Thompson Tips for Nonprofits: Wading into Grantseeking

April 12, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

(This was originally written as a guest post entitled “Looking for Shelter from the Storm:  Wading into the World of Grantseeking” for 501 Mission Place, a community for leaders of social change.) The calendar may have turned to spring, but it’s still stormy out there for many organizations, especially those that are responsible for drumming up their own funding.  As the economic recession and fiscal anxieties leave philanthropic foundations and individual donors suspended in uncertainty, smart and savvy organizations of all types are working to diversify their funding streams.  For nonprofits whose missions and beneficiaries can’t wait for the fog to clear, that can mean pursuing federal and state grant opportunities.

Sound good?  Great.  So, where to begin?


  • Identify what resources you have to research and apply for grants. Administrative staff?  Program specialists? An internal or contracted grantwriter?  The larger or more urgent your funding needs are, the more you should consider using experienced resources. If your available resources have limited grants experience, find a way to get them some tools, training or resources so they’ll be armed with a baseline of know-how.
  • Create a plan for your grantseeking efforts, including its coordination and oversight.  Set measurable targets. Clarify who’s responsible for what by when.
  • Establish a way to track your grantseeking activities. This can range from an Excel spreadsheet to specialized web-based software that allows you to track your projects and the grants that you pursue to support them.


  • Conduct a funding needs assessment for your organization’s projects and activities.  Which are most important to your mission?  Which are most in need of additional funding? Which are most at risk of losing other sources of funding?
  • Once you start looking at specific federal and state grants, focus on fit, not dollars. Don’t waste time and effort going after long-shot opportunities.  Dislodge your square peg from that round hole, and go find the square holes. Scrutinize each grant program’s purpose and funding priorities – the more similar they are to yours, the more compelling your story will be to them.
  • Try to ascertain how competitive the program is. In the most recent funding cycle, how many applicants received awards?  Has the program awarded grants to organizations like yours or for similar activities?


  • Tell your story.  Give it heart and hard facts.  Tether it to the funding agency’s and program’s mission and priorities.  How can your organization and your project help fulfill that mission?
  • Highlight your organization’s expertise, past successes, internal capacity and project partners.  Showcase ways that you can advance the agency’s funding priorities and be an effective steward of their funds.

Put on your galoshes, grab your umbrella, and venture out with a smart plan for finding the best grant opportunities to see you through the storm.  Use your nonprofit’s mission-driven and impact-focused impulses to relate to the funding agency’s desire to support great projects that make a difference in communities and in the lives of individuals.


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