How to Match Your Grant Application to Funder Interests

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August 10, 2021

Last Updated:

August 24, 2021

We’re saying it: it’s time to move past funder opportunities to instead focus on the funders. What does that mean? Instead of matching your grant application to a funding opportunity, we want you to start matching your grant application to funder interests.

If you’re ready to ditch frantic searches and last minute deadlines for focused, engaged grant writing, this article is for you.

Let’s dig into what’s wrong with looking only at FOAs, and what we should do instead.

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What's Wrong with Solely Looking at FOAs?

Funding opportunity announcements search

You’re not alone if you’ve been focusing your grant searching and writing on looking at FOAs (funding opportunity announcements). Not sure if this is you? If your team regularly comes to the table with a specific opportunity, from an organization you may or may not be familiar with, then this is you. In fact, most major funding search engines are designed to do just this.

We are going to propose a different approach, but first, some hints about why finding the right funding match needs to go beyond FOAs.

1. Not Enough Information

Securing foundation funding requires knowing a lot about the foundation. Why? They want to see a proposal that fits well with their mission. In fact, mission matching is a key aspect of successful grant proposals.

The FOA is going to give you some basic information about the organization’s mission, but not enough to tailor it to the funder’s overall goals and vision. So, by just focusing on the FOA, you’re missing out on valuable information that will increase your chances of success.

For example, this grant FOA from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation tells you a little about the purpose of the grant.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation FOA

But it doesn’t nearly as much about the organization as their annual message, guiding principles, and specific focus areas do!

2. Not Enough Time

Searching just for FOAs means you will always be in a time crunch! Even if you find the right funding match, it may be due in two weeks or you could have just missed the deadline for the perfect funding opportunity.

3. Not the Right Fit

When your organization is looking for grant funding, how often do you already have the idea for the proposal in mind? When that’s the case, you’ve limited your funding options significantly. Finding the right funding match could be really challenging!

Alternatively, if you have the perfect proposal idea in mind while looking for FOAs you might try to modify your project to fit an opportunity that is available and marginally relevant. This isn’t matching your grant application to funder interests as much as it is squeezing your square project into a round funding opportunity.

Searching for FOAs alone could result in difficulty finding a good fit or making changes to your proposed project that might push your organization outside of your own mission.

Why Matching Project Ideas to Grant Funder Interests is Important

Importance of Matching Project Ideas to Grant Funder Interests

Matching your project idea and grant application to grant funder interests is going to significantly improve your grant proposal and chances of getting funding. After all, grant funders are looking for projects that fit their mission and values and move their long-term vision forward.

You can think of the funding agency as a puzzle. When you match your grant application to the FOA, you are putting just one piece into the puzzle. You have a narrow view, because you’ve been looking at the spot for just the puzzle piece you are holding. In contrast, by matching your grant application to funder interests you are looking at the whole puzzle first. In this way, you can assemble a whole section of the puzzle and then put it in.

How to Identify Grant Funder Interests

Identifying Grant Funder Interests

So, you’re convinced that you should have a funder focused grant strategy rather than blindly searching for FOAs. Now how do you figure out which grant funder interests meet yours?

Check out the grant funder’s website

Look for their mission statement, values, and culture as well as their funding goals, how they work, and their focus areas. Understanding these areas is essential for matching your grant application to funder interests because these areas are their interests written out for you! This is also known as mission matching.

Keywords to look for:

  • Mission
  • Values/ Guiding Principles
  • Vision
  • Priorities
  • Focus Areas

For example, let’s look at the Foundation for Child Development’s webpage.

In the About Us, you get some of their general goals and priorities. You can also access their mission.

Foundation for Child Development About Us page

From this, you can tell that their mission is to build better lives for young children.

You can also see that their general priorities include filling gaps in knowledge, particularly around areas of child well-being and development where there is little research, and influencing policy when it comes to how to positively affect children's lives.

If you want an even easier way to get all of this information check out their annual report!

It includes their mission statement, goals, and current grantees, all in one place!

Foundation for Child Development Annual Report
Foundation for Child Development Annual Report

Look at past grantees

Who has received grants from this organization recently? This can give you insight into what kinds of projects and outcomes they value and provide you a different perspective on mission matching.

Just remember, It’s important to look at the most recent grantees as funder interests and goals can change over time.

You can use tools like Instrumentl to quickly look up past grantees and identify trends of organizations who may be giving more towards a particular cause. Instrumentl includes detailed 990 profile pages for both grant funders and recipients.

Instrumentl Past Grantees

Use Instrumentl to dig deeper

Not all funders have webpages or webpages that share a lot of information. This is particularly true of smaller, private foundations. If you need more information about a particular funder, you can easily find them using the Quick Find feature in Instrumentl to look up a funder by name or EIN.

