10 Steps Often Missed When Trying to Secure Multi-Year Grants


Rachel Hector


Writer, researcher, and grants professional

Reviewed by:


March 5, 2024

Last Updated:

March 7, 2024

We all know how impactful multi-year grants can be. These powerful funding opportunities are key to establishing long-term financial support for your mission, allowing your team to budget for more extensive projects over time.

However, winning these highly-coveted awards can sometimes feel impossible.

In the following guide, we will outline 10 steps that are often missed when trying to secure multi-year grants. Often overlooked, these tips can give even seasoned fundraising professionals an extra edge as they compete for multi-year awards.

Let’s get started!

Tip 1: Have You Scheduled Internal Meetings for Network Expansion?

One of the best strategies for securing multi-year grants is setting up recurring meetings with your executive staff and Board of Directors where you can identify key people in their networks and develop a strategy for outreach.

Your nonprofit’s leadership should be spearheading relationship building with funders. They can help you discover new opportunities through their connections, and their “buy-in” in your fundraising efforts shows prospective grantors that your organization is led by trusted individuals with a strong vision for the future.

In fact, research illustrates that engaging your Board of Directors in fundraising initiatives has an overwhelming positive impact on your fundraising program.

According to a study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, among the nonprofits that engaged their board members in fundraising projects, 55% saw an increase in revenue over a year, and 60% met their fundraising goals.

During these meetings, make sure to ask your board if they have existing connections with multi-year grantors and see if they can facilitate an introduction with your team.

Don’t be shy about asking your leaders to step up and do this work. Most are keen to take action and use their expertise and networking muscles to lend a helping hand!

Tip 2: Have You Searched Through Past Connections?

When it comes to grants, relationships are everything. The best place to start your search for multi-year funding is with your past partners.

Having some sort of a previous connection with a funder can help you get that first foot in the door and start building a foundation for long-term funding.

A perk of being part of a large organization is that you most likely have a lengthy history of grants awarded and many connections through your board, staff, members, and events. Look through your list of previous partners and see if they are open to multi-year funding or know of any opportunities you’d be a good fit for.

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Tip 3: Have You Checked for Alignment With the Funder’s Goals?

When applying for multi-year funding, you need to research the grantor so that you can ensure a strong alignment with your mission and tailor your proposal accordingly.

When researching funders, you need to dig deep to find out more than just their high-level goals and values. You want to learn specifically what keywords, priorities, and language will help strengthen your proposal and give it that extra competitive edge.

To best evaluate a multi-year grant opportunity, you should look to:

  • Grant guidelines, details, and specific requirements
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Stories of impact from past awardees
  • Informational webinars
  • And more.

A word of warning: You should never try to rework your entire project to fit the needs of a specific grant. Straying down this path may lead to mission drift, and will create significant problems for your organization down the road.

This process can be arduous and time-consuming work, but thankfully Instrumentl has the tools and resources to help you evaluate funder alignment more efficiently than ever before.

Instrumentl synthesizes key information from the foundation’s 990 to help you better understand their priorities and values, including:

  • List of past grantees by year
  • Giving by NTEE code
  • Key financial stats such as average and median grant size
  • Giving by geographic region

This information will give you comprehensive insight into funders and help you tailor your proposal in the most strategic way possible, drawing on the details that will help your application shine amongst the competitors.

Tip 4: Do Your Reports Emphasize Goal Completion With Past Grant Funding?

Multi-year funders are most interested in investing in nonprofit organizations who can demonstrate impact and success.

Ensuring your organization is writing strong, detailed grant reports will not only build trust with your current grantors and program officers, but it will also provide you with information you can leverage to secure additional funding—including multi-year grants.

Information that can be found in most grant reports that would strengthen a multi-year grant request include:

  • Outcome data and participant demographics
  • Qualitative results, such as stories of impact
  • Well executed budgets
  • Lessons learned and plans for sustainability

Obtaining this data and info to help demonstrate success and sustained impact is only possible through solid program evaluation.

As you look to scale your grants portfolio, make sure your programs are achieving their intended goals so that you can build trust with your community, your partners, and prospective funders.

Tip 5: Do You Have a Proven Track Record of Success?

Multi-year grants are most effective as a source of funding for existing projects with a proven track record of success.

When applying for multi-year funding, you want to provide a compelling argument for how the grant will allow you to replicate past successes and sustain your existing projects and models well into the future.

Grantmakers offering multi-year awards want to feel confident that they are investing in organizations that can deliver results with their funding. Most of the time, they want to support core programming in a way that will contribute to a sustained or increased impact over time.

Most multi-year grants are not awarded to innovative pilots or start-ups but are instead used to maintain projects that already work. Some funders will even require organizations or projects to have been operating for at least two years to be considered for funding.

Tip 6: Is Now the Right Time?

When it comes to winning grants, timing is key.

