The Nonprofit Grant Writing Guide: How to Apply for Funding

The Nonprofit Grant Writing Guide: How to Apply for Funding

Grant writing is one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of working in the nonprofit world. Done well, it means your nonprofit will have the resources to achieve its goals. And because those goals are philanthropic, grant writing can result in true community betterment.

But the key there is “done well.” There are right and wrong ways to write a grant proposal. Read on for the right ways.

Competition for major grants can be intimidating, and grant writing can be time-consuming. If you tackle the grant writing process smartly and have strong resources in place, you’ll go a long way toward boosting your application’s odds for success.
Explore this guide to nonprofit grant writing for an overview of the entire process, plus some helpful tips and resources. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Pre-writing prerequisites
  2. Understanding grant writing
  3. First steps for grant writing
  4. Finding nonprofit grant opportunities
  5. Building a grant writing team
  6. Building your nonprofit’s case for support
  7. Refining your grant writing strategy
  8. Completing your grant application

Use this article as a reference to guide your grant writing process and make sure your team doesn’t lose sight of the big picture. Let’s get started!

1. Pre-Writing Prerequisites

Grant writing has fantastic potential to help your nonprofit achieve its mission. But it does take resources—namely, time and labor—to write and submit grant proposals. If your nonprofit is operating on a tight budget, you need to know that you’re maximizing the chance of grant-application success.

To make sure that’s the case, first, get the right tools implemented at your nonprofit. Before you even put pen to paper (or more likely, fingers to keys), ensure that your nonprofit has systems in place to optimize all fundraising efforts.

Start with fundraising technology. Innovative nonprofit software gives you a free platform for online donations, so whether your nonprofit gets the grant or not, it still has a fast, effective way of receiving funds. Consider technology the bedrock for your fundraising initiatives.

Having a free online donations platform, like the one we offer here at Snowball Fundraising, lets anyone give to your nonprofit, whether or not they’re from a grant-providing institution. Online giving is the most popular way to donate, with more than half of donors worldwide preferring it over direct mail, cash, bank transfer, PayPal, and mobile app/wallet—combined!

A grant application probably has the potential for more funding than any one individual online donation. That’s why it’s important to offer the option for recurring donations through your online donations software. Donors who set up recurring donations give 42% more annually. Make it easy for one-time donors to become repeat donors by offering simple (i.e., one-click) setup of recurring donations through your online donation platform.

Other key features to look for in nonprofit technology are ease of installation (it should take under ten minutes to set up); interactivity, with share buttons that could make your campaign go viral; and donor management tools, so you know who’s supporting your nonprofit.

Once your nonprofit’s online donations are ready to go, not only will you have a built-in platform for fundraising. You’ll also be able to highlight your strong foundation for success in your grant proposal. Grant-giving organizations won’t want to fund a nonprofit that they don’t think will last. Show them yours is here to stay.

Take advantage of free advanced technology to give people the option to give how they want, when they want, where they want.

(Source for statistics: Nonprofit Source)

Take a couple of minutes to set up online donations.

2. Understanding Grant Writing

Grant proposals might rank among the most important documents you ever create for your organization. A grant that supports a major new project can represent the beginning of a new phase of growth for your nonprofit, attracting increased attention and new donors.

Before diving any deeper, be sure to download our grant proposal template and follow along step by step. That way, you’ll get the whole picture of how each step of the grant writing process fits with every other.

What do grant-giving organizations look for in applicants? Generally speaking, ideal grant candidates are or have:

  • Clearly definable and relevant missions
  • Driven by specific project goals and plans
  • Sustainable financial and operational structures
  • Use modern fundraising tools and methods
  • A history of successful projects and initiatives
  • Strong relationships with community and peers

What this means is that your organization should already have clear proof of a strong vision and smart operational foundation. You should have a general idea for your next major project in mind before pursuing a specific grant or beginning a grant application.

Let your nonprofit’s mission guide your process. (Need help on writing a mission statement?) Here are some examples of mission statements that are distinct and actionable, but also flexible and open to possibility:

The parameters of the specific grant application will certainly guide the development of your project’s goals and processes, but never plan a project entirely around a grant you hope to get. Always remain true to your organization’s own goals.

Tip: After familiarizing yourself with these steps for writing a grant proposal, be sure to read our extra grant writing tips for even more best practices.

Our mission at Snowball Fundraising is simple: We unleash generosity.

