The Grant Readiness Checklist: 12 Questions to Ask Before Submitting

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Published:

July 26, 2021

Last Updated:

February 7, 2024

Have you ever found the perfect grant that aligns with your mission only to realize you’ve missed numerous steps in your nonprofit’s grant preparation? We can relate.

There are many challenges nonprofit teams face when preparing grant applications for the first time. That’s why we’ve developed a comprehensive grant readiness checklist to ensure your organization is well prepared to apply for—and win—funding.

Keep reading to make sure you don’t miss any critical steps:

What Does It Mean to Be Grant Ready?

Winning grants isn’t easy; in fact, the odds of winning a grant can be anywhere from 10% to 30%. This competitive nature underscores the importance of careful preparation.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of our readiness checklist, here are two overarching themes that signal your nonprofit is prepared to apply for grant funding:

Your Nonprofit Meets Minimum Eligibility Requirements

All grants have requirements that you must meet to be eligible to apply. If you’re not eligible, you’ll end up wasting time on a proposal that will be thrown out.

For example, most grants legally require your organization to have a tax-exempt 501(c)3 status. Some grants might have even stricter requirements—such as a geographic service area or specific target audiences. Whatever the case, your nonprofit needs to meet these eligibility requirements to be grant ready.

For more insight into applying for 501(c)3 status, check out this helpful guide.

Your Team Culture Is Up To the Task

To be grant ready, your entire team—your staff, your board members, and even your volunteers—needs to be on board.

Applying for grant funding sometimes requires a shift in perspective. Here’s what that might entail:

  • Adaptability to adjust projects/programs in light of the grantors’ requirements.
  • A collaborative spirit to be willing to work closely with funders and other nonprofits.
  • A data-driven mindset to collect the necessary data on their work to win over funders.
  • Resilience in the face of rejection.
  • Capacity building to be prepared to scale programs and services to meet the grantors’ expectations.

Grant Readiness Checklist To Win and Manage Grants

Preparing for grant funding is a multifaceted process. We’ve developed an easy-to-use checklist that you can use to determine whether your nonprofit is ready to research, apply for, win, and manage grants successfully.

1. Have you conducted thorough research to identify potential grant opportunities?

To be ready to apply for funding, your team needs to research potential grant opportunities that align with your nonprofit’s mission and programs.

Funders are more likely to award grants to organizations whose programs align with their own funding priorities. This is why proper grant prospect research is so critical.

Jacob B. Chase, CEO of Chase Consulting Solutions, emphasizes this point:

“Clear mission and goals are essential. Foundations often look for alignment between the nonprofit's mission and the foundation's focus areas.”


How do I check this box?
Begin researching grant databases, grantmaker websites, and other resources to identify potential grants. You can also create a free Instrumentl account to access Instrumentl’s grant search features for 14 days and get matched with the best-fit funding opportunities for your nonprofit.

2. Are you eligible?

Like we explained earlier, grantmakers will have specific requirements to determine your nonprofit’s eligibility to apply for funds, so be sure to check these guidelines.

Some examples of eligibility requirements could be:

  • Organizational size—Grantors may prefer awarding grants to smaller, grassroots organizations.
  • Geographic location—Some grants are geographically restricted to specific regions, communities, or countries.
  • Operational focus—Grants often support specific areas of work, such as education, the arts, healthcare, or youth development.

For example, when you click on a grant within Instrumentl, you can easily see what sort of work that grantmaker supports.


How do I check this box?
Review the grant guidelines and requirements for the specific grant of interest to determine whether your nonprofit is eligible.

3. Do you have a clear purpose and vision?

To be grant ready, your nonprofit needs a clearly defined mission and vision statement that guides your work and communicates your goals to funders.

Your mission statement should clarify three things:

  • Who you serve
  • What you want to accomplish
  • How you plan to accomplish it

For example, Habitat for Humanity makes their mission and vision clear on their website:

  • Mission: Seeking to put God's love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.
  • Vision: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Do you have a clear purpose and vision


How do I check this box?
If you haven’t already, develop mission and vision statements that are well-articulated and aligned with your goals to help you stand out to funders.

4. Do you have staff capacity to handle reporting requirements?

Grants almost always have reporting requirements, which means you will need sufficient staff capacity and expertise to handle and develop these reports.

For example, government grants often have lengthy and detailed reporting requirements, which will require a significant amount of time and energy from your staff. This could include:

  • Keeping accurate financial and programming records.
  • Conducting regular audits and reviews.
  • Documenting staff training, board involvement, and continuous learning.
  • Maintaining compliance standards.

How do I check this box? Familiarize yourself with reporting expectations and develop reporting templates that you can use to streamline the process. Make sure to also assess your organization's staff capacity and identify any gaps that may need to be addressed through training or hiring.

5. Do you have impactful programs and good standing in the community?

Funders want to see that your nonprofit is making a positive impact and has a positive reputation within your community. To be grant ready, you will need to be prepared to demonstrate how your innovative programs are making a measurable difference for those you are serving.

