3 Myths About Applying To Family Foundations

In one of our very first blog posts, “The 3 Types Of Funders To Approach For Your Next Project,” we identified private foundations as one of three types of funders. As a type of private foundation, family foundations are very common, but often not very well known. And while there are thousands of family foundations across Canada, it seems like grant writers are sometimes hesitant to apply to them for funding, or are unsure of how to do so. There are a few myths surrounding family foundations and believing these myths means missing out on incredible funding opportunities.

Here’s What You Need To Know About Family Foundations

Family foundations don’t need to be so mysterious. By reading and understanding these three myths and their corresponding truths, you can feel more confident applying to family foundations for funding and increase your chances of funding success.

Family Foundation Myth #1

Family Foundations Already Know Who They Want To Fund

Some grant writers believe that because family foundations already know which organizations and projects they want to fund, there is no point in applying for their grants. Family foundations can sometimes feed this myth by stating that they “do not accept unsolicited requests,” essentially meaning that if they want to fund you, they will come to you. The truth is, they do this because they’re often small and do not have the capacity to handle the hundreds or thousands of applications that other types of funders receive.

While it is true that family foundations often have organizations or causes that are close to their hearts, just because you’re not one of them, doesn’t mean you’re out of the running completely. It doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in you. It just means you need a different strategy.

If the family foundation has explicitly said they do not accept unsolicited requests, don’t submit a proposal or letter of inquiry, as you might do with another type of funder. Instead, try to build a relationship first. Your organization’s board members might be great for this. Who do they know that is connected to that foundation? They may be opposed to formal applications, but they may be open to informal conversations. Provide the foundation’s members with opportunities to get involved with your organization and learn more about your programs and projects through events, volunteering, or a tour of your facilities.

Family Foundation Myth #2

Family Foundations Don’t Have A Lot Of Funding To Offer

Another myth keeping grant writers from applying to family foundations is the belief that family foundations only have enough money to award small grants, which are not worth the time or energy to apply. The truth is, family foundations come in all shapes and sizes, by which I mean that family foundations are all unique in the amount of funding they provide, depending on their history, their goals, and the contributions of their members. There are some family foundations that offer a large number of small grants and some family foundations that offer a small number of large grants.

For example, the T.R. Meighen Family Foundation provides a small number of small grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 each year. On the other hand, the J.W. McConnell Foundation does not typically award small grants, only larger grants, which are often given over a two or three year period. It all depends on what the foundation’s interests are.

Family Foundation Myth #3

Family Foundations Only Support Local Organizations

A third myth keeping grant writers from applying to family foundations for funding is the belief that family foundations only fund organizations in their region. This is not always true. Community foundations only support local organizations. Family foundations are able to fund wherever they want.

While it is true that family foundations are often interested in and dedicated to supporting organizations where their family members were born and raised, this does not mean these communities are the only places where they fund. Do some research on which organizations the foundation has funded in the past and the amount they have given in the past. This will give you an idea for who and how much they might fund in the future.

As with Myth #1, just because your organization isn’t located in the same community, doesn’t mean you can’t receive funding too. It just means you will need to develop a new strategy.

Want To Learn About More Grant Writing Myths?

At GrantsEdge, we love busting myths that keep grant writers from being truly successful in their fundraising endeavors. To learn about more grant writing myths that could be holding you back, check out our blog post, “3 Grant Writing Myths That Are Limiting Your Success.”

5 Ideas About Report Writing That Funders Really Want Grant Writers To Know About

In my previous work as a funder, I always looked forward to seeing progress reports and final reports. Report time provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate the success of the projects that organizations had worked so hard to implement. It also proved to be a time that strengthened our relationships with agencies, as we took time to speak with them and understand their work more intimately.

The process of reporting is important, as it not only brings a level of accountability for grant writers and their organizations, but it provides an effective way for organizations to tell their stories of impact. There are very few things more exciting for a funder than gaining a clear perspective of the difference their dollars have been able to make.