3. First Steps for Grant Writing

Make sure you understand all the components of a typical nonprofit grant proposal. You can find more complete explanations of each section in our proposal template, but here are the basic parts of a grant application:

  • Cover letter
  • Executive summary
  • Statement of need
  • Goals and objectives
  • Methods and strategies
  • Plan of evaluation
  • Budget projections
  • Organization information

(Additional elements that some, but not all, grant-giving foundations might require include an initial letter of intent and letters of support from other stakeholders.)

As you can tell from this list, grant writing requires that you already understand your project’s core goals before ever thinking about the complete proposal! Even if you’re unsure of your exact engagement plans or marketing strategies, it’s a good idea to start any new project by clearly defining your goals. Think about:

  • What specific issue are you trying to address?
  • What positive, quantifiable benefits can your project create for your community?
  • How will you get community support?
  • How many people do you want to engage?

With your concrete goals and mission at top of mind, you can begin to identify more specific strategies, tools, and stakeholders for your project.

Grant writing isn’t a casual chore; it takes considerable planning and vision. Laying out these goals now will make the rest of the grant writing process considerably smoother.

4. Finding Nonprofit Grant Opportunities

Once you identify the core goals and nature of your next project that needs funding, begin searching for grant opportunities.

The great benefit of having your goals guide your grant search is that the grants you pursue will already be fairly aligned with your mission. By investing your time and effort in these opportunities, you’ll drastically increase your odds of success.

These are the most common sources for nonprofit grants:

  • Federal, state, and local governments
  • Large organizations and endowments
  • Private grant-giving foundations

Find some government- and state-level databases to begin your search. is a great starting point. This comprehensive database compiles all available federal grants and lets you filter by source, grant category, and types of eligible organizations. Even if you don’t find a federal grant appropriate to your exact mission, the database will give you a great idea of the kinds of opportunities available:

Alternatively, if you’re looking for grants to help you promote your nonprofit, Google offers Google Ads grants, which are in-kind donations of $10,000 in monthly Google Ads funding. Your nonprofit can use the grant to put your ads at the top of search queries, to attract more supporters. Imagine if a potential donor wants to support a cause like yours, searches on Google for “nonprofit [your nonprofit type or cause],” and comes across your website at the top of the rankings. Not only will they learn about your nonprofit, but they’ll be able to click through to your online donation page right then and there.

Once you find a grant to pursue, research its source. If it’s an endowment or foundation, learning about its giving history, leadership, and mission can help you better tailor your strategy.

If you have specific questions about a grant or would like more context, it can sometimes be a good idea to reach out to the grant program officer. Briefly discussing your vision and determining how well it aligns with that of the grant source can provide extremely useful insights during the grant writing process. Some foundations specifically ask applicants not to contact the grant program officer, so only do this if you know it’s okay to.

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5. Building a Grant Writing Team

Strong grant writing requires multiple perspectives. This helps ensure that your programming plans, language, and data will be their most persuasive and well-reasoned. It’s almost never a good idea to write a grant application alone.

Your nonprofit’s grant writing team should be involved in brainstorming the exact programming and engagement strategies to propose. A reliable grant writing team will consist of:

  • The nonprofit’s executive leadership (at least for oversight)
  • At least one board member, possibly more
  • Staff members familiar with fundraising and project planning
  • Volunteers who can offer unique perspectives on engagement

Keep the team to five or six members at a maximum. Too many voices can create distractions, reduce focus, and slow the entire grant writing process. Once you’ve formed a small team, familiarize each member with some best practices for effective grant writing.

Most importantly, prioritize including diverse perspectives on your grant writing team. Diverse insights on the planning process, fundraising, and ground-level engagement will strengthen your appeal, creating a more robust and flexible plan.

An effective grant writing team will help your project goals and strategies remain fully actionable and properly scaled to the scope of the grant.

6. Building Your Nonprofit’s Case for Support

Think of grant writing as simply pitching your idea. Build a strong case for support, explaining why your plans are both meaningful and achievable. The point of your proposal is to convince an agency or foundation that your organization is a responsible steward of funds, driven by an actionable mission and engaged with supporters in impactful ways.

