grant writing

How Much to Ask For

When filling out a grant application, how much money should be requested from a foundation? A grant writer should put as much thought in the numbers as the words.

Asking too much money and it may seem an impossible project for the foundation to fund. Too little and the nonprofit may have missed out from receiving more (a foundation cannot fund more than the request).

This is my method.

I research the foundation’s past awards. This can be found on their website or near the bottom of their IRS 990 form. I focus on awards in areas similar to the one I’m submitting. From this information, I get a range of award amounts.

Next, I look at how the economy is doing. If the markets are up, then donations and investments will likely be up and I tend to ask for the upper range of awards. If the economy is down, I’ll ask for the middle range. I want to be realistic with the foundation when asking for money.

Once I have a dollar amount, I look at the project’s expenses. I do not expect a foundation to fund more than a third of a project. Many foundations will not be the primary funder for a project anyway and asking them to do that means they won’t.

So, I make adjustments to the request and maybe the expenses.

It is rare that a nonprofit gets the whole amount they requested. So, I may ask a foundation to fund forty percent of the project expecting a third to be funded.

The most important advice with this blog entry is that, before the words, figure out how much to ask for. Once you have that goal in mind, the rest can be a little easier.

To Be (the Grant Writer), or Not To Be: That is the Question

I was involved in a nonprofit who could not decide whether they wanted a grant writer or not. The staff were capable of writing grants, but they were already understaffed. I helped the nonprofit out with the indecision by not deciding if I wanted to be their grant writer or not.

The first thing nonprofit leadership and a grant writer should do is decide whether they want each other or not.

Grants can be written by someone outside of the nonprofit such as a volunteer or contractor. Or someone on the nonprofit staff. Or a combination of these. While a nonprofit might want grants, they do not necessarily need a grant writer.

Or maybe a nonprofit does not want grants. Writing grants can be a lot of work and some nonprofits can survive on only donations.* These are the decisions the nonprofit leadership should make before diving into the grant world. Once there, they should decide if they want a grant writer. Also, the grant writer should decide if they want to work with that nonprofit.

My relationship with the nonprofit was undefined and unending. As a grant writer, I should have better defined my relationship and planned for an ending to that relationship since the nonprofit did not do it.

In the end, I am not their grant writer which is okay with me.

* Note: I suggest nonprofits have a diverse stream of income that includes donations, fund raising events, and grants.

Changes in the Nonprofit – Be Positive

Grant writers, like myself, may not be part of the nonprofit’s staff or on the board. Therefore, it is important for grant writers to keep up on significant changes to the staff or board members who can create changes to grants already submitted.

I put a lot of time and work into submitting grants. It is frustrating after a grant is submitted that the nonprofit makes changes that disqualifies them from the submitted grant. The nonprofit does not change their mission, but they change how they qualified for the grant.

It is more important for grant writers to know that changes will happen. And not to prevent the change, but to inform the decision makers what the impact of their change will be.

Then move on. There will be changes, people will come and go, and other grants will need to be written that helps the nonprofit.


I changed the tone of this blog from a negative to a positive (at least I hope that’s how it reads). It’s always important to be positive when writing grants. I think most anything can be written in a positive way, despite the disaster(s) being written about.

Because many people don’t want to read negative things. There is enough of that in the news and social media. Negative words make people think negatively about the nonprofit. Besides, why not be positive?

It is hard sometimes with the negative world. I find it possible to be more positive by thinking of toys. Buy some and have them nearby. They can provide energy and play when you need some.

What toys do you have?

How To Manage Grant Time

Time is an important factor for a grant writer.

First is the figuring when to look for grants. I start with when a nonprofit is normally low on cash. I look over the nonprofit’s bank account over the last three years that shows cash flow and I take out unusual events like a natural disaster. Next, I average out the income and expenses on a monthly basis.

There will be times throughout the year when more cash is coming in and expenses are low and vice versa. For example, soup kitchens feed fewer people in November and December when churches provide food. This is also when donations run higher. During the summer, donations are typically down while there are more people to feed with school being out.

Once I establish a cash flow schedule, I mark out six months before cash is needed and look for grant opportunities. Six months is usually how long a foundation takes from a grant deadline to handing out the check.

Second, I create a schedule when grants open and close. I keep it simple by putting the schedule in an MS Excel spreadsheet (I do this for the cash flow, too). Even MS Word is good. Everyone is familiar with Excel and Word and these documents can be sent to anyone because everyone has the software. (Of note, do not use complicated formulas in the spreadsheet.)

This grant schedule tells me when to collect documents, update data, and write the grant. (I always try to finish a week before the grant deadline.)

A cash flow and grant schedule helps me be organized with grants. More importantly, having an easy to read, easy to upkeep, and easily transferable schedule lets everyone be involved in finding and writing grants.

After all, grant writing should be about sharing and managing time together.