Be Clear About What the Grant Is For

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

An imaginary conversation at a nonprofit: “Hey, we could sure use some new computers and software. And while we’re at it, we ought to see about new office furniture to replace this old junk.” The development person: “OK, I’ll just write a proposal for technology and other equipment.”


The development person crafts a strong statement about the organization’s needs—new hardware, new software, new desks and chairs. Off go the proposals and back comes a big handful of rejections. Why, didn’t they see the need?


This happens a lot. The organization thinks the need is about itself, when in fact it’s about the people and problems it exists to serve. A proposal reviewer might ask: what do you DO with the computers that benefits your target population; how will new software improve or enhance the IMPACT of your programs; will new furniture help your staff DELIVER BETTER SERVICES to your constituents? (A reviewer shouldn’t have to ask, these things should be up front and the focus of the request).


A major foundation makes it clear with these these fairly typical guidelines: It will support a capital request (equipment, e.g.) “only for projects that will directly improve or expand programs we support.” This means that in order to get a grant for equipment, the new computers have to be related to the programs themselves.


Foundations don’t make grants for the benefit of the nonprofits they support. They make grants so those nonprofits can help meet a social goal, or address a community problem, or otherwise help the foundation carry out its mission. Foundations and corporate giving programs are not simply ATM machines. The people who create and run them have their own ideas about how to make a better world. You, as the nonprofit, are going to use their money to play a small part in that vision. The needs you have are for stuff to help you do that job better.


Next time that conversation about “what we need” comes up, take the opportunity to ask “Why? How will it help us deliver services? How will it benefit our clients?” Instead of needing new computers because the ones we have are old, frame the answers in terms of client outcomes. 



Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

© Copyright 2021, The Grantsmanship Center

You're welcome to link to these pages and to direct people to our website.
If you'd like to use this copyrighted material in some other way,
please contact us for permission: We love to hear from you!



A follow-up study of 385 of our graduates found documented that they won grants totaling over $21 million within just six months of completing the 5-day Grantsmanship Training Program®. Our training produces results!