Instrumentl Funder Lookup

Make the call

Arguably the best way to learn about funder interests is to talk to them! You can ask about research priorities, gauge interest in potential projects, and ask more detailed information about their values. For example,

  • How have your organization’s research priorities changed over the last year?
  • It’s evident your organization values (value), how do you see that value exemplified in your work?
  • Our organization really identifies with your goal of (their goal), what do you see as the next steps toward that goal?

New to funder communication? Check out this Instrumentl webinar on taking the fear out of funder communication.

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Examples of How to Match Your Grant Application to Funder Interests

Matching Your Grant Application to Funder Interests

Now that you understand why you should be matching your grant application to funder interests, we are going to walk you through a funder focused grant strategy.

Example 1: Family Foundation Grant

The Couch Family Foundation offers Community Grants. The only obvious requirements from the FOA are non-profit status and serving a specific geographical region. The FOA page says they:

“seek[s] to work with strong, stable organizations that respond to the needs of the community. Some of the characteristics we look for include: strong leadership, deep community relationships, comprehensive approaches to addressing need, and partnerships with other agencies and institutions.”

How can you tailor your application?

1. Look at their mission statement and approach.

This can help you with mission matching. From this, it’s obvious they value early childhood education and health, as well as families. You may differently assess if you are a good fit based on this information. If you are, choose one-two of their long-term goals and write about how you will address that need and help them reach their goal.

Long-Term Goals

2. Look at the members of their organization.

As outlined above, talking with a member of the funding team can help you identify fit, as well as areas of focus/emphasis. This organization has email addresses listed for their team. Reaching out to a program officer or grants manager would be a good place to start.

3. Look at their story.

Reading the story of how an organization came about can provide insight into their values and relevant experiences. For example, their story reads:

“An important strategic focus area is in the space of early childhood education.  The Couches understand firsthand the challenge in finding affordable, high-quality childcare and contrast that with the opportunities their grandchildren were afforded. Doesn’t every child deserve that?  They think so.”

With that information, do you have an anecdote where a parent or grandparent expressed gratitude for your program? This would be a great thing to share in your application to make it emotionally meaningful to this organization.

4. Examine the language.

Looking at this organization’s strategy on early childhood education (and across the webpage) you can notice specific vocabulary is repeated. Young children, early learning, quality, thrive, and collaborating are all used frequently. While subtle, using these words in your proposal can help draw attention to the similarities between their approach and your proposal.

5. Look at their Grant FAQ.

This page has helpful information, like the type of support and typical grant size for a first award, information that is not available in the FOA or the application. Use this information to tailor your budget.

Grant FAQ

Example 2: The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a large, well known private foundation. We will take a look at their Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator Grant Program. This webpage has a lot of information on it, and it may not be reasonable to explore all of it in depth. Thus, for a large grant organization, we propose the following steps.

1. Previous Awardees

Take a close look at prior awardees. How similar are they in size and scope to your organization? You can get some clues from the one page finalist document headers -- they are looking for something innovative, with opportunities for scaling/mitigation, and co-benefits, in addition to the climate benefits. Make sure to include those terms and clearly express how you will meet each of these concepts in your application.

Previous Awardees

2. Committee Members

Even if these committee members are above your reach to contact, look at their work. What are they doing now and what connections could you make to their work in your proposal? For example, if they are a researcher, could you cite one of their studies in your application?

Committee Members

3. Read the FAQ.

It may be obvious, but this document can answer a lot of your questions from budget range to what they are looking for in a project!

Read the FAQ

4. Read their blog. 

In an organization that funds a lot of different projects, their mission and values may be broad. One way to understand what they think and believe on your topic is to look at their blog or other writing.

For The Nature Conservancy they have a section called “Our Insights” which has perspective and data articles organized by topic. For example, one article details how they believe that circular economies are an important part of the climate solution. Now you could build a proposal around circular economies, with knowledge of how to frame and structure it based on the organization's own beliefs on the topic.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Match Your Grant App to Funder Interests

How to Match Your Grant App to Funder Interests

Matching your grant application to funder interests is the best way to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to grant writing. By focusing on funder interests, you are setting your application up from the beginning to be relevant and meaningful to the funder you are sending it to.

Most funders can tell when a proposal is based on the FOA - you may present an argument that is directly in opposition to their values, or only hit their surface level mission. Doing a deep dive into a few funders with closely aligned goals by talking to their team, understanding their mission, values, and goals, and examining past grantees will prepare you for a successful grant development and writing process.

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