Grant Writing Advice and Tips: The Grant Helpers Blog

What to Do When the Funds Dry Up

Posted by Roland Garton on Wed, Jul 22, 2015 @ 12:07 PM

Our company is based in Illinois, a state whose budget woes are getting budgetnational attention. Many of our municipal contacts are faced with a disheartening situation: state funds that have been reliable sources of support for many years suddenly are no longer available. Although such funds are never guaranteed, they have in the past been steady enough to build budgets around them. Now those budgets are in jeopardy. As a result, our consultations and strategy sessions often revolve around replacement funding.

The question is often phrased something like “How can we get the same money from another source?” I call this the replacement mentality, and it’s an obvious response. However, the replacement mentality places limitations on the kind of thinking and planning needed to meet shortfalls. Instead, we encourage our state-strapped clients (municipalities are the most common), to ask different types of questions. Thoughtful, well-considered responses to these questions can lead to improvements, born of necessity, in the organization’s grant strategy. In some cases, responding to the questions prompts an institution to develop an expressed grant strategy for the first time. That in itself is valuable.

Here are some examples of questions whose responses can reveal sources of funding not immediately obvious at first blush—sources that a replacement mentality would likely obscure.

What are our over-arching goals-our most critical objectives? Funding sources usually cannot be developed overnight, so the immediate timeframe may require reduction of activities.  Sometimes state-funded programs are so vital it is more prudent to cut other areas and shift funds to the previously state-funded programs. In the longer term, keeping the mission and priorities at the forefront of planning can help determine which areas are worth the investment of proposal development.

Which of our activities are the most fundable? Replacement funds may not be available for a particular program area, but there may be funds available for other areas not previously supported by grant funds. A replacement mentality could easily overlook such opportunities. 

How can we position our activities to be more fundable? Here is a terrific opportunity for thinking outside the box. Quite often, the project you have in mind can be adjusted to meet one or more funding trends. We get many consultation requests for Parks and Rec grants. Park districts tend think in terms of facilities. But funders tend to think in terms of programs and impacts. So, for example, to better attract grant funds, a park district might list “youth fitness” as a priority, rather than, say, “swimming pool.” As another example, public transportation could be funded by transportation programs, energy conservation programs, safety programs, emergency managment programs, economic development programs, assistance for older Americans, and more.

Two important aspects of this approach are worth noting: 1) Planning requires a good sense of funding trends. Some organizations are aware of these; others need to build such awareness or find experts to work with. 2) Planning also requires thinking about grant funds earlier than often occurs, during strategy and planning cycles. It therefore entails a long turn-around time, but the odds of funding increase dramatically when you are positioned specifically for fundability.

Who will benefit?  Every type of beneficiary for an activity, program, or facility is a potential funding source. Community gardens are a great example of this. They can benefit students, and thus are eligible for education funding. They can benefit at-risk youth, attracting Department of Justice funding. Gardens can also help feed the hungry, an area that’s supported by many foundations.  They can improve neighborhoods and retain residents, especially in rural and underserved populations which is of interest to the USDA, HUD, and others.

If your project impacts youth, think about what corporations benefit from building a relationship with youth. Many foundations associated with corporations are actively trying to become the champion of tweens, in the hope of generating long-term loyalty. Seniors are also a sought-after audience. Pharmacies offer loads of services directed at older Americans, so would be a potential source of funding for a community project benefitting the older population.  Consider your audience and ask “Who benefits from their loyalty?”  Then search for funders with such an interest.

What other opportunities are there? The trauma of funding lapses, while unpleasant, can prompt the kind of thinking that uncovers possibilities otherwise not considered. New partnerships, new sources of funding, and an improved vision are possible by moving from a “replacement mentality” to an “opportunity mentality.”


Photo Credit: Chris Potter

Topics: state of grant giving, ask these questions when writing a grant, best practices in grant writing, application tips, state of Illinois giving, state funding cuts, Illinois budget, state of Illinois budget, long-range planning

How May We Help You?: Our Grant Development Services, Part 2

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 @ 15:10 PM

We recently posted a blog discussing the services we offer throughout the first two steps of grant development. In this blog post, we at TheGrantHelpers discuss the final three steps in the grant development process as well as what we can do to help secure your organization more grant money.


