Grant Writing 101

November 17, 2008

“We have here but 5 loaves and 2 fishes.”



1.  Basic Grant-Writing (I give free courses on basic grant writing to small CBOs—these are my notes from such a class):


a.      Teach you how/where to research potential funding bodies

b.      Identify potential funding bodies

c.       Query potential funding bodies

d.     Basics of all grant writing


Please note this class addresses grants specifically to the private sector: meaning grants to private foundations (Gates Foundation), corporations (Levi-Strauss Foundation/Ford Foundation) and private and civil funding agencies/organizations such as The Dade-Broward Community Foundation or The Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, and church organizations.


Government grants are a totally different field. 



What exactly is “grant writing”?


            A grant is a substantial, usually long-term or time-bound, commitment of funds, resources or gifts-in-kind from one agency (trust, company, etc.) to a non-profit organization.  In order to secure a grant, one must perform three essential tasks:


1.      Research:  Research potential donor agencies and identify a “match.”  For example, one could expect Tobacco Companies to consider funding Cancer research; however, one could not expect the Elton John AIDS Foundation to consider funding Cancer research. 

2.      Query:  Once a “suspect” donor agency has been identified, the grant writer must “query” the potential donor.  This is usually a single page letter or email that briefly introduces the non-profit organization and requests grant application guidelines, forms, instructions, and general criteria. 

3.      The Proposal:  Following any instructions of the potential donor agency, the grant writer must clearly communicate with the non-profit employer, and then compose a comprehensive proposal to the donor agency with the sole objective of “selling” the cause of the non-profit employer and securing the funds/resources/gifts-in-kind requested in the proposal.  Proposal styles and formats greatly vary, depending on the guidelines or application forms of donor agencies; however, there is a universal format.  Today I will be introducing the “universal format.”




RESEARCH:  80% of your work is research (identifying a match—not necessarily writing!)


Your first task is to identify your “suspect” funding bodies.

Where do you start?




Where to Look For Grants (Just to Start—for US-based Agencies)




1.            Foundation Center:  
 The RFP Bulletin is a publication of the Foundation
 Center. To search or browse the Bulletin on the Web,
 To subscribe visit:
2. The Chronicle of Philanthropy –newspaper and website:
3.Websites of Other Similar agencies
4.      (Foundations on-line)
5.      (Foundation search engine)
9.      Corporate websites
10.     Council of Foundations
12. local government
13. local civil society organizations – The Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, etc.
14. Local Churches
15. Local Business


Most importantly—visit websites and publications of similar orgs and find out who funds them!  Also, it does not hurt to ask local representatives from international development agencies for leads…i.e., if you have a VSO or Peace Corps or DED development worker in your neighborhood—they can get access to a large funding body database—ask them!  Every international development agency has a field office and there is a fundraiser on staff—ask them for leads or better, a copy of the database.


Once a “suspect” donor agency has been identified, the grant writer must “query” the potential donor.  This is usually a single page letter or email that briefly introduces the non-profit organization and requests grant application guidelines, forms, instructions, and general criteria. 







Dear                         :



The Hlabisa District community (located in rural, north-east Kwa Zulu Natal) recognises Vusimpilo as a volunteer-based organisation that (a) promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, (b) provides support and counsel to PWA’s living in the Hlabisa District and their families, (c) monitors and aids AIDS-related orphans, (d) provides and trains community members in home-based care and support, and (e) as an information resource center and technical assistance service for local community-initiated development projects (i.e., creche and pre-schools, income-generating projects, bursary information, fundraising counsel, etc.)


Vusimpilo is currently seeking to assist 25 established and operating creches in the Hlabisa District (which has a population of 250,000.)  These 25 creches have all been thoroughly assessed and registered with our organisation but are at varying levels of development and needs.  Some creches are over-populated and need extra classroom space, some needed additional teacher training or additional teachers, some need toilets or water, some need to set up nutritional food schemes, some need additional early childhood development educational materials, etc. 


If any of these needs concur with the vision of  Name of Organisation, please send us via post or preferably, e-mail your detailed guidelines as to when and how to submit a proposal.


Thank you for all your time and consideration.







Kelly N. Patterson (Development Executive of Vusimpilo)



If the suspect donor sends you guidelines or an application, this is indication that they are interested in your proposal/org.  Once they ask for a proposal or send you an application—they now become a “Prospect.”  Applications are easy to fill out—but what if they ask you for a proposal?







Who are you and who is your organization?

Who is your board?

Who do you serve?  Target population? 

Who else in your neighborhood does this kind of work?

Who do you have partnerships with?




What is your mission statement?

What exactly does your agency do/intend to do? 

What services/products do you provide?

What makes your org special/different from the others?



How long have you been operating?

When do you intend to use this money and for how long?



Where are you based and where do you operate?  Geographic information.



Why are you starting this org?

What are the problems facing the community you are serving?

Why are you better-qualified to address these problems?





How exactly do you intend to solve/address these problems?


How Much?

How much do you speculate this is going to cost?

Where else do you intend to get the money?

Who else has donated to your agency?



Budget—simple, simple, simple

Kelly Conclusion:

Grants are critical for starting up an agency—however, one must be very careful not to become too dependent on grants.  There are hundreds of other fundraising options and the more you can think of and implement, the easier it will become to supplement your agency with grants.  There are fundraisers, income-generation, soliciting private donations, direct mail, capital campaigns, contests, events, memberships, endowments, etc.


One of our most successful, long-term fundraising programs was out “Adopt-A-Creche” Campaign, where local small and large businesses (and private schools)“adopted” a crèche (preschool.)  For example, Felixton College, a private South African school, adopted one crèche in Hlabisa and shared school supplies, texts, and educational tools (as well as classroom furniture) with the crèche as well as had students help build a playground and decorate the crèche, in addition to regular food and clothing distribution.



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