Grant Writing Tips

and Tricks

990 Finder and Starting a Grant Narrative Template


We were working on a project for the Alaska Ocean Cluster and thought, we should be sharing this! This short video shows you how we confirmed a funding agency has given to Alaska organizations previously (using the 990 finder in Instrumentl). 

Then we started a grant narrative template. We collaborated with the team at the Alaska Ocean Cluster to prepare this proposal. It's much easier to do this in Google docs than try to operate out of an online grant foundation application system. 

Want to learn more about Instrumentl and other awesome tips and tricks? Follow this link to FREE Resources on writing and seeking grants.

If you don't already, be sure to follow us on Facebook for updates on blog posts, upcoming workshops, and success stories from other grant writers. 

Read on for more great lessons we have learned at

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Write Grant Proposals that Win - Start with Project Planning!

project planning Sep 05, 2019

Ideas alone are not enough to get funded. The idea needs some meat and bones to it. It needs to have shape. It needs to have been sufficiently well planned to give the funder confidence that you will properly manage grant funds and accomplish what you say you will. 

It is tempting to jump right into the grant writing phase, but without a sufficiently planned project, you will not position yourself for success. Insufficiently planned projects often prove to be too much to pull off and the grant pursuit gets canceled or gets submitted in poor form. 

Our projects are not perfectly planned before we start applying for a grant, but they have sufficient form to build upon! We accelerate reaching project planning milestones during the application process because grant deadlines force decision making. We always make sure, however, a minimum level of planning has been met before researching grant funding and pursuing funds. (Spoiler alert: minimum planning to us means a project...

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Grant Writing Tips: 3 Ways to Decide If a Grant is Worth Pursuing


If you want to increase your success rate writing grant proposals that win, you must decide which grants are worth applying or not. When we are deciding which grants to pursue, we use any or all of the three “tests” below: 

Test #1: Does the funding agency’s giving history align with our organization and project? 

Grant programs can look like the perfect fit when you review them online. The trouble, however, is that a funder’s website does not always reflect their current giving priorities. It also does not tell us if the funder grants sufficient funds to be worth pursuing. 

The fastest way to confirm whether a private foundation actually funds what they say they will is to review their 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service. 990 forms tell us who the private foundation funded in a given year and in what grant amount. Searching 990 forms can provide a wealth of good information! Check out this blog post for a detailed overview of how to...

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Must Do Math Before Writing a Grant

We were never particularly gifted at math, but basic math comes in handy as a grant writer! For every single grant we seriously consider, we insist on knowing the applicant success rate.

What’s that you ask? That is how many applicants were awarded funding out of the total number of applicants.

Why? Now you may say this isn’t a good indication of success since your proposal will be above average. That hopefully is true, but when you get into grants that award less than 10% of applicants, it doesn’t matter how good your application is – the odds are just working against you!

How do you calculate it? Divide the number of successful applicants by the total number of applicants. For example, if 80 grants were awarded and 400 applied, that equates to a 20% success rate (80/400=20%).

What if that info isn’t published? Ask the funding agency. This is a non-negotiable detail to have before deciding to write a grant. Some programs are so competitive less than...

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Mining 990 Forms for Gold: Grant History of Private Foundations

If you are looking at Private Foundations for grants, you MUST know how to research their grant giving history. The way to do this is by reviewing their Federal 990 Tax Forms.

What’s a 990 Form? In the U.S., tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and section 527 political organizations are required to file a 990 tax form to disclose information on their Board and grant giving for the year.

The 990 Form is unique to the U.S. IRS. If you are researching from elsewhere, your government will likely have an equivalent form you should be able to access.

Why Review 990's? There are a few reasons – anyone of which can absolutely be worth their weight in gold!

First, it’s important to confirm the organization’s giving history aligns with your funding request. Sometimes the Foundation’s website will make it look like they give to a number of different priority areas like the environment, childhood health, and the arts. Then when you look at their...

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Don't Fear Grant Match Requirements!

