26 Common Questions Grant Funders Often Ask

After you submit a grant proposal or letter of intent, the grant funder may ask several clarifying questions about you, your organization, your project idea, or your budget. You may want to take note of these frequently asked questions about grants and prepare your answers in advance.

Generally, funder questions are a good thing as it means the funder is actively interested in hearing more about your proposal.

This post explores the common questions that grant funders will typically ask applicants broken down by theme and question stem.

Let's dig in.

Popular Questions Grant Funders Ask About Your Organization

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: What does your organization do? What is your founding mission and what are your operations?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Grant funding is more than just a traditional nonprofit relationship. Grant funders ask about the history and mission of your organization and the details of your daily operations to ensure not only that your project is a compelling idea, but also that your nonprofit is strategically aligned with the funding mission and that your operations are viable.

Grant funding is not only about your compelling idea; you must also show the grant funders that your organization is a solid investment.

How to Answer this Question:

When funders ask about what your organization does and its operations, highlight a brief history of how your organization was founded and communicate how your foundational mission matches that of the funder and/or funding opportunity.

Include the leadership team or board of directors and briefly describe how important decisions were made to build your nonprofit.

Be sure to illustrate how your founding mission is interwoven throughout your daily operations. Here is a template of how you may answer this question to grantees.

Template to Answer Organization Question:

[XXXXX] was founded in XXXX with a tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.

Our main facility is located in [XXXXX], with outreach centers in [XXXXX] and [XXXXX]. Our central programs are [XXXXX], [XXXXX], and [XXXXX]. These programs provide a range of services, namely [XXXXX], [XXXXX], and [XXXXX].

Our target population is [XXXXX] in [XXXXX]. The demographics of this population are mainly [XXXXX]. Our program has served approximately [XXXXX] people. Notable service trends include [XXXXX].

The goals and mission of our nonprofit are to [XXXXX]. A shared vision between [XXXXX] and the [Funder] is to [XXXXX]. These goals relate to this proposal in that [XXXXX].

Other Common Questions Grant Funders Ask About Your Organization:

1. How long have you been around and how did you get started in this work?

2. What are your achievements to date? What are your goals for the next five to twenty-five years?

3. Who makes the decisions? Who is responsible for running the organization and/or making financial decisions? Who serves on the Board of Directors, if applicable?

4. Are you part of a larger organization? If so, why are they not funding your project? If you are a big national organization, how locally focused are you?

5. Where does this project fit within your organizational strategy and vision?

Common Questions Asked About Your Projects

Common Questions Asked About Your Projects

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: Do you have a compelling idea?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

There is no amount of ‘window dressing’ in authorship or grantsmanship that can overcome a bad idea. The first step in developing a grant application is to ensure that your project idea is nothing short of outstanding!

How to Answer this Question:

First, identify the gap in your community, the niche that has not been developed, and the next logical step that must be taken in order to achieve your long-term goal.

Discuss what has happened in the community and globally to create this urgent need. Highlight what your organization has done to date to attempt to meet this need.

Then, make it clear that you cannot address this unmet need without the funder’s help. If your intervention or approach has been tested elsewhere, be sure to highlight those previous application successes. Briefly mention potential barriers to your project success and outline alternative plans to ensure project success.

Other Common Questions Grant Funders Ask About Your Project:

1. Is your organization the primary deliverer of this service? Are you the primary initiator of the project?

2. What preparation have you done to date? What have others done in the field to date regarding this need and target population?

3. What is your plan to create awareness or promote your project?

4. What are the alternative modes of intervention that you considered?

5. What are the potential barriers to success and alternative plans to ensure project success?

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Frequently Asked Budget Questions by Grant Funders

Frequently Asked Budget Questions by Grant Funders

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: What is the budget breakdown for the proposed project?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Getting down to business – grant funders want to know how you are going to spend their money. They are looking to see how well you have thought through your plan. They want to evaluate whether your budget is realistic. They want to know if you have the financial intelligence to turn your grant idea into a successful venture.

How to Answer this Question:

When funders ask grantees about the project budget, they want to hear specific (down to the penny) line-item budget numbers and how you arrived at those numbers.

If necessary, show your calculations (e.g., $50,000/year at 20% = $10,000). Is your budget within the allowed limit? Are line-item budget calculations realistic, specific and based on solid estimates? Do you have any invalid or unallowable costs listed?

Template to Answer Budget Breakdown Question:

Program Coordinator – NAME (.20 FTE; $150,000/year at 20% = $30,000) developer and carries out the plan for self-evaluation of the effectiveness of the Project in achieving its goals and objectives with the Program.

The Coordinator will review the process to determine the degree to which activities have been carried out as planned and within the proposed time frame. This review is implemented to detect problems in the project development and the expenditure of grant funds in order to recommend timely corrective action to the Project and the Directors.

Outreach Workers – NAME (0.75 FTE; $150,000/year at 75% = $112,500) coordinate and participate in outreach activities within the community and areas identified as of high incidence of high-risk behaviors. Workers main task is the identification of individuals with or at-risk behaviors. They educate at-risk populations on the benefits of [XXXXX].

Local travel funds are necessary to cover per diem costs of the staff for training activities. The local travel for technical assistance cost is estimated as follows: $40.00 Per Diem (per each staff trained) x 40 approximately activity = $1,600.

Office supplies based on previous experience includes office supplies, medical records maintenance supplies, educational materials, printing and promotional supplies. It is estimated at a cost of $83.333 per month x 12 months = $1,000.

Telephone Communications costs for telephone ($ 121.67 x 12 months = $ 1,460).

Other Common Questions Grant Funders Ask About Finances:

1. What is the overall state of your organizational finances? How are you currently funded? What is your organization’s reserves position? Is your organization solvent?

