Grant Writing Tips

and Tricks

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 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 search for...

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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...

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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 990s? 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, we make 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 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 award...

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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 grantmaking 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...

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The Trick to Doubling Your Narrative - Letters of Support!

Last week, I shared my 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 I was not expecting so much discussion was 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 benefit...

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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 is 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 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 we needed to develop a project scope and budget. After she developed the housing...

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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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Grants for Organizations Serving Veterans

grants Nov 12, 2018


Veterans – thank you for your service.

As we think about the sacrifices Veterans (and their families) have made for us on this day, the team at LearnGrantWriting.Org wanted to share a few grant opportunities for organizations serving Veterans. We will close with a few tips on how to evaluate a funding opportunity to determine if it is worth pursuing.

Disabled Veterans National Foundation Capacity Building Grants 

Overview: The Capacity Building Grants provide support to our nation’s veterans. These grants are awarded to organizations around the country who are addressing the mental and physical recovery of veterans in unique ways. Service dogs, equine therapy, yoga, art therapy, and recreational therapy are just a few of the innovative programs that DVNF supports.

Grant Amount: Up to $25,000

Deadlines: Letter of inquiry February 9, 2019, full proposal due March 9, 2019.

Eligibility: Must be a 501(c)3 non-profit




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Applying Design Thinking to Community Negotiations

This week I was in Koyukuk, Alaska helping the tribe and city agree on how to best share the responsibilities of maintaining their road system. We also worked on rebooting plans for a new community hall. To facilitate these discussions, I borrowed exercises from IBM’s Design Thinking. The process was 10x richer than a traditional public meeting and gave clear direction on where to focus.  


We were going to kick off the transportation planning meeting with a Hopes and Fears exercise, but delicious snacks and socializing took a bit longer than planned. It’s still my all-time favorite way to start a meeting with a new group of people, however, and here’s why:

  • Helps the facilitator tailor the rest of the session to address the hopes and fears raised.
  • If fears are persisting as the project evolves, then I know what to focus on to address those underlying issues.
  • It helps everyone get comfortable being transparent and open with each other, and...
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