The Simple Question That Tripled This Nonprofit’s Grant Award


Jessica Knapp


CEO, Communities In Schools Pennsylvania

Reviewed by:


February 11, 2024

Last Updated:

February 12, 2024

Dr. Bev Browning is a well-known grant consultant and trainer—best known for her book Grant Writing for Dummies. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Integro Bank Foundation.

Dr. Bev Browning

Bev’s biggest fundraising lesson stems from an experience she had after receiving a large grant from a funder she had an established relationship with: “Why haven’t you ever given us money before?”, she asked.

Can you guess what the funder’s response was?

“Because you never asked.”

This lesson stuck with Dr. Bev for years, and it’s helped her secure more than $3 million in funding for her nonprofit clients.

Knowing when and how to ask for funding is key to Dr. Bev’s success. In this guide, we are going to share some tools and tips that will help you be more proactive in your own grant search. We’ll share practical strategies and expert advice so that you can easily find good-fit funders who support your nonprofit’s cause.

Let’s go!

How Do You Know When It's the Right Time To Ask for Funding?

Before you venture out in your community and start asking for money, it’s important to make sure that you and your organization have all your ducks in a row first.

Curious about what those ducks might be? Keep reading.

Your Nonprofit Is Grant Ready

A key piece of your nonprofit’s grant strategy is making sure your organization is grant ready.

What does this mean? It’s pretty simple:

Grant readiness is a measurement of your organization’s capacity to research, apply, win, and manage grant applications successfully.

We’ve developed a checklist of questions that will help you determine if your nonprofit is prepared to start applying for and receiving grants.

  1. Have you conducted thorough research to identify potential grant opportunities?
  2. Are you eligible?
  3. Do you have a clear purpose and vision?
  4. Do you have impactful programs and good standing in the community?
  5. Do you have a track record of successfully implementing programs with measurable objectives and outcomes?
  6. Do you have adequate resources and infrastructure?
  7. Can you demonstrate the sustainability of your project beyond the grant funding cycle?
  8. Are your finances in order?
  9. Do you have a detailed and realistic budget?
  10. Is your proposal well-written and persuasive?

To consider yourself grant-ready, you should be answering “yes” to each of these questions.

You Have a Specific Use in Mind for the Funding

Before you ask a funder for financial support, you also need to have a specific use in mind for these funds.

If you don’t, you should press pause on your ask and take some time to assess what your organization really needs.

Approaching a funder without a clear idea of how you will utilize their funding is a surefire way to damage your relationship and your reputation.

Funders want to invest their money into organizations who can clearly articulate how the funds will be used and the impact those funds will have on the community.

Don’t waste your time—or the funder’s—unless you have a clear idea of how you would spend their funding.

Sidebar: Asking Does Not Equal Begging

Asking for money can be uncomfortable. Believe me, I get it! As a new fundraiser, I really struggled to develop the confidence to ask for donations for my nonprofit.

A mentor once shared with me that asking a funder for donations is actually a mutually beneficial activity.

Funders have money to give, and they have areas about which they feel passionate. By asking them to make a donation to a cause that aligns with their values, you’re helping them to achieve their own philanthropic giving goals.

Remember this: asking is NOT begging. Think back to Dr. Bev and her experience. Asking for support from potential funders is an invitation for them to invest their money and multiply their impact.

How Do You Know When the Funder Is the "Right" Funder?

What Is a Good-Fit Funder?

As a grant professional, your time is precious. If you’re anything like me, you are getting pulled in a dozen different directions every single day. There’s certainly no time to waste time!

This is why it’s so important to make sure that you’re focusing your valuable time and energy on funders that are a good fit for your nonprofit’s project or program.

Taking the time to evaluate a funder to make sure that they align with your needs, mission, values, and goals is a sure-fire way to increase your efficiency and your likelihood of being funded.

Dr. Bev also knows the importance of vetting funders to make sure they’re a good fit. Here are some of the criteria she looks at during her vetting process:

  • Grant application due date
  • Average grant award amount
  • Giving history (check to see if the funder has previously funded her geographic area)
  • 990 reports
  • Previously awarded grants
  • Contact person

We know this can be challenging. Finding all this information and sifting through it to successfully vet funders is time-consuming. Not to mention—keeping all this information organized can be a hassle!

Fortunately, Dr. Bev found a solution to streamline this entire process, and you can too!

How To Find Good-Fit Funders

It’s really simple: the best way to find good-fit funders is by using Instrumentl!

Instrumentl makes it super easy to find prospective funders that are a good fit for your organization’s projects and programs.