Sarah Lange, nonprofit industry expert and CEO and Founder of sarahblange.com, explains how:

“Foundations want to see that you’ve got some experience and success under your belt. If you’re seeking funding for a new program, focus on the experience of those who will be running the organization and delivering services.”


How do I check this box?
Assess program outcomes and gather community feedback to ensure your programs are impactful. This can be accomplished by compiling letters of support from community leaders and partners as well as through quantitative data.

6. Do you have adequate resources and infrastructure?

You’ve probably noticed that applying for grant funding is a time-consuming and laborious process. This is why you need sufficient resources and infrastructure in place to be grant ready, such as:

  • A dedicated grant writer
  • Access to a grants database
  • Awards tracking software
  • Staff to run grant-funded projects

Grant manager Daphne Keys explains this importance:

"Financially, the leadership must invest in the grant program. They are only ready for a grant program if leaders are committed to paying for a writer/manager for six months (preferably 12 months)."


How do I check this box?
Assess whether your organization has the capacity to handle additional projects and funding. If not, you may need to pause and invest in the right resources and infrastructure before applying for grants.

7. Can you demonstrate the sustainability of your project beyond the grant funding cycle?

Being grant ready means having a plan for sustainability; that is, how you will handle the project when the grant money runs out.

Funders want to be assured that the projects they are backing are sustainable beyond the life of the grant. This means you’ll need to be prepared to demonstrate a plan for how your nonprofit will sustain the program even after the awarded funds are spent.

How do I check this box? Develop a sustainability plan for the proposed project that shows how it will continue to thrive after grant funds are expended. Document other sources of diverse funding, such as donations, sponsorships, and partnerships within the community.

8. Are your finances in order?

Before accepting grant money, you will need to ensure that your organization has well-maintained financial records and practices.

For example, do you have an accounting system in place to track your funds received? Have you set up a dedicated nonprofit bank account? Do you have an organizational budget?

Senior Grant Writer Arnold King explains why this is so important:

“First of all, their finances have to be in best shape possible. Funders look at financial statements first. If a grantor finds their finances is in the best shape possible and it fits what they're looking for, the funder will go further.”


How do I check this box?
Conduct a financial audit and have accurate record-keeping that details assets, liabilities, and expenses of the nonprofit organization. And once you’re awarded funding, make sure that you’re following grant financial management best practices.

9. Do you have a detailed and realistic budget?

To be ready to apply for grant funding, you need to have a detailed grant budget that clearly outlines how the funds will be used and how the money spent will align with the grantor's guidelines.

At a minimum, this budget should include:

  • All the sources of income for your project, including the grant you're applying for, matching funds, and any in-kind contributions.
  • The salaries and wages of staff working on the project.
  • Any other needed expenses like supplies, equipment, travel, and overhead.

How do I check this box? If you haven’t already, develop a detailed budget that is tailored to the specific grant opportunity. You can even use budget templates that can be reused and personalized to each different opportunity.

10. Is your board engaged and supportive?

An actively engaged and supportive board of directors is essential for grant success. They should be introducing you to funders, advocating for your mission, and acting as champions of your cause.

Grant manager Daphne Keys explains why this is so important:

"Is the board open to introducing the mission to colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and family? If not, results will be hindered."


How do I check this box?
Engage the board in discussions about grant-seeking and solicit their support before you start applying for grants.

11. Are your grant-seeking efforts aligned with your strategic plan and long-term goals?

Grant-seeking efforts need to align with your organization's strategic plan and long-term goals. Your strategic plan should guide your work by laying out your objectives and how you plan to achieve them over time—including through grant funding.

How do I check this box? Review and align your nonprofit’s grant-seeking strategies with the organization's strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, you will need to develop one.

12. Do you have systems in place for data collection and program evaluation?

To be grant ready, you will also need systems in place to collect, manage, and evaluate data. Program evaluation allows you to measure successes, recognize any problems, and make informed decisions moving forward. A funder will want to know that you have an evaluation plan in place before awarding the grant.

How do I check this box? Develop an evaluation process that includes a balance of qualitative (narratives, success stories, observations, photos) and quantitative (budget analyses, statistics,) data collection methods to measure the impact of the grant.

Discover Your Next Grant

 
Start Your Grant Search

Are You Ready for Instrumentl To Find and Win Grants?

If you're feeling good about your nonprofit's position to start applying for grants that's great! Make sure to pair this checklist with our guide to organizational, programmatic, and financial signs you're grant ready. This infographic will act as a more specific checklist to prepare you.

Once you have all of the necessary elements in place through your grant readiness checklist, you can use Instrumentl to find the best-fit grant opportunities.

Instrumentl will curate a list of active grants based on your mission and funding needs. This streamlined system allows you to focus your efforts on developing competitive applications rather than wasting time sifting through irrelevant opportunities.

If you’ve never tried Instrumentl, you can sign up for a free, 14-day trial today!

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Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Morrows holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communications and is a professor at PennState Harrisburg.

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