10 Best Practices for Evaluating Different Funders (When You Can't Apply to Every Grant Opportunity)


Melissa Branthaver


Communications professional

Reviewed by:


January 19, 2024

Last Updated:

January 19, 2024

There are so many grant funding opportunities out there that it can be difficult to know where to even start.

And, with limited resources, you often have to make some tough choices about which ones you want to apply for. After all, you can’t apply for every grant—as much as you might like to!

In this article, we’ll share 10 funder evaluation best practices that can help you master the art of selecting the right funders and maximize your grant application success.

Sound good? Let’s get started.

Best Practice 1: Pick Grants That Align With Your Mission and Vision

The first and most important of the funder evaluation best practices is to identify grant opportunities that align with the mission and vision of your organization. Grants are competitive, and funders are more likely to award you a grant if there’s a clear alignment between your mission and their funding priorities.

When searching for grants, you want to prioritize funders who share your values and vision. They believe in what you believe in—and, most importantly, they want to help you achieve your goals.

Pro Tip:
Determining funder mission alignment is easy with Instrumentl. Simply select a grant to get a complete breakdown of the funder’s area of interests, the grant’s eligibility requirements, 990 snapshots, and more.

As you can see in the screenshot below, SC Johnson focuses their giving on initiatives that promote a healthier, more sustainable world.

SC Johnson Grants

Selecting organizations that align with your mission and vision is the first step toward strategic funder selection. The clearer alignment, the higher your chances of success.

Best Practice 2: Research Funder’s Giving History

One of the best ways to determine your chances of winning a particular grant is to explore who that funder has funded in the past.

You should look for patterns and funding trends. Previous giving is often a good indicator of future giving.

For example, some of the things you should take note of include:

  • Any geographic focus areas
  • The size and number of grants awarded
  • How open the funder is to new grantees

Fortunately, Instrumentl’s 990 Snapshots curate and distill all of this information for you!

Instrumentl’s 990 Snapshots

With Instrumentl, you get a bird's eye view of a funder’s giving history—including where they’ve given, how much, and to whom.

Key Financial Stats

While funders can deviate from patterns for any number of reasons, typically, they will stick closely to their giving trends. This information is invaluable when evaluating and narrowing down your list of potential funders.

Discover Your Next Grant

Start Your Grant Search

Best Practice 3: Consider How Grants Help Tell Your Story

The most compelling and successful grant proposals are those that emotionally resonate with funders.

When evaluating different funding opportunities, you should prioritize those that give you an opportunity to share your nonprofit’s story in an engaging and captivating way.

Remember: you don’t have the time or resources to apply to every single grant out there, which is why you should consider grants that offer relevant and inspirational storytelling opportunities.

For examples and tips for how to do this well, check out our comprehensive guide on how to storytell effectively in grant narratives.

Ultimately, grants that help you tell your story are almost always worth pursuing.

Best Practice 4: Go for Out-of-the-box Opportunities

There are many grantmakers out there who want to fund the future, and they’re seeking innovative nonprofits to help them do it.

  • Are you taking a new approach to an existing problem?
  • Is the issue you’re tackling new and different?
  • Are you open to innovative new resources?

If that sounds like you, you should prioritize grants from funders known for their willingness to fund experimental projects. These grants can really help you push boundaries and explore new solutions.

For example, the Bush Foundation fuels community innovation with its grants. They’re looking for organizations that have promising ideas that can make a difference in their communities.

Bush Foundation

These types of funders may be more likely to take a chance on new approaches rather than prioritizing tried and true methods.

Best Practice 5: Identify Capacity-building Grants

There are different types of grants, and a great way to narrow down your list of funders is to focus on grants that specifically meet your funding needs.

For example, grants that fund specific projects are fantastic, but there are also others out there that are specifically designed to help build capacity within your organization as well.

Capacity building grants can help you:

  • Invest in trainings
  • Purchase new tools and technology
  • Develop volunteers programs
  • And more!

These grants can have a long-lasting impact on your organization’s growth and sustainability.

For example, the Retirement Research Foundation offers nonprofits in Illinois the opportunity to strengthen their infrastructure. They understand the internal health of an organization will only make its impact even bigger.

