Four Do’s and Don’ts of No-Guarantee Grant Seeking

This guest post is from Dana Textoris, Director of Client Engagement, Grants Plus

If there’s one sure thing about grant seeking, it’s that there are no guarantees. Even the “best grant writer in the world” receives their fair share of rejections. Many factors figure into a grant maker’s decision—some that you can influence, like taking steps to warm a relationship with a program officer and ensuring your proposal is tailored to the funder’s specific priorities—and others outside your realm of control.

Because grant seeking is so competitive and resource-intensive, without a predictable ROI, it’s important to smartly allocate your efforts and adhere to these basic do’s and don’ts:

DO expect rejection

When approaching a new funder, expect that you may be declined in the first go-round. But don’t be defeated: putting your organization in front of a funder is a mark of progress. Seek a conversation with the program officer to understand if the decline was a matter of fit, timing, or weaknesses in your application that you can fix in the future.

DON’T bank on first-time grants from new funders

When you’re budgeting revenue for the coming year, what should go on your grants line? The smartest approach is to only include grants that are already confirmed as well as grants you can safely anticipate from existing funders. It’s simply too risky to presume you’ll win grants from funders you are approaching for the first time or that rejected your last request. Hold these aside in an aspirational grants budget that you will use to seed new plans and projects—not count on for general operations.

DO demonstrate a plan for sustainability

Most funders don’t want to be a lifeline for the same program forever. Demonstrate that there is a detailed and thoughtful plan to sustain the organization or project beyond the grant. A vague intention to “seek additional funds” is not enough—a strong sustainability plan may include any of these strategies:

  • Plans to add earned income: Depending on the nature of your organization’s work, earned income may include fees for service or revenue from social enterprise. The Society for Nonprofits offers a simple guide.
  • A strategy to leverage federal funds or other major grant dollars: Explain how an initial investment will position the organization to win larger or longer-term grant funding. Describe your plans to seek additional grants and certainly list multi-year grants that have already been committed.
  • A robust individual donor fundraising plan: Include numbers from recent years to show that a projected percentage growth in the annual fund or your major gifts program is feasible. Detail the activities you will implement to build your individual donor pool and increase their support.
  • Contributions from organizational partners: If partners will contribute staff or other resources, include these details as well as MOUs or letters of support.

DON’T take existing funders for granted

Funders can and do change their grant making focus for a variety of reasons. Leadership for a foundation may change hands to a new trustee, or to a whole new generation, who bring with them different pet projects and priorities. Or an emergency may pull the attention of funders, like the opioid crisis or a major natural disaster. The best defense against the unexpected is a strong relationship. If you’ve built a pattern of trust and communication with a funder, it’s more likely they’ll give you warning if their grant making is changing or they don’t intend to renew your funding. Also, don’t get lazy with a long-time funder: take care to ensure that every renewal proposal you submit is as stellar as your first.

There’s no sugar-coating it: grant seeking is plain hard work that doesn’t come with a guarantee. But by building your efforts around basic truths and proven best practices, you can be more successful at mitigating your risks and maximizing the rewards.


Dana Textoris, Director of Client Engagement, Grants Plus

Dana is an experienced major gifts officer and grant writer. At Grants Plus, she builds relationships with nonprofits to recommend solutions that will make it easier for them to succeed in grant seeking.