2. Are line-item budget calculations realistic, specific and based on solid estimates? Are budget expenses justified? Does the budget add up (and down and across)?

3. Can your organization sustain the program once funder dollars are no longer there?

4. What other funding or programmatic partners are you bringing to the table? Does the funder value the partnerships with some of those organizations and funders?

5. Do you truly need the funding support or will you make the program happen in a timely way without funder support? Is funder support key to the success of the project?

Common How Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common How Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: How are beneficiaries (target population) involved in this project? Have they been consulted?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Funders ask this question to grantees for two reasons. First, they want to be sure that your project has target population buy-in and that your idea will work.

Second, (if you’ve done things right) they care about your target population and want to be sure that you are involving the community in your community planning and project execution.

How to Answer this Question:

Funders want to see active involvement from the community in all aspects of your project. This could happen through a community advisory board, paid consultants from within the community, or ongoing feedback surveys that openly inform project progress.

Make it clear that you are actively involving the community in all aspects of your project.

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: How will you measure impact? Is there a clear and observable method for program evaluation, including baseline statistics and benchmarks for future success?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Funders need to know that you are a good investment and will be a good steward of their funds. They also need to be able to measure the success of their investments. A solid measurable goal with clear observable program evaluation metrics allows them (and you) track project success.

How to Answer this Question:

Show a history of baseline metrics and statistics for your current organization.

Show a working system that is currently tracking your community metrics important to your mission, and include what changes or additions will be made to your current system to track project impact within the community.

Answer this question with a blend of what you have done in the past and how you plan to grow and sustain evaluation metrics in the future.

Common What Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common What Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: What is the engagement level of your board of directors in your organization? In the particular project?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Funders need to know if your nonprofit leadership is strong—and they need to know that you have the full support of your leadership team to carry out the proposed project.

How to Answer this Question:

If the grant application allows, include a letter of support form your Board of Directors or leadership team that illustrates their full support. Alternatively, consider adding a testimonial quote from key leaders within the proposal.

It is important to demonstrate active and consistent board involvement within both the organization and for the proposed project.

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: What problem/issue/community need are you addressing?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Every research project begins first with a need and then comes the idea for the research project. It is important to understand how that need drives the activities of the research project. It is the need that will get the idea funded.

How to Answer this Question:

To be successful, you must ensure that your idea fits the basic need of the funding agency and conforms to their mission statement.

Use the statement of need section to explain what problem or need is driving your application. Introduce reviewers to what is currently missing in your community and is causing this problem or need.

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: What is the opportunity cost of not funding this project at this time?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Generally, this question means that you have not communicated the urgency of your unmet need. Again, funders are problem solvers, and they want to make sure that their money is solving the most pressing problems in their target communities.

How to Answer this Question:

Generally, funders want to solve important problems—you need to communicate the urgency and immediacy of your driving unmet need.

Answer this question using local statistics and voices from key players in the community. Show the funder that the problem is immediate and that without immediate action, things will radically deteriorate.

Common Tell Us Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common Tell Us Questions Grant Funders Ask

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: Tell us why should we fund you – Is what you’re doing enough to make a real difference?

Why Funders Ask this Question:

Regardless of how good your idea is conceptually, it has to be one that is within your capabilities to pursue, practically speaking.

With a grant application, consider your idea’s funding potential. Does your project offer the type of innovation and change that the funder champions? What is the long-term payoff?

How to Answer this Question:

The bottom line is that you must have total confidence that the final product – the idea that will drive your project – is completely sound and will make a difference in your community when acted upon.

You need to do everything possible to ensure that you have the strongest idea and the strongest starting position on which to build. You need to convince grant reviewers that you have the best idea, the best people, and the best platform to make a measurable difference in the areas outlined in the grant funder’s mission.

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: Tell us about the key personnel involved in your project.

Why Funders Ask this Question:

It takes a village to achieve meaningful change in our world. Grant funders want to know if you have the right mix of expertise on your team in order to make your project a success. They want to know if you have involved the target population in your project planning.

Funders want to know if you have included diverse staff members from different levels of your organization in the project.

How to Answer this Question:

When you list key personnel, be sure to highlight the unique expertise and qualifications that each person brings to the table. If at all possible, be sure to include a specific person in each project position—do not leave any position “To Be Determined.”

Discuss how the target population or project beneficiaries are involved in the project (e.g. a Community Advisor Board).

Demonstrate through personnel biographies that your staff have certified skills and a demonstrated history of performing the necessary tasks to ensure project success.

Common Question Grant Funders Ask: Tell us about your history in sustaining new initiatives.

Why Funders Ask this Question:

When this question comes up, funders may be concerned about your organizational track record. If you’re a new company or you haven’t landed external funding before, funders may have additional questions about your ability to carry a project through to completion.

How to Answer this Question:

Answer this question with confidence and fortitude. You started a nonprofit. You built this project. And you have a history of strength and confidence—show it now. Select one or two good examples of when you carried a new initiative past the finish line and how it impacted your organization.

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Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate List of Questions Funders Ask

The Ultimate List of Questions Funders Ask

In the end, frequently asked questions about grants come down to these five things: the urgent need, the compelling idea, the strengths of your organization, your financial viability and staff expertise, and the potency of your expected outcome. Funders want to know if you have the best idea and represent the strongest investment.

Two things as we wrap up here: if you'd like a list of questions to ask yourself to see whether your organization is ready for grants, read our post covering grant preparedness here.

Lastly, if you’d like to give your grant writer the best tools for bringing grant prospecting, tracking and management to one place, try Instrumentl for 14-days free.

With Instrumentl, you can store notes and set up tasks for your team to ensure every key question a grant funder might ask you is covered exhaustively.


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