Step 3: Plan and Research the Grant

            Grants require a certain amount of planning and research in order to be successful. With our Grant Readiness Support service, you will receive tools for tracking proposal applications and deadlines, developing budget templates for future grant applications, advising and editing boilerplate documents, developing a desirable funding profile and associated target funding sources, etc.

            If you need help developing a strategy and make the strongest case for funding for a particular grant, we can help you come up with a Grant Strategy. You can expect help with developing an approach, and you will receive two documents, a Case for Funding and a General Approach. Your organization can use these documents throughout the grant writing process.


Step 4: Develop the ProposalGet More Grant Money

            Developing a grant proposal can be tedious because before writing the proposal itself, there is a lot of planning, research, collaboration, organization, etc. involved. Before you invest the time and energy on developing a full proposal, make sure the grant opportunity is a good fit through our Grant Opportunity Review. We will help you go over guidelines, check for potential problem areas, and make suggestions on how to increase your chances for receiving funding.

            If you new to grant writing process, or if you simply don’t have the time to do so, or are looking to do even better, we can help you from start to finish. Even under a tight deadline, we can usually accommodate requests.

            Sometimes, organizations need just a little help and advice here and there along the way. In this case, our Grant Writing Assistance service might be useful. You can expect us to advise on strategy and approach, edit text, offer research support, help prepare budgets, produce simple diagrams and graphics, and more. We will work with your organization to fill in any gaps where they are most needed.

            We can also conduct a Grant Proposal Review. With this service, we will review your proposal against the grant guidelines, proofread your proposal, and double check for compliance so that your proposal is not rejected due to an error or overlooked mistake.


Step 5: What to do After the Grant is Awarded

            Receiving a grant award is fantastic, but the work on the project is only beginning when you receive the funding notice. Many grants require ongoing follow-up and strict reporting requirements, with the risk of having to repay the grant monies if you don't comply. We offer a Grant Award Management service, in which we can organize and manage the reporting requirements by providing training, report management tools, invoicing and financial interactions, or even managing the entire process for you.


No matter where you are in the grant writing process, and no matter where your organization needs help, we have the experts and services necessary to get you on the right track. We customize our interactions with you and offer a variety of high-value and high-quality services. Contact us today for more details, or check out our full services page.

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Topics: grant annoucement, ask these questions when writing a grant, grant services, free grant money, grant notification, best practices in grant writing, Grant writing objectives, Budgets, grant writing submission, grant research tips, grant management, grant readiness, grant editing, How to Grant Write, grant strategy

How May We Help You?: Our Grant Development Services, Part 1

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 @ 10:10 AM

We at TheGrantHelpers are often asked what types of services we can provide. Do we help organizations find grants? Yes. Do we write grant proposals? Yes. Can we help do the research and write the grant itself? No problem. Can we do all of this on an as-needed basis, without the burden of an organization having to employ a permanent staff? Absolutely.

As the holiday season quickly approaches and organizations struggle to find time to wrap things up and get ready for a new year, grant application cycles remain ongoing. Therefore, we thought we’d highlight different phases of the grant writing process and let you know that we are here to help you, no matter when or where you need it.


Step 1: Identify Fundable Needs and Best Practices

            Like most organizations, you probably know what your needs are. You need new playground equipment; you want to start a mental health counseling center as a community outreach service, etc. Some of these needs are more likely to receive funding than others. With our deep experience across many types of grants, with a brief consultation, we can help you identify which needs have the best chance of successful funding.

            Most organizations can improve their funding success rate with key practices that increase their grant writing effectiveness. With our Grant Readiness Services, we will work with you to understand your organization’s mission, goals, and funding needs. By the end of the review, you will receive a document identifying any critical gaps in grant readiness and recommendations of ways to increase your chances to obtain funding.