When sign up for Instrumentl, you’ll be prompted to share some critical information about your organization and funding needs so that you can be matched with active grants that meet that criteria, including:

  • Where your project takes place
  • Your minimum and maximum funding amounts
  • Grant focus area
  • The types of funding you’re interested in (corporate, foundation, state/local government, etc.)

Once this information is in the system, Instrumentl generates a list of good-fit grant prospects for you. It’s as easy as that!

Instrumentl also curates information from funders’ 990s into easy-to-read snapshots. These insights make it easy to evaluate a funder’s geographic focus, giving priorities, grant sizes, and more!

With Instrumentl, there’s no longer a need for time-consuming Google searches that result in hours upon hours of internet research for funding opportunities. This is a better way!

I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Phoenix Children’s Foundation managed to save approximately 3 hours per week on grant prospecting thanks to Instrumentl.

Dr. Bev also greatly appreciates Instrumentl’s time-saving features, sharing:

“Instrumentl does in about 20 minutes what used to take me 40 hours.”

After identifying good-fit grant opportunities, the next step is to make the “ask”, aka—it’s time to reach out to funders.

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Don't Forget To Cultivate Relationships When Reaching Out To Funders

Here’s the thing: connections are key in successfully securing funding from prospective funders. Keep reading—we’ll tell you why!

The Importance of Funder Relationships

In this Partnership Pays for Grant Success webinar, Maryn Boess from GrantsMagic U discusses the importance of building relationships with funders:

“I call partnering and collaborating the single most powerful amplifier and accelerator of your grants success.”

Funders are much more likely to give money to your nonprofit if they know you, understand your work, and empathize with your cause.

I won’t lie—building relationships with funders can feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. Don’t let that deter you! These relationships are important regardless of whether you’re a grant writer drafting a proposal or a major gift officer taking a prospect to lunch.

Did you know? Instrumentl can help you keep track of your funder relationships! The platform lets you store your key funder contacts, funder notes, and a history of your application attempts all in one place.

Organizational support like this is super important in helping you organize, track, and manage your prospects and relationships. Patrice Suhamte, Founder of A Village for Good, drives home this point:

“An important part of preparation is organizing the tasks of the grant process. Once you find prospects, do you have a place to keep and update the information? Do you have a person dedicated to starting relationships with potential funders? Do you have an effective way to share important prospect information and keep people informed over time? A strong prospect list doesn't do much good if information gets lost along the way.”

Okay, okay, we know—we’ve really drilled it home that building relationships is important.

Now, we’re going to give you some tips on how to cultivate those relationships so you can be set up for success!

Top Tips to Cultivate Successful Partnerships

If you’ve never done it before, cultivating successful partnerships may feel overwhelming, but we promise—it’s pretty simple!

To help you get started, check out this how-to guide that lays out 5 easy steps to build grant funder relationships.

Dr. Bev shared with us one of her key strategies to building successful grant funder relationships: once she’s found a funding opportunity worth pursuing, she moves on to identifying the decision-makers at that institution to make contact:

“I look at who is making decisions and then when I’m done with research, I move to LinkedIn, put those names in the search, and request a connection.”

Dr. Bev’s strategy is brilliant: connecting with the decision-makers at prospective funding institutions is definitely a smart approach to relationship-building.

Figuring out who those decision-makers are can be really tough. Instrumentl can definitely help you with this!

Instrumentl’s Key People feature shows you who the decision-makers are at each foundation you get matched with. Check out the screenshot below from the Deloitte Foundation—it shows you the key officers and directors there that likely make funding decisions.

Here are a few other ways you can begin building relationships with funders:

  • Attend funders’ special events (conferences, award ceremonies, networking events)
  • Follow funders’ social media pages and interact with their content
  • Ask your nonprofit’s Board of Directors if they have any connections to the funder and can facilitate an introduction
  • Attend community events—check out your local Chamber of Commerce, community foundations, etc. for opportunities
  • Invite funders to attend your nonprofit’s events

Regardless of how you choose to get started, these tips will definitely help you start building and cultivating relationships with potential funders!

Wrapping Up

Phew! You made it!

By now, you should be feeling super confident about how to be more proactive when looking for grants.

Here’s what we’ve learned from Dr. Bev’s story: you’re missing out on funding opportunities if you don’t ask!

However, before you make the ask, you need to do your due diligence in making sure that the funder is a good fit for your organization and you should invest your time in building relationships with them. They’re much more likely to invest their dollars into organizations that they know and trust.

For more tips, check out this comprehensive guide to effective grant prospect research. And don’t forget—you can start your 14-day free trial with Instrumentl today!

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Jessica Knapp

Jessica Knapp is the State President and Chief Executive Officer of Communities In Schools Pennsylvania, the United States' largest dropout prevention organization. She has over 10 years of experience in nonprofit operations and leadership, program development, and fundraising/resource development.

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