Based on my experience though, grant writers don’t always hold that same positive perspective of the reporting process. I’ve had numerous questions asked of me over the years about funding reports. I’ve had grant writers ask, “Why don’t they just give us the money and trust us?” or “Why do I have to do all of this paperwork?” or “Why do all funders have different requirements?” I understand the frustration and challenges of completing funding reports. They can be time consuming and they never seem to be due at a time that is convenient. But your reports are important and they are an important part of the entire process, not an annoying add-on at the end.

With that in mind, here are five key ideas to consider the next time you sit down to write your report.

1. Know When Your Reports Are Due

As a grantee, it is your responsibility to know when you are required to report – it is not the responsibility of the funder to notify you about upcoming report due dates. The reporting dates are normally included in your contract or letter of agreement. Some funders do have an alert system, but that is rare and a real bonus. Your organization needs to have a system of keeping track of reporting requirements, whether it is on a shared calendar or assigned to one person. Find a system that works for your organization and build it in a way that considers the fact that changes in staff and dates may occur along the way.

2. Report On Time

It can be quite damaging to your credibility when a funder is forced to chase you for your required reports. There is a reason the reports were scheduled for a specific time. Perhaps the dates were set to correspond with the scheduled release of your next cheque or because the funder needs to collate findings to report internally. In that context, completing the final report is just as important as progress reports. Many organizations are vigilant when submitting progress reports as they know that future cheques depend on it, but too often grant writers become less attentive when they have a final report due.

Remember, as a grant writer, you are in the business of relationship building and everything you do during the course of any grant will impact the possibilities for the future. If a funder needs to send frequent reminders of overdue reports or make several phone calls, you will be considered a higher maintenance organization and that will be in their mind when they review your next application.

3. Use The Reporting Forms Provided

You may think you can design a much better form than the one provided by the funder but don’t be tempted to alter the format. There is a reason the funder has asked for information in this specific order. The report questions are also developed with intentionality, so although they may seem redundant or you may consider providing different information than what is asked for, know that the funder has likely spent considerable time designing their reporting forms to allow them to more easily review and potentially to collate information from various grantees to give them a better sense of their impact. If you are unclear as to what is expected as an answer to any one question, give the funder a call – most of the time, they will be happy to provide clarification. Remember, you really are on the same team, and they want nothing more than for you to be successful in your grant.

4. Consider Reporting Even When You Don’t Have A Report Due (I.e. Keep The Funder In The Loop Of What Is Going On With Your Project)

One strategy that can be effective, especially with a longer term, more complex grant, is scheduling check-ins with your funder. Ideally, these would be in person, but the reality is, that often will not be possible. Phone or Skype check-ins can be just as effective. Not every funder will be open to this idea either because of workload or ideology, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire. If they accept your invitation, make sure you are prepared for your conversation. Prepare an agenda and think through what the most important thing is that you want them to hear. Include that statement on the agenda so the funder can take it away after the meeting – that way, they will have that one key statement or fact reinforced and you improve your chances that they will remember it. Some of my most accountable and successful grantees I worked with over the years used this approach and it made the entire process feel so much more like an equal partnership.

5. Respond Promptly To Requests For Additional Information

Just because you have submitted your final report doesn’t mean you are completely finished. You may experience situations where your report raises a question for the funder and they contact you for additional information. Don’t be alarmed, but be pleased that they have thoroughly read what you have submitted and are interested in your work. Carefully read their questions and consider how to answer them.

Do You Have Any Reports To Write Right Now?

Take some time in the next few weeks to identify any reporting due dates, whether progress reports or final reports, and schedule them into your calendar so you can be sure to have them completed on time.

Reporting can be hard work and takes time, but it is also an incredible opportunity to share important stories with your funder. Take the reporting part of the granting process as seriously as your original application and be sure funders get your very best, all the way to the final report.

Classic Grant Writing Mistake…The “Over-Promise”

You’ve probably experienced the “over-promise” and “under-deliver” dilemma at some point if you’ve ever been a consumer. The most recent for me came when our family thought it was a great idea to purchase a “robot vacuum.” It was going to solve ALL the vacuuming frustrations in our home. It was going to save us so much time. The promise was that we could turn it on and set it to vacuum our floors while we weren’t at home. The floors were going to be free of dust and dirt and ready for our friends and family to stroll happily across our floors in their new white socks. This was going to be the best…ever.

