered. They want to see deep collaborations.    

Answering all eight questions, whether asked or not, helps address the multitude of concerns the foundation’s board or review committee will have regarding funding your project. Showing awareness of all the concerns, and answering them, puts you in a favorable position when funding decisions are made.

Wrapping It Up

  • There are more than 1.56 million nonprofits in the U.S., many of them competing for the same pot of funding.
  • To stand out, answer the eight questions, whether explicitly asked or not.
  • Foundation reviewers are generally looking for mission impact.
  • Know your niche and be able to articulate it.
  • Be able to show financial strength.
  • Show your community connections.

Next Steps

Grant writing is just one piece of the fundraising pie. It is also important to identify your nonprofit’s fundraising strengths and gaps, explore diverse revenue streams, engage your board and excite your community.

To learn what your agency can do to move ahead, schedule a complementary 30-minute strategy session with me. During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action.

When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you. I look forward to our conversation!  

To discuss how this article relates to your nonprofit, I invite you to participate in a free, 30-minute discovery session with me. 


During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action. When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you.

I look forward to our conversation!  

Talk with me