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I’ve been a grant writer since before the first Apple computer hit the store shelves in the mid-1980s, and a consultant for nearly as long. Along the way, I’ve often been asked about whether seeking grants is worth all the toil, trouble, and red tape.


Among the questions that I have been asked — and answers I’ve given — are:


(1)  Question: Is pursuing this grant going to be worth our investment in time, energy, funds, and resources?

Answer: In general, the larger the potential grant award, and the stronger an applicant’s organizational commitment to its pursuit, the more likely an applicant will find its investment in that pursuit to have been worthwhile.


(2)  Question: Is a grant the best way to go in getting the funding we need for this?

Answer: If a grant is going to distort an applicant’s mission, vision, or goals, the applicant should not seek that particular grant; if it needs unrestricted funds, it should avoid funders that restrict uses of funds to those detailed in a funded grant application; and, in all cases an applicant should adopt and execute a diversified revenue strategy so that it does not depend on repeated success in winning grants as its exclusive source of funding.


(3)  Question: How likely is it that we will be funded?

Answer: An applicant is always more likely to be funded if it applies than if it does not apply, but it is certainly not always in its best interest to chase a particular grant; in cases where a funder indicates that it will award fewer than ten grants in a competition, it is a clear signal to applicants that only the most well-positioned and committed organizations should bother to apply.


(4)  Question: Will this grant award need to be treated as restricted funding or will we be able to add it to general revenues?

Answer: State and federal grant awards are generally restricted funds and must be expended in ways delineated in an applicant’s funded proposal and consistent with OMB circulars and other regulations; foundation grants may not be quite so restricted if they are awarded for general support or similarly flexible purposes.


(5)  Question: How much funding can we request in this grant proposal?

Answer: State and federal funders often indicate a minimum and maximum grant award in their notices of funding availability (NOFAs); prospect research using 990-PFs and other tools will indicate grant award averages and ranges for foundations; prudent applicants budget accordingly.


(6)  Question: How much funding should we request in this grant proposal?

Answer: Applicants should ask for no more than they need to accomplish their proposed goals and objectives, and in no case more than the maximums discoverable through meticulous foundation prospect research or careful review of NOFAs.


(7)  Question: Can we ask for a grant to support an existing program or initiative?

Answer: State and federal grant programs generally are intended to build an applicant’s capacity (to do what it proposes to do in its grant application) through a short-term infusion of external funding, and they caution that such funding must be used to supplement existing local commitments, not supplant them; foundations are far more variable in their willingness to allow their funds to support an existing program or initiative rather than supplement it in some way.


Among questions that I so far have not been asked, but for which I have answers are:


(1)  Question: Do we expect the outcomes, if we are funded, to be worthwhile?

Answer: If the applicant itself does not expect that its anticipated outcomes will be worthwhile, if achieved, it is unlikely that funders will be persuaded otherwise.


(2)  Question: Should we only seek a grant from a funder with which we already have an established relationship and track record?

Answer: Applicants should seek grants from funders whose purposes and priorities closely resemble their own — or they should not bother to apply; such closeness of fit in selecting funding options is independent of prior contact with a funder or having obtained prior funding from it.


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