How to Know You’re Ready to Compete for Grants

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Thousands of foundations, billions of dollars and only 1.5 million nonprofits. Let’s get our tax-exemption and snag that first, free money! Spoiler alert: this story does not end well. Most proposals get rejected, most brand-new nonprofits do not get their first dollar from a foundation and some have estimated that half the new nonprofits will fizzle out in a year or two.


What about the “other half?” What are the characteristics of nonprofits that stand the best chance of winning foundation support? Here is the composite picture of those competitive grant-seekers.


They have a solid business plan. They are led by people who know that passion and a good idea are necessary but not sufficient; they put in the effort to map out a realistic and data-based blueprint for survival and growth.


They have a track record. Foundations and other funders tend to support nonprofits that have demonstrated they can do the work. Here’s where it’s helpful to have evidence of the results of past programs or projects.


They have built revenue streams from a variety of people and places. Most funders want to be one of the sources of your funding, not the only source. They want to know that you’ve broadened your networks of involvement, engagement and financial support.


They know where they fit in the bigger scheme of things. A nonprofit might reflect on what others are doing about the problem and then identify the particular contribution it can make; funders will appreciate the clarity and specificity.


Finally, they are up to date with registrations, filings, financial records and the other administrative details of an efficient organization. It’s a good idea to carry out a periodic review of your nonprofit’s “official” paperwork to make sure everything is in order.


There are exceptions to these touch points, of course, but a savvy nonprofit stands a better chance of securing foundation funding when it meets these tests.



Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center

and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.



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