My Wish List for Grantseekers

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Recently, I shared My Wish List for Grantmakers describing how private foundations could improve their communication, interaction, and impact with the nonprofits that seek their support.

Now I’d like to turn my attention to the grantseekers

As the grantseeker, I think there are some baseline principles that make the process run more smoothly for everyone. These ideas decrease wasted time pursuing grants that were never going to work and increase your chances of success for those that are a good fit. Read on!

Do your homework. Take the time to thoroughly research foundation prospects to identify the right opportunity. Tip: You probably won’t have hundreds of prospects if the research is done correctly.

Have a strong project to pitch. Few foundations give, or prefer giving to, general operating expenses. That means working with your program staff to develop a clear program proposal with objectives, outputs, and outcomes.

Follow the instructions. Some grantmakers have specific requirements. Pay attention, provide all requested information, and certainly don’t include any materials that aren’t requested.

Meet the deadline (in advance). If you know the deadline, avoid working in panic mode. Don’t jump on the online portal two minutes before the deadline (guaranteed there will be a glitch) or ship the proposal overnight the day before it’s due.

Don’t “spray and pray.” Mailing out dozens of the same proposal may feel like progress, but it’s a waste of time for you and the foundations. Much like with individual fundraising, there are no shortcuts to building your grant base.

Don’t make your budget a guessing game. Ensure the project budget matches the project and explain any major anomalies in your financials.

Don’t be presumptuous. A grantmaker told me recently that a nonprofit executive said to her, “You should be giving us grant.” Really? Foundations received hundreds (if not thousands) of proposals, and they don’t owe you anything. Be sure your proposal shines – that is what should convince them they need to fund you.

Respect foundation staff member discretion. Avoid going around program officers to foundation board members in the hopes of fast-tracking your application. Respect the process established by the foundation, and if you do know board members, connect with them after you have worked through official channels.

Don’t take the money and run. Report back as required and provide interim updates as appropriate. Share your successes, and your challenges, too.

Say thank you. It’s easy to say thank you when you get grant, but send a thank you even if you are rejected. Someone took time to consider your proposal and that deserves your gratitude.

Ask for input or feedback. I know, I know. Grantmakers are hard to reach. But it’s worth making the effort if you prepare well for the call or meeting.

Keep the foundation in the loop. If your program changes (think pandemic or something less dramatic), contact the grantmaker immediately to discuss. Provide ideas on how to redeploy the grant and be ready to return the money if necessary.

Make the foundation a partner. There are real people who work at foundations! Keep in touch to communicate about your organization’s growth and keep program officers on your invite list for events.

Don’t give up. Rejection is often part of this business. If you have done your research and believe that your organization is a legitimate match for the foundation’s philanthropic interests, then ask for (and incorporate) feedback and keep trying.

Good luck!

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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