Four ways to win more grants without writing a word

There’s nothing that can ruin your day quicker than a rejected grant application. You worked so hard on it; revised the paragraphs, triple-checked your grammar, read the RFP 100 times, and still…rejected.

The truth is, you could submit the most beautifully written proposal in the history of grant writing and still not get approved. Most of the top reasons funders cite for denying applications have nothing to do with the actual writing (although a compelling and well-written application certainly helps!). That means you have to do a lot of work before you start your applications to increase your chances of winning grants.


There’s obviously a need for your organization, program, or service. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be working around the clock to address it. But if you want to make a compelling appeal to potential funders, you’re going to have to provide supporting data that proves you have a need. You’ll also need to show that your community’s need is greater than all the other communities that will also be applying for the same grant.

Fortunately, we live in the digital age, which means you can access data on nearly every outcome imaginable. All you need is some basic research skills and a great internet connection. You’ll want to start by looking for local data. Most city, county, and state government agencies collect and publish local data related to the community needs they address.

Once you’ve found data showing the need in your own community, you’ll want to find the same data for the surrounding cities or counties, states, or the nation. Your goal here is to determine if your community’s need is worse than other communities’ needs. If it is, potential funders may be more compelled to support your organization and community.

What if you find out your need isn’t really that bad? Does that mean you’ll never get funded to address the need? Not at all! You’ll just have to be a little more strategic about how you secure funding to work on this issue. Here are some options:

Focus on sub-populations in your community. You may find that sub-populations (based on race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) have a greater documented need than their peers in other locations.

Focus on local funders. Funders whose priority is a specific city, county, or region aren’t as concerned with how you compare to other areas of the country. You’ll still want to provide data that support your need, but you won’t have to worry as much about comparing yourself.

Be unique in your approach. You may not have the greatest need of all the applicants but if you’ve developed a unique approach to address the need, you may still outshine the other applicants.


One of the quickest ways to have your application thrown out is to apply to a funder that doesn’t fund the type of work you do. Applying to funders that aren’t a good fit is a waste of everyone’s time.

Before you decide to apply, do some extensive research on your funder. Review their website (if they have one), comb through their 990, or review their profiles on GuideStar or Foundation Directory Online.

Here’s what you should be looking for:

– Their focus or priority areas
– Organizations they’ve funded in the past
– Examples of projects they’ve recently funded
– The type of funding they provide

If the funder seems to be a good fit based on your research, your next step is to try to schedule a brief call. Chatting with the funder before you apply will allow you to share some basic information about your organization and project to ensure they’re interested in receiving an application.

Related article: How to find grants for your organization


When you submit a grant application, you want to convince the funder you have the best solution to the problems you’ve highlighted in your needs section. The ONLY way to do that is to propose strong programs and services that are almost guaranteed to address the problem.

So, how do you do that?

Design your programs before you start applying for grants.Most of the time, we develop programs while we’re writing an application. If you write grants like most overworked nonprofit folks do, your grants are typically written at the last minute, which leaves you frantically trying to gather that last letter of support, cursing the logic model, screaming at the bullets in Microsoft Word that just. won’t. format.

My friend, this is not the time to be designing a program. It’s best if you can develop your programs and services before the grant application is due. Dare I say, before you even start looking for a grant to support your program? Not only will this allow you to create stronger programs, but you’ll also be more likely to select the right grant opportunities when you’re ready to start applying.

Use evidence-based or evidence-informed programs and practices. Thanks to all the researchers in the world, there’s a wealth of information that shows what works in addressing community problems. Using an evidence-based or informed program or practice gives the funder confidence that your proposed efforts will be effective. Many national organizations maintain a searchable database of evidence-based programs and practices.

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A 2017 Social Solutions’ survey of funders showed that 98% of surveyed funders say impact is in the top 3 things they look for in considering whether they will fund or not. If you think about it, this makes complete sense. Foundations, corporate giving programs, and government funds exist for the sole purpose of impacting specific issues they care about. They want to know that you’ll be able to use their funds to make a significant impact in your own community.

Do you know what measurable impact you’ve had in your community? If not, it’s time to start evaluating! The thought of evaluating can be intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Incorporating some basic evaluation efforts into your work requires minimal effort and will help you identify what impact you’re having.

Not only will this help you win more grants, using the data in your newsletters, annual reports, social media, or Board reports will:

– Build individual donor/supporter confidence in your organization
– Energize your staff, Board, supporters, and community
– Increase one-time and ongoing individual donations

Sounds like a win, win to me!

Okay, there you have it – four ways to win more grants without writing a single word. I hope this post gave you some ideas for how you can win more grants AND make a bigger impact in your community.

Do you have other ideas for increasing your chances of winning? Please share them below!

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Grant Readiness

June 12, 2018

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