When Grantmakers Investigate: Are You Ready for Your Close-Up?

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A written proposal is usually just the first step in the grantmaking process. The proposal is not the only information private foundations or corporate grantmakers will use to learn about your organization and to make funding decisions.These private funders may refer to a variety of sources when investigating your organization. Keep the following in mind when you submit a proposal.


Attachments and appendices should answer questions, not raise them. Many grantmakers read attachments carefully, and most will not consider your proposal unless all required attachments are included. Attachments are usually related to the administrative or governance functions of your organization; they should reflect professionalism and attention to detail.

  • Are financial statements current and easy to read?
  • Did you include any audit findings along with the audit?
  • Have resumes been updated to reflect staff qualifications specific to this project?
  • Are important documents, such as your tax-exemption letter, current?
  • If you attached brochures or an annual report, do they say something important about your organization?


If your organization is a nonprofit, grantmakers will probably look up your 990 tax return (some may require it as an attachment). Although the main purpose of the 990 is financial reporting, the form provides other information as well. Be sure the mission statement in your 990 is consistent with the mission statement in your proposal. When you submit your 990, it should look professional and be easy to read. In addition to the detailed financial reporting, you’ll be required to provide more detailed information about your organization’s governance, including policies related to conflict of interest and board composition. Be prepared for the changes so your future 990s will be complete. 

Grantmakers may talk informally with peers or with staff or board members of other organizations as part of their investigation process. You cannot anticipate who these contacts will be, but—good or bad—your reputation in the community may follow you around. Some grantmakers ask for references—people who know about your organization or project but who are not involved as partners or collaborators. Expect the grantmaker to contact your references, and be sure your references are well-prepared and knowledgeable about the proposal and your project.

In any organization, it is a good idea to give a proposal summary (including a budget summary) to executive staff and governing officials. If your organization is a nonprofit, prepare your board members for follow-up telephone calls. Your board list, with contact information, is a commonly requested attachment. The grantmaker may call any one of your board members to see what s/he knows about the project. Your board members should be aware of the proposal, know the need or problem it addresses, have general knowledge of the method or program design, and know the budget. The board member should also have the name and contact information for the staff person most familiar with the project, in case more detailed program questions come up.

Be prepared for phone calls to your partners. Be sure descriptions of the partner roles, responsibilities, and contributions are in writing, and that these have been signed by the highest appropriate level of staff or governing official. Don’t embarrass your organization by having a grantmaker call a "partner" to discuss the project, only to find out that the executive director of the partner organization is unaware of any agreement.

If you are submitting a proposal to a grantmaker that has prior history with your organization, be sure all your reports on previous projects were filed on time and included the appropriate information. Outcomes—measurable benefits to your constituency—should be clear. As a rule, reports should always be filed on time. This tells the grantmaker that your organization is professional, organized, and respectful of the grantmaker’s processes.

Site visits are often a part of the investigation process. Try to plan ahead by finding out who should be present, what additional questions the grantmaker may have, or what additional documents the grantmaker may want to review. Be over-prepared and respectful of the grantmaker’s time.

To sum up: The grant review process may involve discussions with many others besides those who are the program experts. When you are planning programs, be sure leaders in your organization and leaders of partner organizations know the level of professionalism that is expected and are prepared to be contacted by a grantmaker to discuss the proposed program. Keep others who work in the same field of interest in the loop.


Keeping others informed is part of good relationship-building, and it’s likely to benefit you when grantmakers investigate your proposal.


— Susan Chandler, Consultant


Need help writing your grant proposal? Draft your proposal in the Essential Grant Skills training or the Grantsmanship Training Program for a stimulating environment that will inspire you. View full training schedule.


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