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How to improve your chances of getting a grant

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

If you are new to grant writing or looking to bring in more revenue with grants this question may be at the top of your mind. In my opinion, the most successful grant seekers improve their chances of getting a grant by understanding the grantmaker's motivations and then connecting those motivations to the nonprofit's programs.

Why does focusing on the funder's motivations improve grant success?

Every grant is created with a purpose. For example, a family foundation might be focused on solving a national problem. A community foundation might want to fill a community need that has been identified by residents. A federal government agency, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), might be interested in testing scalable and cheaper medical treatments. Focusing on the grantmaker's "Why" works because it shows you understand the problem they want to solve.

We don't have time to focus on the funder's motivations

You may be saying to yourself, "Shouldn't the grantmaker focus on what we need? We are a nonprofit doing great work. We operate on a shoestring budget. We shouldn't have to sell our worth because our value is obvious!"

The truth is, you are right. It can be frustrating to "play mental games" with funders when your organization needs money NOW to grow. And it can be tempting to put the emphasis on the "things" the grant will buy, instead of the outcomes that will be achieved. If you want to be successful, a hard truth is that you must play the game to win the prize.

How do I figure out a funder's motivations?

To get inside the head of a grantmaker, there are a couple of places you can look for information. On a Foundation's page, look at the About Us section or read their history. Study their Board of Directors, if listed. On a Corporation's website, look for their community impact report or "social responsibility" page. Think really hard about who would be a good partner for THEIR brand. What I love about federal grants is that the information you need is listed in the first couple of pages of the RFP (Request for Proposals) usually under the Statutory Authority statement and in the Background Section.

How do I use the funder's motivations in grant writing?

A skill of grant writing is knowing how to use information about the grantmaker's motivations in your application without sounding like a parrot repeating what you read. The key is to find the connections. If the grant funder has identified a service gap, explain how your organization fills that gap. If the grantmaker is interested in working with an organization with lived experiences and diversity, showcase how your organization fits that mold. You want to show the grant funder how a partnership with your organization meets their needs.

Putting it all together

When looking for ways to improve your organization's chance of getting a grant, first consider what motivates a grant funder to give a grant, and what might motivate a grant funder to select a nonprofit over another, when the projects are similar. Next, connect the funder's needs to the nonprofit's programs to show that a partnership is beneficial for everyone. This has worked for us, but, I want to know what you think.

Does your organization use this strategy now? If not, do you think it will improve your chance of grant success?

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