Grantwriting Preparation
last updated April 12, 2011

Nothing can undermine a good grant proposal like inadequate research. Research also ensures that even if the application is unsuccessful, the donor is left with a professional impression of the applicant.


The first step in grantwriting is researching and documenting the project or program to be funded. Chad T. Green and Yvette Castro-Green outline a number of questions that should be asked at this program planning stage, including: What is the problem? Who does the problem affect? What is the geographic area affected? What is the solution envisioned? How will the solution be implemented? The answers to these questions will not only from the basis of the project plan, but will also help later identify the funders that would be most interested in supporting the project.

It is also important to make sure that the project is right for the organization. Does the organization have the resources and capability to implement the project? Is the project a priority with the organization (does it fit within the organization's mission)? Why is the project right for this organization at this time? From Writing Winning Grant Proposals Step by Step: Wirth Practice Exercises and Sample Models for NGOs in the Baltics Seeking U.S. and Western European Grants 5-10.

Research on similar and related efforts by others in and outside of the community to meet the need identified is also important. Finding out what work is already being done can help an organization avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Community research can also help identify other groups that may have an interest in supporting or even co-sponsoring the project. Community support can significantly enhance the effectiveness and impact of a project—and, as a result, is often an important selling point for funders. Co-sponsorship or the support of community groups may be cited in a letter of inquiry. It may also be worthwhile to solicit letters of support from such groups to submit in connection with a grant application. Evaluating community support is also a good opportunity to form partnerships with other organizations or to develop cost sharing relationships.

The next step is to research funders. Thorough research increases a grantseeker's ability to focus on donors who will be interested in the proposed project. The section of this website on finding a donor provides links to databases and other resources that can be used to identify donors for both individual and organizational grantseekers. It may also be possible to identify potential funders through other organizations that compete for the same funds. Competitors annual reports, for example, could detail the organization's funding sources from the prior year.

Once potential funders are identified, the next step is to research those funders. Although it is possible to rely on annotated descriptions of funders, such as those described in the section on finding a donor, it is also important to do independent research. Application processes and funder priorities may change, and the resources relied on might not reflect the most up-to-date information.

Grantseekers should gather basic information about the funder such as name, address and phone number. Where possible, it can be very useful to identify a specific contact person to whom the application and questions about the application process can be directed. The following additional information can also be useful:

  • funding the donor provides (grants, loans, or scholarships)
  • stated regional limitations
  • area of primary interest (particular fields of interest, target populations, geographic areas, types of organization, purposes)
  • substantive areas funded previously
  • location of projects or organizations funded previously
  • kind of projects funded previously (workshops, trainings, publications, research)
  • any other limitations on funding
  • kind of support is available (project, short- or long-term, general operating, emergency)
  • the application process (letter of inquiry or an application, prescribed application form, application guidelines)
  • timing of funding (application deadline, application review, grants disbursement
  • funding availability (size of grants available, amounts previously granted)

The Foundation Center's Guide to Fundraising Research contains some more important points to consider when researching a funder.

Organizations may request the funder's printed materials or other information about the application process from the funder itself. The information received from the funder may contain an annual report. This report, particularly the introduction and statement from the CEO, can provide insight into the donor's funding priorities. From Writing Winning Grant Proposals Step by Step: Wirth Practice Exercises and Sample Models for NGOs in the Baltics Seeking U.S. and Western European Grants 13.

Other sources for research about donors can include the donor's web site, printed guidelines, or tax returns. A tax return for a private, U.S.-based, grant-awarding institution is called a "Form 990-PF." The "990-PF" lists all grants awarded by the institution during the tax year, name and address of the recipients, the purpose and amount of the grants, and the officers, directors trustees and managers of the foundation. This form is public information and can be obtained through the Foundation Center. The European Commission's Beginners' guide to EU grants and funding provides some information about grant opportunities in the EU.

An organization's own board members, staff, management, and volunteers are also very important resources. These individuals may have connections to individuals on the board of the donor organization—and may thus be able to gather important information about grant availability and other support opportunities.

In particular, members of the board of directors can play a significant role in fundraising. Richard I. Male's Eight Tips to Involve Your Board in Fund Raising and Stephanie Roth and Kim Klein's The Board and Fundraising, an excerpt from the book Fundraising for Social Change, bothprovide useful advice on strengthening the board's fundraising role.

After this research, it may be appropriate to make direct contact with the funder to talk about funding priorities and processes, or current or new areas of interest. Making contact with a funder is particularly recommended if someone in the organization (or on its board or staff) has a contact at the foundation. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides an excellent description of how and when to contact funders, approaches to take in contacting a funder, and questions to ask a prospective funder.

Cindy Adams and Jay Love's Eight Basic Funding Research and Usage Steps offers an excellent, concise, step-by-step description of how to conduct funding research. The Foundation Center provides useful information on researching prospective funders, including a "Prospect Worksheet" designed to help an organization match its needs with the donor's mission and projects. The European Foundation Centre's pages for grantseekers provide additional sources for research, particularly on European funders.

The Foundation Center also offers an Online Orientation to the Grantseeking Process that provides an excellent overview of the grantseeking process, donor research, and proposal writing for both individuals and organizations alike. Organizations may want to go directly to the sections on What Do Foundations and Corporate Grantmakers Look for in a Grantee?, and individuals to the section on Orientation for Individuals.