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How much should I ask for in a grant application?

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Grantseeker Monthly
grant application

Deciding how much to ask for in a grant application can be a perilous job. Do you swing for the fences and ask for $100,000 at the risk of making your nonprofit seem unreasonable to the application reviewer? Or do you simply try to get on base and ask for $5,000? Like so much in fundraising, the right answer does depend on the context.  That being said, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind.

1. Look at guidelines before all else

Although this tip may seem obvious, not paying attention to the guidelines and preferences of the funder is one of the most common grantwriting mistakes. Many have very specific guidelines as to the size of gifts they are willing to make. For example, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation Leadership Grants Program specifically states that grants are in two categories of $2,500 and $5,000.

In other instances, a funder might specify the maximum size of grants they are willing to give. Investors Group indicates in its guidelines that “85% of Investors Group’s donations are under $5,000”, a helpful hint that the amount you ask for should stay under that amount. Other funders indicate the percentage of a project’s cost they will support. The Government of Nova Scotia’s Age-Friendly Communities Grant Program does both! They indicate that they will fund up to 50% of the total project cost up to a maximum of $5,000.

2. Identify patterns in past giving

Often funders don’t have published giving guidelines so the next place many look is their giving history, which can reveal trends in the size of their past grants. Subscribers to prospect research databases like Grant Connect have access to a table of interactive gift history for every funder.

This tip comes with a big caveat. If a funder has given a grant of $100,000 to the University of Toronto, don’t assume that you will have a good chance of securing the same amount if you are a volunteer-run social service agency. Instead, look for organizations that are comparable to your own. Identify examples of donations that went to nonprofits in a similar field to yours, a similar geographic location, and who have a similar capacity. This will give you a more grounded view of what you could ask for.

What happens if the giving history doesn’t align with their guidelines? Always follow the guidelines if they exist, not the giving history, when you determine your ask. The giving history of a funder could be based on historical relationships with their grant recipients or on past strategy. For example, a funder may have previously supported a smaller number of organizations with bigger donations and now supports a wider number of causes with smaller amounts.

3. Consider your track record

The amount of the ask should depend on the established reputation, track record, and capacity of your organization. Why? Consider the donation you are asking for as an investment. If you are successful, the funder is providing you an investment of funds that will generate a positive return to the community.  Like any financial investment, some are more risky than others. If yours is a well-known organization with a long track record of successful program delivery and sound financial practices, funders will likely be more comfortable providing mid-to-larger sized grants, than it would to a brand new organization (all else being equal).

4. Frame it around the entire grant budget

As we mentioned in our first tip, many funders have stated restrictions on the percentages of a project that they are willing to fund. But if this restriction isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about it. Typically, funders prefer to fund projects that have multiple sources of revenue. If the total budget for your project is $45,000 and a funder is offering grants up to $100,000, avoid asking for the full $45,000. Instead, try to solicit this amount from a few different sources.


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This blog post was featured in Grantseeker Monthly, the e-newsletter of Grant Connect. To receive monthly fundraising tips, blog posts, and interviews with funders, register for this free e-newsletter!

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