Retirement Research Foundation

Best Practice 6: Find Unconventional Partners

Sometimes, the best funders are going to be the most unexpected, so don’t rule out any unconventional partnerships as you navigate strategic funder selection.

Partnering with non-traditional collaborators can help you grow your network, expand your reach, and make new connections.

is an organization that helps promote equality for the LGBTQIA+ community through education. They have many big-name partners, especially in retail, thanks to their robust DEI educational courses.

However, there are also just as many unexpected partners on their extensive list of corporate partners. Banks, shipping companies, other foundations, and more are all among their sponsors.


These are two-way relationships. PFLAG can spread their mission, and the partners can benefit from their knowledge. Unconventional partnerships are mutually beneficial to both parties.

For more tips on pursuing corporate sponsorships, check out this helpful guide.

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Best Practice 7: Explore Challenge Grants

Challenge grants help motivate the community to give back. They give your donors incentives to contribute to maximize their impact. These can also be called matching grants, and they’re incredibly effective.

Challenge grants work best as part of a specific project or campaign.

For example, DePaul University hosts an annual challenge to see how much they can raise for the university in a single day. Each year, they have various levels that donors can help unlock, including matching gifts and special donations.

These challenge grants are great ways to motivate and inspire others to make a difference, so don’t be afraid to leverage them. They show that others believe in the organization, encouraging others to donate.

Best Practice 8: Identify Interdisciplinary Grants

Just like working with unconventional partners, looking for interdisciplinary grants can also help broaden your horizons.

These grants:

  • Encourage collaboration between fields and sectors
  • Approach projects from a unique angle
  • Drive efficiencies in programs and resources
  • Maximize the impact you can make

All of this can lead to innovative solutions that can often address complex problems in new and exciting ways.

For example, the National Endowment for the Humanities offers research grants specifically to promote interdisciplinary work. This helps create new avenues of thought, integrating multiple points of view in a cohesive way.

These opportunities are beneficial as you look to share resources, grow your network, and more. As you’re working through your grant application prioritization, these are fantastic ones to keep an eye on.

Best Practice 9: Prioritize Existing Relationships Over Establishing New Ones…for Now

If you’re trying to decide which grants to apply for, you should prioritize your existing relationships over establishing new ones.

With existing relationships, you already have a solid foundation. They know your organization and what it stands for.

As you apply for funding, perhaps these existing partners have a new grant they’re launching, or your grant is due for renewal. Or maybe they even can open doors to a new grant opportunity from one of their partners. For tips on building and cultivating relationships with funders, check out this guide.

Now, that’s not to say you should only work with funders that you’ve worked with before. After all, every relationship has to start somewhere! But as you’re prioritizing which grants to apply for, you’ll want to focus on funders you’ve worked with before.

Best Practice 10: Only Apply for Opportunities Where You Meet the Requirements

This may sound like common sense, but as you’re evaluating different funders and grant opportunities, only focus on those whose criteria you meet.

You’d never want to spend time and energy developing a proposal for a grant you were never eligible for in the first place!

Funders can get as granular as they want—it’s their money, after all—so the more closely you align with what they are looking for, the better your chances will be.

Pro Tip:
When you look up grants on Instrumentl, you’ll get a clear overview of the funder’s eligibility requirements for you to review. Below is an example from the Change Happens Foundation.

Browse Grants

Wrapping Up

Throughout the article, we covered 10 funder evaluation best practices. They include:

  1. Pick grants that align with your mission and vision
  2. Research funder’s giving history
  3. Consider how grants help tell your story
  4. Go for out-of-the-box opportunities
  5. Identify capacity-building grants
  6. Find unconventional partners
  7. Explore challenge grants
  8. Identify interdisciplinary grants
  9. Prioritize existing relationships over establishing new ones…for now.
  10. Only apply for opportunities where you meet the requirements

When you follow these best practices, you’ll be able to evaluate different funders to narrow down your list to the best-fit opportunities.

Instrumentl can help streamline your grant research processes, connecting you with grants that align with your mission and funding needs. Sign up for a free, 14-day trial to see how Instrumental can work for you.

Melissa Branthaver

Melissa Branthaver

Melissa Smith is a freelance communications professional with over 10 years of fundraising experience working within higher education and corporate philanthropy to help clients land their next funding opportunity.

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