What Grant Makers Say About Funding Non-Profits

“The growth rate of the non-profit sector has surpassed both the rate of business and government sectors.” (The Urban Institute)


Should this statement surprise us? Considering our economy and society, it shouldn’t. With the cost of living going up and the value of the dollar going down, the only relief for many may reside in the services of non-profit organizations.

Successful organizations are ones that:


  1. are clear on the issue they are striving to solve
  2. are specific on the community they are servicing
  3. are compelling in their story telling of accomplishment
  4. are exact in benchmarking their progress


The Power of Charity

The contribution these organizations make are immeasurable! It was reported that products and services added close to $800 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product for 2010. This indicated 5.4% (gdp) to our country’s standard of living.

Yet the devastation of revenue shortages towards these charities, and events such as the U.S. government ‘shut-down’, the impact on society would be amplified and felt worldwide. As a result, the ongoing concern of every non-profit organization is always ‘funding’. With charitable groups popping up almost on every corner, how do grantmakers determine which group gets awarded?

Increasing Your Chances

The first principle I share with all my non-profits clients is that ‘grant’ money is not free money. The old saying, “nothing is ever free”, holds true even in the case of Non Profit Growth. Please do not be misled, even philanthropic efforts are strategic!

Calm down, this isn’t to say people are not giving from their heart; we’re just saying their giving is methodical. Understanding this principle puts you ahead of the game and allows you to focus on fulfilling the desires of the ‘grantmaker’.

What Do Grant Makers Want

Sitting in front of grantmakers and hearing them share what they consider during a proposal deliberation was very insightful. As a grant writer, it would be our objective to position the grant proposal as a compelling argument as to why they should invest in ‘your’ non-profit.

Here’s what they had to say:


  • Grantmakers want to know how and why ‘they’ are a good fit for your organization and vice versa. Providing the answer in your proposal, captures their interest.
  • Grantmakers want you to be cognizant they are investing in your vision and in the case of all investments, they desire to know the return on their investment (i.e. measurable outcomes).
  • Grantmakers want to know how monies are distributed. This is easily outline in a well-defined budget. Include detail through footnotes and appendicies.
  • Grantmakers want to know tactics for sustainability. If they do not fund your programs again, will the organization shut down (and their money down the drain)? What additional plans are in place for funding? A diverse funding base is appealing to grantmakers.
  • Grantmakers want to know a competent team is protecting their interest. The Executive Board is the ‘team’ they are entrusting with their funds.
  • Grantmakers want you to know, a ‘no’ isn’t forever. There could be minimal reasons why your organization did not receive funding, therefore re-applying during the next period is very common.


Off The Record

The thing about philanthropy is that these people really do want ‘world peace’ and in their minds, their contribution brings us just a little step closer. With that said, here are some things I’ve learned (off the record).

This segment of money givers didn’t get their wealth by chance, it is a result of their success. One trait they carry down to their giving is being meticulous. I learned they want to receive the submission exactly as they requested. For example, if the instructions are to staple in lower right corner – any document with a staple placed anywhere else gets discarded. Sounds harsh, but view it as the competition it is, and follow the rules to make it to the finish line.

The next valuable piece of information I learned off the record were examples of what sends a red flag to the grantmaker. Red flags indicating your organization is not a good investment is ‘lots of staff turnover’. Remember, your organization becomes an open book when funding is made available. Turnovers shows lack of stability and viewed as a risk.

What is also of concern is the number of programs offered. This is a true case when less is more. It shows you are focused in your efforts and as a result, more likely to produce measurable and favorable results.

The last, but what I consider the most important when just considering development of a non-profit organization is the Executive Board. I purport to my clients, having a strong, skilled, and loyal Executive Board is key when attracting Grant Makers! Your board is scrutinized when making allowance for funding. They conclude loyalty of your team through their contribution – funding or in-kind. They believe your team as your first string cheerleading squad!

Getting funded is not an easy task, but knowing what grantmakers are saying about funding brings you one step further to reaching your goal!

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