Well, did this thing ever disappoint! Oh, sure, we could let it run while we weren’t at home, but it never actually vacuumed anything. It didn’t pick up the dirt at all. Instead all it seemed to do was just redistribute the dust bunnies and breadcrumbs to other parts of the house. I don’t need my breadcrumbs in the front foyer, thank you very much.

But it came with such fanfare and high expectations. The commercials told me it was going to be amazing and revolutionize the art of vacuuming. I was never going to have to vacuum again. I’m such a sucker!

When all was said and done, the most prominent accomplishment of my robot “saviour” was becoming a play toy for the dog. The bottom line is that I’d never buy another vacuum like this again. It felt frustrating and like a huge waste of money! The robot vacuum definitely over-promised and under-delivered.

Don’t Over-Promise in Your Grant Applications

GrantsEdge has connected with many funders over the years, and the classic “over-promise” and “under-deliver” is a problem they have told us they have seen more times than they would care to remember.

But why does this happen? Why do grant writers and organizations continue to promise outputs and impact at a level that is unreasonable?

Funders Want To Give Money To Projects That Make A Difference

As grant writers, we know how important it is to be able to demonstrate to funders that your program or project will be successful and have a significant impact with your target population. Without that, funders may be less than excited to invest dollars in an idea that isn’t going to make much of a difference. And with that as the context, some grant writers “adjust” their numbers or create objectives and outcomes that aren’t attainable. Some grant writers complete proposals in a way that portrays greater benefit to the community than they can actually deliver in the hopes that funders take notice and say yes to their application. The result is that funders end up feeling frustrated when these projects don’t actually produce. When you under-deliver, your organization can erode trust with funders.

It’s OK To Fail

Now we know that not all grant writers over-promise on purpose or complete proposals in an effort to trick a funder in some way in order to get the money. Sometimes grant writers just aren’t sure how to best measure performance and aren’t strong with the evaluation process. If that’s you, you may want to look at “The Definitive Road Map To Evaluation” as that will get you started.

We also don’t want you to think you shouldn’t set some stretch goals or dream some big dreams or that funders will wag their finger at you like a disappointed parent if you don’t reach your goals. Funders understand that not everything works out, that circumstances beyond your control may impact your program and ultimately its outcomes. There is room to fail.

But, the rule still stands. If you are a grant writer, you need to work incredibly hard to ensure that your funded program or project delivers what you said it was going to deliver.

What Happens If You Don’t Deliver?

Whether it is a corporate funder, private foundation, or government funder, performance measures are an important part of every grant design and application. You will want to be able to accurately show that you know what impact your program will have on your target group and be able to demonstrate that you know how to measure it, track it, and use it in the future to make your program even better. Be clear and honest with yourself and the team about your target group, the need for the program, the benefits of the program for your participants, and how those benefits show up in measurable terms.

Not doing the hard work up front to know how to best communicate your program’s goals and eventual outcomes and getting an unrealistic proposal funded may actually be worse than not getting the funding at all. If you commit to certain outcomes and goals, you need to be able to deliver. When it comes time to report back to the funder, you need to be able to show them that you have accomplished what you set out to achieve.

But what are the possible ramifications of not delivering what you said you would deliver? It can’t really be that bad can it?

Is it possible an organization could have a grant rescinded? Yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible that you could severely damage a relationship with a funder? Yes, without a doubt.

Is it possible that funders might be suspicious of your future proposals? Yes, absolutely.

Is it possible that funders talk to one another, and that your overzealous goals could now be on the radar of completely different funders? I’m glad we’re thinking about this now, because funders do talk to other funders. So that is also a yes.

Now, we don’t want to be all “doom and gloom.” There is definitely opportunity to learn through evaluation efforts and course correct throughout your project. If things aren’t going as planned, find out why, build and implement solutions, and communicate with the funder.