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Step 2: Find Grant Opportunities

            After you have identified your most fundable needs, you must find grants that match those needs. This can be time consuming, especially if you are unfamiliar with the tens of thousands of entities that provide grants. We are familiar with countless foundations, organizations, corporations, etc. that offer grants on just about everything.

            Joining our free Watch List will help you learn about opportunities that can help you get more money. We simply notify you if we come across a grant opportunity that meets your funding needs.

            With our Grant Opportunity Search, you will let us know your organization’s top priorities, and together we will refine your needs. Then you will receive a fundability evaluation to make sure there are grants out there that fit your needs as well as a Grant Opportunity Report, which will detail at least three relevant grant opportunities.


There are three more steps we will discuss in our next blog post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, be sure to check out our full services page, or contact us for more information.


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Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, grant services, free grant money, grant notification, best practices in grant writing, grant research tips, grant readiness, grant editing, How to Grant Write, Grant Writing Tips, tips on grant evaluations

First Three Things to Complete Once You Decide to Apply for a Grant

Posted by Katie Adams on Wed, May 16, 2012 @ 10:05 AM
first things to complete when grant writing resized 600When determining to apply for a grant, there are a lot of factors to consider.  Is the program a good fit for your need? Can you meet the selection criteria? Can you make a strong case for funding? Once you decide a grant opportunity is "a go," however, the work really ramps up.  These are the first three steps our grant writers take when preparing a new grant proposal.

1. Read the guidelines and supporting materials thoroughly.

    Guidelines structure the entire proposal process.  Read them thoroughly. If FAQ documents and webinars are available, read those as well. The goal is to know all the specific requirements of the grant program and to identify those that need to be addressed first.  Certain items to watch out for include:

    • Submission/Registration requirements

    Different funding agencies have different requirements for proposal submission.  Usually they require registration on one or more websites.  Many government proposals require four registrations in addition to the articles of incorporation:  Dun & Bradstreet, CCR, Grants.Gov, and the departmental site.  Each registration may take many steps.  You’ll want to take care of any such registrations well ahead of time so as not to interfere with final preparations.

    • Conflicting or confusing items

    Guidelines are not always perfectly written. If items are confusing or seem contradictory, get in touch with the program office and ask for clarification. We prefer to ask our questions via email, to ensure that we have written documentation of the responses.

    • Formatting Requirements

    As with all requirements, not following formatting requirements can quickly result in a proposal becoming disqualified.  Take note of what the guideline requests, and prepare your documents accordingly.

    • Selection criteria and any corresponding point values

    This section explains how proposals will be judged, and the point values for selection can inform your program’s development and proposal structure. For instance, if the Evaluation section accounts for 20% of the overall selection points, you’ll want to include a strong evaluation plan.  Keep the selection criteria handy.  You will refer to them often when writing the proposal.

    • Double check deadlines

    We aim to submit at least one day ahead of any stated deadlines, usually several days ahead of time. This gives us a bit of a buffer in case we encounter submission problems.

    2. Set up a Grant Proposal Tracker.

      If a proposal is longer than 10 pages, we almost always set up an internal grant proposal tracker. This outlines the different sections of the proposal (such as: Abstract, Need, Program Design, etc.) and their allotted page counts. As we work on the proposal, we update the tracker based on the status of each section. This document then serves as a nice pre-submission checkpoint to ensure that both all required sections are accounted for and the proposal is within the stated page limits.

      3. Set a preliminary schedule.
        Determine what day you would like to submit the proposal, and then work backward, noting every task that needs to be completed in order to meet that deadline. Setting and keeping a proposal development schedule is one effective way to help ensure that our proposal is both thorough and submitted on time.

        Everyone’s work process is different.  What are the first steps you complete when beginning a new proposal? Write us and share your ideas. 

        Need help with a proposal? is prepared can manage the entire process or serve in an advisory role. Contact a Grant Helper for more information.  

        Image Credit.

        Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, How to Grant Write

        Grant Writing Resolutions for 2012

        Posted by Roland Garton on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 @ 11:01 AM

        grant writing resolution resized 600New Years Resolutions are not only for personal use. Now is the perfect time to reflect on how your organization might become more effective, efficient, and economical in its grant writing efforts. Here are four grant writing related resolution suggestions for your organization to consider.

