There’s more to applying for a grant than filling out a form! Good ideas include strategies for understanding the expectations and priorities of a funder. Are the goals of the funder compatible with the mission and priorities of your organization? Will the pursuit of the funder’s money take you off that mission? Can you put yourself in the grantmaker’s shoes? It’s important to consider the “fit” from the start.
The term grantmaker can refer to private, public and family foundations, as well as government departments and agencies that make grants to charitable and not-for-profit organizations. Foundations make grants to advance their mission. Government departments and agencies make grants to implement public policy. In all cases, grantmakers look to grantees to achieve defined objectives. They expect results, and hold the grantee organization accountable. If the initiative addresses an ongoing need, grantmakers will often want to know how the grantee will be able to continue the program after the grant period has ended.
Grantmakers need grant applicants and grantees. Grantmakers have objectives they wish to achieve but they cannot realize these objectives without grantee organizations to carry them out. To a thoughtful grantmaker, a qualified, credible, capable grant applicant is a potential partner in achieving its mission. Approached in this manner, the relationship is seen as one of mutual benefit, rather than one that is paternalistic.
1. Show how your organization can help the grantmaker achieve its objectives
Look at the kinds of initiatives supported by the grantmaker. Funding bodies do not exist simply to give out money. They depend on applicants to help them realize their mission. Do not approach a grantmaker simply as a source of funds. Show how your organization can help the grantmaker achieve its objectives.
2. Do your homework first
Make sure you know the types of activities supported by prospective grantmakers and the size and duration of grants. There is no point approaching a grantmaker if your initiative does not fit its mandate and scope. Foundations and government departments provide a great deal of useful information on their websites. Before approaching any grantmaker, you should have answers to the following questions:
1. What is its mission – what is it trying to achieve?
2. What type of activities does it fund?
3. What size of grants does it make?
4. How long will it fund initiatives?
Avoid making a “cold” approach. If possible, discuss your ideas with the grantmaker before submitting an application. If that is not possible, ask some organizations that have received grants for their suggestions.
As the application makes its way through the grantmaker’s decision-making process, respond promptly to requests for clarification or additional information. This can be a critical time for building or strengthening the relationship. Some applicants resent follow-up questions however they present a valuable opportunity to ask your own questions to strengthen your application, and improve its chances of approval.
3. Be aware of the competition for funding
No grantmaker can fund every good initiative. Ensure that your request is realistic and be prepared not to receive the full amount. Consider partnerships and collaborative undertakings to reduce costs and better serve more members of the community.
Grantmakers can often point to successful partnerships or collaborations and provide you with an appropriate contact to find out what worked and where the pitfalls may be. There are a number of resources related to this topic listed below.
4. Be open to change
While grantmakers do not carry out activities, they often have considerable experience in what works and what doesn’t work. When you make an application, be open to the possibility that the grantmaker may suggest changes or alternative approaches. Perhaps establishing a business plan or undertaking volunteer development should be considered before undertaking the initiative. Perhaps there are ways to enhance effectiveness, inclusiveness, and accessibility. Also, as the initiative proceeds, grantees should provide honest progress reports. The terms of the grant can be renegotiated if changes are needed to ensure its ultimate success.
5. Pay attention to details
Success in getting grants depends on more than just good ideas. The organization must demonstrate its credibility and capacity to carry out the initiative.
Although it may seem obvious, it is essential to submit a complete and accurate application. If the grantmaker requests a list of your board of directors with addresses and telephone numbers, or an up-to-date budget, or names of references, they most likely will not process an application without this information. Follow the instructions: if the grantmaker asks for a one-page summary of the initiative, do not send a 15-page proposal. At the Ontario Trillium Foundation, for example, we ask that applications not be bound. Yet many applicants disregard these instructions thinking that submitting a more “professional” looking bound document will improve their chances of success. Actually, all it does is increase administrative work as the document must be disassembled in order to make copies for reviewers.
Grantees should also make sure they provide progress and final reports to preserve their reputation within the grantmaking community.
And finally, a reminder that grantmakers do not want a grant to fail any more than the nonprofit organization does. Be open about changing conditions, or shifting needs that become apparent after a grant is under way. It may be that money would be better spent on something a bit different, that the project is going to take longer than originally estimated, or that some of the expected results will differ. Most grantmakers are quite open to reasonable changes.
L. Robin Cardozo
Chief Executive Officer, The Ontario Trillium Foundation
A Chief Executive Officer of The Ontario Trillium Foundation since 1999, Robin Cardozo leads one of Canada’s largest granting foundations in its mission to make strategic investments that will help build healthy, caring and economically strong communities in Ontario.
For 11 years prior to joining the Foundation, Mr. Cardozo held progressively senior positions at the United Way of Greater Toronto, culminating in his appointment as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. In 1999, Mr. Cardozo’s leadership earned him the United Way movement’s highest national honour, the André Mailhot Award.
Mr. Cardozo was born in Pakistan, and was educated in Pakistan and Britain. An experienced Chartered Accountant in Canada and in Britain, he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (FCA) in 2000.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Ministry of Culture. The Foundation receives $100 million of annual government funding, generated through Ontario’s charity casino initiative. Since 1999, the Ontario Trillium Foundation has distributed $500 million to deserving organizations in the Arts & Culture, Environment, Human & Social Services and Sports & Recreation sectors.