Composing a well-written proposal is just half of the story when applying for a grant. At Smarter Good, we always advise the organizations we work with to save their time, resources, and energy for funders and opportunities that fit them best. A strong proposal is not enough to overcome a funder’s preference for a particular geographic area or social issue. A family foundation clear on its focus on programs in Asia will not fund your program running in Sacramento. Even if it’s awesome. Even if you spent ten hours writing that proposal and the project narrative’s sincerity made your team cry.
Some of the questions to ask before writing a proposal are:
1. Do you know – really know – the funder’s vision and mission?
Your organization and the funder should have the same goal in mind. Healthcare, for example, is such a broad topic that most funders narrow it down, specifying whether they focus on children, mothers, minorities, or refugees. Many funders also specify the kind of program approach they want to fund – research projects, developing new products or services, or scaling up tried and tested programs. Make sure you dive into the nitty-gritty: when the funder says they support children, does that mean they also support programs for newborns?
2. Are they giving only to specific states, regions, or countries?
Many philanthropic foundations have principals who like to give back to the places that gave them success. It is unlikely that they will reach out to new cities or countries and fund your organization. After researching nearly 5,000 foundations, our team agrees that geographic fit is the hardest criteria to match.
3. Have they funded other organizations with “business models” similar to yours?
There are funders who have not supported social enterprises. If they are not familiar with your model, which may include earned revenue or a for-profit subsidiary, you will do better to cultivate a relationship with them first to check if you have shared values around market-driven solutions.
4. Do you know if the amount and type of support you are requesting is within the range of support they normally give?
General operating support funds for example are the best funds to receive, since you can use them to pay for salaries and administrative expenses, but not all funders give this kind of support. For gen ops and projects funding, asking for too much leads to rejection, while asking for too little is a missed opportunity. Go over their annual reports, press releases, and project links to learn how they are supporting different organizations. Researching the kind of support and the amount of funding a funder has given in the past can inform your ask, especially if it’s a funder you’re approaching for the first time.
If the funder research shows that their program or geographic focus is not a great fit for your organization’s work, and if you are having to really stretch to find common ground, just walk away. There is a good chance that all your wordsmithing trying to fit your proposal to their preferences will be for naught. Just like how you feel about your mission, funders work hard on their program areas and are passionate about them. Everyone’s time – you and your funder – is better optimized when you go after mutually fit initiatives.
Rigorous funder research can also help you uncover golden opportunities – like funders that offer multi-year unrestricted general operating support (the Holy Grail of grant funding!) or that a funder can offer a grant AND additional support (sponsorship or capacity-building). So make sure you do the research first; we promise that your time will be well spent.