        • Start your Grant Readiness Kit

        The turn around time between a grant opportunity announcement and a grant deadline can be short.  Proper preparation is the key to being competitive in the grant field. By creating a Grant Readiness Kit, your organization will be better positioned to apply for grants as they become available.

        Read our blog post, “What Goes into a Grant Readiness Kit” or download our free Grant Readiness guide to get a Grant Readiness Kit Checklist for your organization. A Grant Readiness Kit has a lot of components, but you don’t have to produce them all at once. Start adding to your kit with each grant proposal, and fill in the gaps when you have the time.

        • Set aside five hours a month for grant research

        There are a lot of grant opportunities available, and it can be time-intensive to identify which grants are the best fit for your organization. Devote five hours a month to grant research, including both searching for grant opportunities and vetting them for your organization. This is a great use of volunteers working on their computers from their homes. Make sure to keep track of your findings.

        Unsure of where you should look for grants? We recently wrote a blog post on how you can use Google to find grants, but that method has its limits. A paid subscription to a grant database might also be a good purchase for your organization, as it can reduce your search time. Alternatively, if you have a specific funding need, a professionally-conducted grant search by might be a strong investment for your organization. A Funding Opportunity search will provide you with at least 5 different vetted grant opportunities, plus our recommendations on which grants to pursue and what steps you should take next, all at an affordable price. To learn more, you can visit our Services page or email Katie at

        • Establish a grant calendar

        Unless you have a grant opportunity tracking system in place, it is easy to lose track of upcoming funding opportunities.  When you come across a grant opportunity that you’d like to apply for, enter it into your calendar and make it a recurring annual event (Google calendar is one free tool that will let you do this). Many grant opportunities are announced around the same time every year. With a grant calendar, even if you aren’t prepared to apply immediately, you’ll be reminded to look into it when the time is right.

        • Brainstorm with us

        Whether your organization is just getting started or has several successful proposals, a pair of fresh eyes can increase your effectiveness. The Grant offers free consultations for any grant-related inquiry, and we’re happy to connect with you. To schedule your consultation, email Katie or fill out the form on this page.

        Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, best practices in grant writing, Grant writing objectives, grant readiness

        Protect Your Organization When Applying for Grants: Part 1

        Posted by Katie Adams on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 @ 17:11 PM

        protect your organization when applying for grants resized 600As you likely know, when you accept a grant award, you are entering into a legal agreement with the funding agency regarding how those grant funds will be spent. If you deviate from the acceptance agreement in any way – for instance, if you put some of the grant dollars towards a project not mentioned in your proposal or signed agreement, or if you fail to follow through on all of the reporting or other requirements such as required cost match - your organization could face serious trouble. Not only would you be jeopardizing your organization’s relationship with the funding agency, but your organization may have committed fraud – a criminal offense.

        Luckily, such circumstances are not common, and there are some easy steps you can take to safeguard your organization. In this 2-part blog post, I’ll explore some questions to ask--both during the application process and on grant award--whose responses can help protect your organization.

        Considerations for protecting your organization when applying for grants

        • Can your organization meet all of the grant program’s requirements?

        This seems obvious, but it's important enough to reiterate.  When an organization applies for a grant, it’s generally understood that the applicant can fulfill all of the requirements of that grant program. Agreeing to requirements your organization cannot adhere to (or perhaps did not fully understand) could be a cause for trouble. Prior to applying for a grant, ensure that your organization can fulfill all of the grant program’s expectations, including indirect rate structures, matching funds, and especially personnel requirements. (The COPS grant program, for instance, requires a 50% cash match.)

        • Can everyone perform as stated?

        A grant proposal is not the place to embellish upon abilities or results. Once you have your grant proposal planned out, have your organization’s leadership sign off on your ability to accomplish what you propose. If your program includes collaborators, be sure to clarify roles and responsibilities prior to the grant’s submission and have the leadership of those organizations also sign off on the proposal.

        • Have you asked for any needed clarification?