Your organization’s passion for its mission is certainly half of the equation here, but data is often the deciding factor for grant-giving bodies that receive tons of applications from nonprofits around the country. Depending on the focus and scope of your project, consider collecting data such as:

  • Your own fundraising statistics, which you can access through your donations platform
  • Analytics and engagement from your nonprofit CRM
  • Your nonprofit’s finances and financial trends
  • Sociological or economic data about the problem your project addresses
  • Any other data that illustrates your work and community involvement

The best cases for support provide a concrete background and statistics. Here’s an example of the level of specificity you should pursue in the statement of need section of your grant application:

As a rule of thumb, establish clear data reporting protocols across all operations at an early stage. Your current and future grant writing efforts will be rewarded by that early planning. Your fundraising, accounting, marketing, and management tools should all cleanly and automatically provide reporting.

This best practice makes the grant writing process easier for two reasons:

  1. Organized, accessible data will help support any claims about your work and past successes.
  2. Big-picture data allows you to make the insightful connections that could win you the grant.

Be sure to research and collect any data relevant to the root issues driving your project’s mission and affecting your community. Balance your emotional appeal with concrete plans and data, highlighting the specific fundraising tools and engagement methods that have brought your nonprofit success in the past.

7. Refining Your Grant Writing Strategy

Once you and your grant writing team have identified your goals, found an appropriate grant to pursue, and brainstormed some programming to propose, you’re ready to actually begin writing. Compose the grant application in sections to streamline the process.

Remember that your strategy will adapt and change across the entire grant writing process. Beginning and completing your grant application without changing your programming plans or adjusting your goals at all typically means that your strategy could stand to be strengthened.

This is another reason why building a grant writing team is a best practice. Teams often propose more unique programs to be funded. Plus, establishing a system of peer review is an excellent way to identify issues in both your rationale and the writing itself. Discovering any weak links now means they can be addressed before the grant program officer reviews the application.

One effective way to ensure that your grant proposal remains focused is to identify how your project will provide a return on investment. That includes:

  • A literal return on investment. Use your grant application to prove that your project will reach a quantifiable threshold of success, such as a specific engagement rate.
  • A community return on investment. Use your proposal to explain the less tangible, but still substantial, positive impact your project will have on your community.

Another key strategy for keeping your grant writing strategy flexible is to field thoughts from your stakeholders. What kinds of projects do your volunteers, donors, constituents, and members think would be perfect for your organization to undertake? Your organization’s leadership will need to approve your final proposal anyway, so invite them to provide thoughts and feedback during the grant writing process. They could quickly recognize weaknesses or opportunities that your team missed.

8. Completing Your Grant Application

Your team may have decided to approach the grant writing process in any number of ways. Most commonly, grant writing teams assign individual members specific sections of the application to complete, then work on them in a collaborative online document. This a great way to keep your draft organized and all your resources easily accessible.

Plus, using a shared document will enable your team to establish an editing process. Make sure each section is reviewed both individually and in the context of the sections before and after it. Then make sure the entire grant proposal is reviewed multiple times. When reviewing individual sections of your completed grant application, look out for:

  • Any grammatical or spelling mistakes
  • Unclear, vague, or ineffective language
  • Unsupported claims or statements
  • Any missing steps or data points
  • Repetitive or drawn-out explanations

Familiarizing your team with grant writing best practices beforehand will help reduce the need for extensive structural adjustments to the proposal. Keep the grant proposal’s language clear, bold, and concise!

Once the team is pleased with the application and your nonprofit’s leadership signs off, it’s time to confirm that every required section or piece of material is included. Depending on the grant’s source, you may need to submit your application either electronically or through the mail. Be sure to check well in advance of the due date.

A grant application is often a hefty document, so leave your team plenty of time to write it, perfect it, and ship it!

And don’t forget, your nonprofit is part of the community—which includes other nonprofits. If another nonprofit receives the grant, remember that the funding is still going toward bettering your community in important ways. You’ll have other opportunities to unleash generosity, whether through different grants, online giving, events, or further fundraising channels.

No matter what happens, preparing for, writing, and submitting your grant application will give you greater insights into your organization than you’ve ever had before. You’ll be even more set up for success.

If you’re preparing to start the grant writing process for your nonprofit organization, we wish you the best of luck! Grant writing is certainly a challenge, but the rewards can be immense. Plus, effective grant writing is a learned skill that you can practice and continually improve.

You’ve already started off on the right foot by reading these essential steps for writing a winning nonprofit grant proposal, but be sure to do as much research as you can. Check out these additional grant writing and fundraising resources that you might find helpful:

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