One of the most common reasons we see communities not go after grant funding is because they are overwhelmed by match requirements. They say, “We can’t possibly apply because of the 50% match requirement!” Our response is hogwash. Finding match funding only requires thinking creatively and collaboratively.  Here are some ideas for you to consider:

Leverage past grants. We never apply for a grant that doesn’t help leverage securing another one.  What we mean by this is that when we’re preparing the first grant of several pursuits, making it clear in the narrative that awarding us funding will help secure the next grant. Your application becomes more compelling when you can show how a funding agency’s investment leverages additional dollars.

For instance, our team helped the Alaska Native Village of Huslia secure $550,000 from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation for rural housing. We delayed construction for a year to leverage that...

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5 Outreach Strategies for 'Invite Only' Grant Funders

Uncategorized Feb 08, 2019

The grant world is competitive. It has only become more competitive in recent years. Private foundations are becoming increasingly “invite only” meaning that they “do not take unsolicited proposals”.

Does this mean that you should take them off your list? On the contrary! The fewer the open opportunities, the more proposals they receive. It makes sense to divert your grant winning strategy to taking time to be 'invited’.

Here are five outreach strategies to get the invite, in order of effectiveness.

Find a Connection to the Invite Only Funder

You need to know someone. Use your network to connect! The most effective grant winning organizations have fundraising leadership and board members that know people. Ask your board members and top leaders to think about which foundations and grant-making agencies they may have connections to.

If you find a funder that seems very connected to your cause, send out their board member and staff list to your leadership...

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The Trick to Doubling Your Narrative - Letters of Support!

Last week, we shared our best party tricks on grant writing through two in-person workshops. The first one-day intensive was for community planners from Haines, to Denali Borough, to Nome as part of the Alaska Planning Association Conference. The second was a two-day course for Tribal Environmental Coordinators hosted by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. We had participation from Kassan on Prince of Wales Island, to Bethel, to Chickaloon. Between these two workshops, we had representation from almost every corner of the state!

One area that was not expected was so much discussion on the topic of letters of support. Below is a recap of key takeaways for collecting genuine, inspirational letters of support that can nudge your application ahead of the rest.

Step 1: Develop a Contact List. We provide a spreadsheet template in our online Grant Writing Class, but it’s something you can easily reproduce. Before you host your kick-off meeting, list any and all organizations that...

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Grant Budgeting When You're Not a 'Numbers Person'

If you’re a grant writer, you probably prefer words over numbers. When it comes time to develop a project budget, you would hope someone more technical would take lead, but unfortunately this task usually falls on your shoulders. Don’t despair! In this post, we will give you an example of how to develop a project budget in just a week.  

The Native Village of Tetlin in Alaska was pursuing an Indian Community Development Block Grant for housing rehabilitation. To develop the project scope and budget, we first needed to assess what work needed to be done. To do this, the 1st Chief and Grant Writer, Patricia Young, went door to door over two days to conduct housing assessment interviews. 

Think you’re not qualified to do a housing assessment? Think again! Patricia has no experience with housing, but she thoughtfully developed a two-page assessment that provided the exact information needed to develop a project scope and budget. After she developed the...

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Launching a New Grant Pursuit! Tips for Your Next Kick-Off

Even as an experienced grant writer, getting started with a new grant application can be overwhelming. In this post, I share how I structured a kick-off meeting for a new project and grant pursuit with the Native Village of Tetlin (Alaska).  

Prep Work: Read the funding guidelines and prep a meeting agenda

To prepare for the kick-off meeting, I read the funding guidelines. As I had questions, I typed those into the meeting agenda for discussion later. I also listed the required attachments and assigned different team members to each. I then included a mini grant narrative skeleton (described in the free mini course here), to understand where we have information gaps and to assign responsibilities. The entire process of reading the funding guidelines and preparing a kick-off agenda took about 1.5 hours.

Host Kick-Off Meeting

I use Zoom video conferencing to host meetings. For this project, our team spreads from Anchorage and Tok Alaska to Paraguay! Despite our geographic...

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