Trying to determine the number of grants to apply for to guarantee funding for a program, project or organization can be frustrating. There is no answer here that works 100% of the time. Some folks say that first time grants to a foundation are awarded at a 30% rate and you have the apply numerous times to receive funding. I don’t find this to be true and I’ve been writing grants for 25 years. The method that works for me and my team revolves around simply doing thorough research and building a relationship with the potential propsect.

While research and building relationships are both time consuming, the return on investment for both is unparalleled. When they are combined, amazing things can happen.

I encourage you to take the time to investigate prospects using every method at your disposal from 990-PFs to their individual websites. Extensive research allows you to find the ideal foundation prospects for your current needs prior to calling or emailing a program officer. Then, if you find a few that are stellar and look spot on, set up a time to talk to someone at the foundation and see if your insights are correct.

Once the conversation happens with the foundation, you should have a very good idea about pursuing that grant and a few other key items. Check out the list below. If you don’t know the answers to these questions from the 990-PF, the website or other research, be sure to ask when you connect with someone from the foundation.

  • When should I have a request to you to be considered for the next grant review cycle?
  • Should we be selected for funding, when could we expect dollars in-hand?
  • If we start the project before funding is in-hand, can we reimburse ourselves for expenses we already spent once funds arrive?
  • Would you like to come for a site visit?
  • Be sure to ask any clarifying questions regarding what the foundation is looking for in response to a questions you may not understand as well. Example: If a foundation asks for audited financials, which you may not have, be sure to ask if they will accept a 990 or compilation report (which is less expensive).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to be guessing and submitting a bunch of proposals with the hope that some of them will be funded. It is worth my time and energy to do my due diligence before working on any application. I encourage all of you to focus on research and relationship building as you work to determine which grants might be the best fit between your current needs about current foundation priorities.

Use this check list to make sure a potential donor is a good fit prior to making initial contact:

1. Does my program/project fall within the donor’s area of interest?


2. Where will my program/project have an impact?


3. Is our area of impact within the donor’s area of interest?


4. Does the average grant size fit my need?


5. Will we be required to match the grant? If so, by what percentage?


6. Are we confident we can ‘find the match’?


7. Are funds paid upfront or is it a reimbursement grant?


8. Grant funds can take time to acquire. Will the dollars come in time for our need?


9. Are there restrictions? (i.e., faith-based, no transportation, etc.)

Use this check list to make cover your bases if you proceed to making initial contact:

1. Have a specific program/project in-mind and the reasons behind why you feel it is a good fit for the foundation.


2. Know your project/program start date.


3. Have an educated guess about how much you would like to request based on your research, looking at the foundation 990s and reading their website about giving amounts.


4. Be able to share information about other potential funding sources, foundations you have applied with for the same project, how you plan to fully fund the project and/or sustainability plans for future success.


5. Be ready to accept feedback, take suggestions, or tweak your proposed project/program to fit the priorities of the foundation if there is a good fit.


6. Email or call to set up a time to chat about your project. Do not assume the program officer will have time to talk when you make initial contact.


7. Be ready, willing and able to hear a ‘no’ if that is what you are being told. This will save you time and energy in the long run.

At this point you have taken a huge step towards building a solid relationship with the foundation (which it VITAL).