OK, So You Won’t Over-Promise

We want your grant proposals to be compelling, but we want you to avoid dazzling funders today only to disappoint them tomorrow. Be realistic about what the program can truly accomplish and be sure to explain how you plan to evaluate your progress and success as it moves forward.

Don’t disappoint your funder the way my “robot vacuum” disillusioned me and my family.

How Do You Develop Realistic, Informed Outcomes?

Want to know what you need to consider when developing realistic expectations for your next grant proposal? Enter your information below to download our Five Considerations For Developing Realistic Program Outcomes.

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Ask The Experts: Amazing Insight From Funders At GrantsEdge Live

Have you ever been so excited you could barely sleep? That’s how I felt on Sunday night, in anticipation of GrantsEdge Live, our two-day grant writing training course. I couldn’t wait to meet the incredible people, from a wide spectrum of organizations, who had signed up to learn the step-by-step formula to write winning grants.

Participants told us that after two intensive days of learning and discovery, they now felt “confident”, “energized”, and “ready to write grants” to get their ideas funded! Now, our GrantsEdge team would love to take all of the credit for this, but we really can’t.

We were honoured to have four incredible funders accept our invitation to attend a portion of GrantsEdge Live. Each funder graciously provided valuable insight, answered thought-provoking questions, and offered feedback to help participants clarify their project ideas. There was also a lot of laughter along the way.

Who Was In The Room?

Joining us for this event were:

  • Jo-Ann Hutchinson – Regional Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, & Sport.
  • Sara Middleton – Director, Community Partnerships and Investment with the United Way London-Middlesex.
  • Rebekah Morrison-Wize – Development Officer, Grants & Investments with the London Arts Council.
  • Janice Walter – Manager of Community Development for Neighbourhood Children and Fire Services for the City of London.

Insight From Funders

Below I’ve shared a few of the questions asked by GrantsEdge Live participants and a summary of the informative responses from funders.

Finding Funding For Program Expansion

Thought-Provoking Question: Seed funding for new programs appears to be more popular for funders today. What would you encourage me to do if the funding I’m seeking is related more specifically toward expanding and growing an existing program?

Awesome Answer: The packaging and writing of a grant can definitely be a challenge. As funders, we know that there are great programs in our communities that are experiencing strong outcomes and delivering exceptional results. We need to fund those programs. It is important in those cases to consider developing your ask and creating your expansion around a new demographic or in a new geographic region. Perhaps you want to consider expanding your program in a new neighbourhood or with a different age group. It just means making your pitch slightly more specialized. Don’t be afraid to tell us that you have a strong model and an effective approach that you want to try for a new segment of the population. Telling a funder that you need to hire two new staff positions is less appealing then saying that you are going to deliver 20% more impact.

Mistakes Grant Writers Make

Thought-Provoking Question: It’s difficult as a grant writer to not think about the fact that it might be my writing that is the reason our proposals haven’t been funded. Would you have some advice about some of the common mistakes grant writers make, or some ideas I should consider to impress a funder with my application?

Awesome Answer: We have a long list of common mistakes, that’s for sure! There are also some intentional concepts you can include to impress a funder. This is definitely not an exhaustive list.

  • The right fit – The biggest thing is to make sure you align your program and application to the funder’s priorities. Don’t go chasing the dollars and then attempt to make your program fit. You need to find the right funder and make sure your priorities align because we need to know that the programs we’re investing in line up with our outcomes.
  • The power of collaboration – Having effective collaborations and partnerships included in your application is also a key component that can impress funders. Partnerships bring efficiencies around areas like administration and space and it helps roll up outcomes and demonstrate even greater community impact when organizations are working together.
  • Don’t assume – Another common mistake that grant writers make in their overall writing is that they assume that reviewers already know everything about their organization. Funders often engage volunteers in the decision-making process, and those volunteers may bring assumptions or perceptions with them that are incorrect (maybe their child was in one of your programs in 1986), or they may know nothing about your organization at all. Make sure you are clear, concise, compelling, and provide enough information for everyone to make an informed decision.
  • Does it add up – The budget is typically the least effectively completed part of every application. Describing unit costs are very important so that as a reviewer we understand the reasoning behind your number and that it makes sense. Make sure you read our guidelines related to the budget and that you attach everything we have asked for as part of that process.

