4 Must-Haves for Success With Grants

Image: flickr-rach-armstrong

Image: flickr-rach-armstrong

I once worked at a nonprofit with a very funny CFO. One day he made a sign to hang above our grant writer’s desk that said “Let’s get a grant for that!!” We all had a good laugh. The phrase on the sign was all too familiar, used early and often by both staff and board members every time expenses exceeded the money we had on hand. 

You probably already know grants are not always the right fit, nor are they “automatic” money. Examine your current grant-seeking strategies with these must-haves in mind:


Relationships matter in ALL fundraising, including grants. Before submitting a proposal, try to connect with a foundation representative even for just a 15-minute phone chat. Better yet, invite them to tour your operation once they’ve begun considering your proposal. 

If no one on your staff has any luck making these connections, consider your board. Show your board members lists of foundation staff and trustees. One friendly phone call might just raise your proposal to the top of the heap.


A clear organizational identity and understanding of your programs is key. Trying to write grants for an organization in transition, where programs are not fully designed, is a tall order. For example, if you’re adding an after-school program and still thinking about how you’ll measure student progress, then you’re not ready to write a grant proposal for this program. 


Most foundations require measurement of your impact. And they want you to determine how to do it before you submit the grant proposal! Metrics, evaluation, outcomes, performance indicators, measuring effectiveness – all of these terms are common in foundations. 

Keep it simple – you can measure student progress using test scores – but make sure you share something that says to potential grantors…“This matters to us. We’ve thought about it and here are the ways we’ll be able to tell if our work is making a difference.” 


Your first grant proposal to a new foundation will likely be declined. As well as your second. And maybe even your third. Grant seeking is a long game – it takes time to build relationships and understanding. Ask for feedback after every decline to better understand a foundation’s perspective – and to get ideas on what to do differently next time. 

The good news is that foundations can help you think more critically about your programs and your proposed outcomes. Consequently, you could end up having an even bigger impact in your community – and that’s what it’s all about, right?

What other must-haves are in your toolbox for grant success? Please share your ideas, successes or challenges in the Comments box below! 

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).