Multi-year funding can be essential to sustaining operations and advancing your mission. However, you should not pursue multi-year funding without ensuring that the timing is right.

For example, if your project won’t even begin for another several years, it’s best to wait on applying for multi-year funds and instead work on building relationships with grantors as you develop your project.

Notably, staff turnover and transitions can also be a major barrier to effectively securing and managing a multi-year grant. If your nonprofit is experiencing staffing challenges or is in the midst of a significant transition, now might not be the time to apply.

You also need to be sure you have the tracking and reporting systems in place prior to securing multi-year funding. As noted Grant Consultant Jeanette Archer Simons explains:

“A challenge can be determining how data was gathered so there is consistent tracking and reporting. An effective tool can be for the grant writer to work with the project staff to make sure there is a plan for tracking, accountability for who is tracking and reporting and that these are assigned for monitoring and review.”

If you are unsure of where or how to start, no need to worry Instrumentl provides comprehensive grant tracking tools. Check out this guide for a complete explanation of how to track all of your grants within Instrumentl.

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Tip 7: Does Your Project Have a Regional Impact?

Multi-year grant applications are most competitive when you can illustrate how your proposed project makes a regional impact.

Foundations want to invest in programs that will initiate transformative change within their communities.

This kind of impact not only gives you a competitive edge among other applicants, but it’s also something that funders frequently look for in applications.

Take, for example, the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. In the overview of their multi-year Community Impact grant program, the foundation states that they seek to fund organizations that, “engage the complexities of their communities to understand the critical issues and participate in creating solutions for transformative change”.

As always, research is your friend! Take time to review regional reports or development plans that speak to the problems impacting that area and how the local government is working to address them.

For example, the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation partnered to create the New Communities Program (NCP) to develop Quality-of-Life Plans for key community areas across Chicago.

Chicago-based organizations and nonprofits seeking funding can leverage the information in these reports to secure funding for projects that are aligned with their particular community’s QLP.

Take a look at reports and public data available on your region to help identify if and how your organization is contributing to a regional impact.

Tip 8: Have You Ensured That Your Project Period and Budget Go Hand-In-Hand?

Developing a compelling budget is always a challenge when putting together a strong grant proposal. This is especially true for multi-year grants.

When submitting an application for multi-year funding, you need to make sure that the grant period aligns with the budget that you create. Your budget should be airtight and shouldn’t have any inconsistencies.

Each line item in your budget should be directly connected to the work of the project you are requesting funding for. If the finances are not aligned with the proposal narrative, grantors may respond with uncertainty.

Even if you are requesting general operating support, you still want to provide a detailed budget that is consistent with the purpose of your grant request. You will want to show that your organization is in good overall financial health and has a careful plan for allocating the funding.

Tip 9: Has Your Organization Built Credibility With Initial Grants?

Building credibility through past grant success is a great way to increase your chances of securing multi-year funding.

Demonstrating that your organization has had a history of winning and managing past grants will show grantors that you have the capacity and credibility to manage a multi-year award.

You should also be thinking strategically about how you are developing your grant portfolio. If you have only secured smaller awards in the past (think awards within the $5-$10k range) you may not be positioned to win a $100k award.

As your grants portfolio grows, you can continue requesting higher amounts when it comes time for renewal and build trust among other funders who may be interested in awarding you more. It will take some time, but intentionally growing your program will pay dividends and will be more sustainable over the long term.

Pro Tip: Multi-year grant opportunities are great, but you still need diverse sources of funding to support your organization and its programs. Dr. Bev Browning, CEO and Senior Grant Consultant Consultant, said it best:

“While it may seem that the grantee is "in the money" with a five-year grant award, they are not. Always pursue additional funding.”

Tip 10: How Is Your Time Divided?

Multi-year grants are incredible to win—there is no question about that!

However, managing multi-year grants is no walk in the park. Multi-year funding opportunities are typically labor-intensive, with extensive reporting requirements and lengthy proposals that require a robust team to develop successfully.

If your fundraising team is at capacity between your other grants and additional fundraising initiatives, you may want to create a plan of action for how to strategically divide your time so you can efficiently and effectively manage multi-year awards.

Create a quarterly plan to address how your team will work on researching, applying for, and managing multi-year grants. Make sure to check in with your team on a regular basis to ensure that they have the capacity to commit sufficient time to writing and managing these awards.

Ready To Win Multi-Year Grants?

With the tips and insights outlined in this article, you should be well on your way to winning a multi-year grant!

By focusing on leveraging your relationships and fostering partnerships with existing funders you can build a strong foundation for securing multi-year grants that can sustain your programs, enhance your services, and allow you to operate more effectively and efficiently.

And don’t forget to try Instrumentl free for 14 days to unlock all sorts of valuable funder insights, grant tracking capabilities, and more!

Rachel Hector

Rachel Hector is a writer, researcher, and grants professional with over 12 years of experience in the nonprofit sector with a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) and nonprofit management from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

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