        Requests for proposals and grant guidelines are not always clearly written. If you have a question about expectations or requirements of a grant program, contact the funding office and ask for help. Document the response (email is fine or take note of who you spoke to and when), and keep that information in your files.

        Another Option

        A Grant Helpers Proposal Review is a low-cost method to help safeguard your organization and your grant proposal. We’ll review the grant guidelines, proofread the proposal, and double check for compliance with grant requirements and program objectives. For more information, contact a Grant Helper.

        Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, grant editing

        Grant Writing Due Diligence: 6 Things to Consider Before Searching

        Posted by Katie Adams on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 @ 15:08 PM

        5 things to consider before applying for a grant resized 600Does your organization have a new project in mind? Before you start to look for relevant grant funding, be sure to complete some grant-related due diligence. Knowing the answers to the following questions will make your grant applications more competitive.

        • Is there a need? What evidence do you have that the need exists?

        Foundations and grant makers want to fund projects that will have lasting impacts, so potential new projects should fulfill an identified need within the community or your target audience. Back up this need with data-based evidence.

        • What's the potential impact?

        Once you start your new project, what results do you expect? How did you come to those calculations? Before you search for grant funding or apply for any funding opportunities, think through what the impact will be and how you know your organization will be effective. These are important selling points to include in any grant proposal.

        • Are there similar service providers in the area?

        Before beginning a new project, complete some research to see if there are any other like-minded organizations providing similar services. It can be hard to get grant funding to provide duplicate services to a community, so if there is another organization working in a similar area, combining resources, including money and time, might be the best way to address the need.  

        • Are you qualified?

        Foundations and grant makers want to fund effective, efficient organizations. The most competitive organizations in the grant market are those that are qualified to provide their proposed services; this means that they have prior, applicable experience. If your organization is new, you may be able to “borrow” the necessary experience by having a good, committed Board of Directors and qualified staff and volunteers.

        • Do you have the capacity to serve?

        Does your organization have the time necessary to devote to the new project? How will you fund the parts of the project that lie outside of a grant's parameters? Will you need more staff or volunteers? If you don’t have any of these necessary items, draw up a plan that describes how you will secure them.

        An organization that is “grant ready” is one that is ready to apply and receive grant funding. You can download our free Grant Readiness checklist HERE.

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        Need assistance finding funding opportunities? The Grant Helpers performs grant funding research. Contact a Grant Helper for more details.

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        Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, best practices in grant writing

        Avoid a Grant Writing Pitfall: Communicate with Key Stakeholders

        Posted by Katie Adams on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 @ 11:04 AM

        howtocommunicatewithgrantwritersYou can write the best grant in the world, but if internal polices interfere with submission, it's worthless.

        With any organization, every once in a while the right hand will forget to let the left hand know what it's doing, and that can cause problems for proposals. One of our clients, a nonprofit Executive Director, once told us the story of how he was working on a grant in conjunction with an area community college. Our client secured an insurance agency as a partner on the project, which was appropriate. No problem, right? Wrong. Turns out one of the board members from the community college ran a rival insurance agency. During final approvals, the board member refused to allow any involvement by his competitor. It was too late to make changes, so the whole grant proposal was killed in the last hour.

        Communication is the key to success in any organization, and grant writing is no different. When we work with a client on a proposal, we prompt them to make sure the internal wheels are greased for eventual grant submission. Here are some questions to consider: 

        1. Does everyone on your Executive Board/Board of Advisors/Project Team know about the grant? Are they willing to support it?

        2. Are other key stake holders inside and outside of the organization similarly aware and supportive? 

        3. Are those who must contribute to the proposal sufficiently familiar with relevant requirements (including matching funds, report requirements, etc)? 

        4. Who all will review and have input to the proposal? Has enough time been scheduled to get their input and make changes based on that input? Are they aware of the schedule?

        Any important questions we missed? Let us know in the comments! 

        Interested in other ways to make your grant application stronger? Download our free article, Making the Case, and learn how to make the best case for funding. 

        Make Your Case for Grant Funding

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        Topics: ask these questions when writing a grant, best practices in grant writing, Budgets