Most foundations have a priority of what is most important to them in a grant application. The easy way to find out their priorities is to call the foundation and ask the staff members. Yet, this doesn’t always work. Either there is no way to contact them or they don’t explain their priorities clearly. There are other ways to find clues to the priorities.
For online applications, most of the fields limit the number of characters. The more characters allowed, the more details the foundation wants to see. A grant writer should spend more time on places where a greater amount of information is required. Yes, there’s more to write about, but what is written should be data, information, and details of the project.
Another clue can be found in the application guidelines. Many foundations repeat words that they believe are important. Those words should be the theme of the grant request (mention them several times).
Whether I talk to someone at the foundation or not, I still research the foundation looking for blogs, articles, or comments by recipients of previous awards. There can be a wealth of knowledge written about the foundations and board members (decision makers). I do not pay much attention to previous awards.
For many foundations, like most organizations, things change from year to year. Sometimes the foundation makes different types of awards each year. In any case, the past does not generally foretell the future in grant awards.
The most important thing about writing a grant is for the writer to get to know the foundation as much as possible. It is a lot easier when the writer does.