How Funders Want to Be Recognized

Thought-Provoking Question: What types of ways do you like to be or need to be recognized? What is the best way for my organization to recognize your support?

Awesome Answer: Our logo is the biggest and most important piece. Most funders will send you the logo and the guidelines for how to use it. Be sure to include it on reports, strategic plans, and any communication that is going out related to your project that has been funded.

Don’t send certificates (there was definitely laughter in the room at this point). We don’t expect any “bling”. Spend the money on your project. We don’t typically have room for hanging anything on our walls. A thank you card is fine, but nothing more than that is needed.

Thank You To The Funders Who Joined Us

A big thank you from the GrantsEdge team and GrantsEdge Live participants to the funders who made the time to join us and share their wisdom and experience. Participants said that this was definitely one of the highlights from GrantsEdge Live.

A Halloween Story: Turn Meetings With Funders From Scary To Successful

Jimmy was seven and had heard stories for years about the scary old man on Sycamore Street. It was Halloween night, and Jimmy and his friends stood at the end of the long driveway leading up to the old man’s run down house.

“I dare you to ring his bell Jimmy”, said Stewy, always looking to stir up trouble. “I’m not going up there,” Jimmy said. “Did you hear about the last kid that tried to get candy from old man Marley? He disappeared. Never found.”

Maybe it was because it was Halloween, but the place seemed scarier than it ever had before. There was a part of Jimmy that really wanted to go and see if the old man was as scary as everyone had said. He didn’t want to believe the urban legend. He didn’t want his fear to stop him from trying. But he couldn’t bring himself to walk up the driveway. Stewy pushed him, made fun of him, and taunted Jimmy the rest of the night, but Jimmy just wouldn’t go.

Sometimes Grant Writers See Funders Like Jimmy Saw “Old Man Marley”

Have you ever wanted to connect with a funder but fear or a lack of confidence or knowledge kept you from going? Maybe you understand Jimmy’s paralysis. Maybe you have metaphorically stood at the end of a funder’s driveway, wanting to connect, but doubt and uncertainty have held you back.

If you’re you unsure about how to set up a meeting with a funder, you can use our Email Contact Template for Funders. It has the exact, word-for-word script you can use to get funders to say ‘yes’ to your request for a meeting.

At GrantsEdge we know that funders are amazing, and that they desperately want to find incredible organizations to invest their funding dollars. And we want you to know that funders shouldn’t seem “scary” at all. We don’t want you intimidated by them, or feeling like you can’t connect. Although some may not be open to meeting, or may not have the time to formally connect, many funders are very open to taking some time to speak with you.

You need to have the courage to “walk up the driveway,” knock on the door, and look for opportunities to get candy…err…build relationship and get your questions answered

But what do you do when they answer the door and ask you to come inside? What does a meeting with a funder look like? What kinds of questions can I ask? How can I best take advantage of this opportunity?

Three Ideas You Should Consider To Ensure Your Meeting With A Funder Goes Well.

Friendly reminder: Be sure to prepare. Read through a funder’s website. Understand their purpose, and be sure you don’t ask any questions that can be easily answered by reading their application guide or through a little bit of research. Don’t be lazy.

  • Idea #1 For A Great Funder Meeting – Prepare A Concept Paper

    The whole idea of a concept paper is to capture the interest of the funding agency and demonstrate that your idea is worthy of further consideration and funding. The beauty of bringing a concept, or better yet, sending your concept paper in advance of the meeting, is that this will provide you with the opportunity to gain some feedback regarding the value of your project and potential proposal.

    The best concept paper is one to two pages in length, and doesn’t overwhelm the funder with unnecessary details, but provides a high level overview of your project and its eventual impact. This can be the basis for your meeting, and the funder feedback will give you lots to consider and work with when you get back to the office.

