Yes, winning proposals DO include excellent writing and innovative ideas, but one of the most vital, yet often-ignored markers of funding achievement/success is “grant readiness.” Veteran grant writers like Chuck Putney at The Grantsmanship Center estimate that proposal development is 80 percent planning and 20 percent writing.
Here are 6 key elements to have in place before you even begin writing:
1. A well-defined project
Design your program first, THEN seek grant funding – not the other way around. A vague program that tries to meet everyone’s needs is not one with a clear purpose. According to funders, one of the top reasons that proposals fail is a poorly planned program. “Helping youth” is not enough. Ask yourself:
  • What need or problem are you trying to address?
  • What is the background of the problem?
  • What is the project that will solve the problem? What difference will your project make to the target group?
  • What is your timeline?
  • What is your timeline?
  • How will you sustain this project when funding ends?
  • How will you sustain this project when funding ends?
  • What resources do you need to make this project happen: think about staff, equipment, facilities, supplies, etc.
2. Data
Don’t stop reading. This is a vital part of getting grant ready and it is likely that you have more than you think. Telling grantmakers that you “provide a wide-ranging array of services that positively impact senior citizens” won’t paint a very colorful or distinctive picture of your organization.
Instead, what if you could say that 85% of your clients between the ages of 70 and 85 reported that their outlook on life has improved since participating in the weekly social activities provided by your organization? And what if you could accompany that with qualitative information from a focus group of seniors who agreed that your agency “goes above and beyond to find out the types of activities that community seniors are interested in?”
Using data to illustrate the problem you want to solve, to describe your community, and to show that you have a track record of effective program delivery will make your proposal more convincing.
3. Community Support
Improving our communities takes a lot of work. You know that you can’t do it alone and so do funders. The ability to partner effectively with other individuals and organizations is vital to building healthy communities.
Many funders require letters of support – a mutual agreement between organizations to share services or facilities – prior to grant approval. In addition to developing collaborative partnerships with other like-minded organizations, here are a few useful methods for getting community support in place:
  • Keep track of how many times your clients ask for a service or describe a certain need.
  • Hold a meeting with top decision makers in your community who might be concerned about the problem your program is trying to solve.
  • Involve community members and organizations in the planning of your project.
  • Conduct focus groups with clients, community members or representatives from other organizations to generate data in support of your program.
4. An evaluation strategy
How will you determine if the project is successful? Being able to answer this question shows funders that you take your goals seriously and want to know how well you have achieved them. Funders want to know that their investment was a sound one. Evaluation also provides information on how to improve your program. An evaluation strategy does not have to be complex. Some questions to help get you started:
  • What are your anticipated outcomes?
  • How will you monitor your progress toward achieving these outcomes along the way?
  • What data will you collect?
  • How will you know if your program design is working?
5. Website
Michelle Hansen at makes the case that “Your website is one of the first things a prospective funder is likely to look at. If you don’t have a web presence, get one. A static site is better than no site at all. If your site has outdated contacts, no recent updates, or incorrect information, these may be red flags to funders. Make sure your site has your mission statement, pertinent history/information about the organization, examples of successful projects/satisfied clients, a list of goals/endeavors, and several ways to make contact.”
6. Organizational capacity
Funding is as much about trust as it is about money. Funders want evidence that an organization’s leaders have a compelling vision and that staff are qualified to provide the services you are offering. They want to know that you are capable of delivering the outcomes you set out to achieve and that you will be able to account for the money that is given to you.
Savvy organizations make sure that these elements are in place well before requesting funds:
  • Solid financial management systems.
  • A well-thought out and accurate program budget.
  • Staff who are responsible for funds and reporting.
  • Adequate cash flow to sustain programming in the case of grant payment delays.
  • Capable, experienced and dedicated management and staff.
Want a hands-on tool to assess your grant readiness? Check out this one (.PDF) developed by