    In preparing for the meeting, you may also want to prepare a 30 or 60 second “pitch” so that you can verbally communicate your idea in a concise and engaging way. Practice it out loud before you go so that you know what it sounds like before you ever say it to a funder. It always sounds much better in your head than it does out loud, so trust us, don’t make the first time you say your pitch be in front of the funder.

    Want a FREE resource? For a Concept Paper Outline, click here.

  • Idea #2 For A Great Funder Meeting – Listen More Than You Talk

    You’ve likely heard the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much.” Epictus said that, and he was right (you have no idea who Epictus is, do you?).

    Answer questions when asked, but the purpose of this meeting is to hear what the funder has to say. You want to learn as much from them as possible, and it will be hard to do that if you are the one doing all the talking. Plan to have a pen and paper with you so that you can take notes and remind yourself of the advice that has been shared throughout the meeting.

    Also, work hard to not go on the defensive. Funders have told us stories of grant writers quickly saying, “that won’t work” or “we tried that once before” and in the process have completely shut down the conversation or made the funder feel like any advice or counsel they might give will be falling on deaf ears.

    By listening more and talking less, the funder will feel understood and cared about, you will have the opportunity to gain an insider perspective, and you’ll be sure to not say anything you’ll regret later.

  • Idea #3 For A Great Funder Meeting – Ask Good Questions

    The more questions you ask, the more answers you will receive. It seems simple, and yet too many fail to ask questions at all.

    By asking funders good questions, grant writers will gain deeper insights and have the information needed to develop more innovative solutions to their programs and their grant application. Asking smart questions will also go a long way toward solidifying a positive impression with the funder while also giving you valuable information to consider as you prepare to write your grant application.

    A few questions to consider asking a funder include:

    • Does our program fall within your current priorities?
    • What recommendations could you give for how we might make our application or project most effective?
    • Do you have any suggestions for others we might involve in a project of this kind?
    • What is one thing we can do to make this process better for you?
    • What are some common reasons for proposal rejections?

    A question you should never ask:

    • Can you rate my chances for obtaining funding?

    Don’t ever put a funder in a position to have to answer that question. It has the potential to make someone feel uncomfortable. If you listen well enough to the answers of your other questions, you should know everything there is to know about your chances of getting funding.


Be sure to send a thank you once you have returned to the office. Let the funder know that their time was valuable, and how you plan to implement their advice.

If the funder asked you a question that you were unable to answer during your meeting, be sure to take some time in your follow up to provide some insight for them.

Don’t Be Like Jimmy

Don’t be afraid to approach funders. Don’t sit at the end of the driveway wondering if it is safe to approach the front door. Approach funders, set up meetings, and implement the ideas shared here to ensure you leave those meetings with value information that will enhance your chances of success.

Having meetings with potential funders will become one of the most important factors of success in your grant writing. You may just start the beginning of a relationship that is the key to impacting your community.

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How To Quickly And Easily Get Funders To Notice Your Proposal

Have you ever felt intimidated to connect with funders? At GrantsEdge, we’ve heard from grant writers who have admitted funders do scare them a little bit, so you’re not alone if you answered “yes”.

Fear is often a result of not having enough information. If you really understood how funders feel and what they think, I am sure you would realize very quickly that funders just want to find great places to invest their money. Yes, they have expectations, and yes, as organizations you need to deliver results. But funders ultimately want to realize amazing impact in communities.

A Funder’s Perspective

To help break down any walls that might exist between grant writers and funders, GrantsEdge wants to continue to find ways to bridge the gap and ensure grant writers and funders understand each other. To do that, we’ll regularly bring you thoughts, insights, and ideas from funders’ perspectives. The more information you have as a grant writer about how funders think and what makes them frustrated or gives them a smile, the less intimidating they may seem and the more success you can have in your grant writing.

So, what is the most important piece of information a funder could give to you? What thoughts do they have about grant proposals that would be helpful for you as a grant writer to know? Do they have any big secrets they can share? If funders had one main piece of information to share that would help you approach grant writing with even greater confidence, what do you think they would have to say?

It Boils Down To One Thing

After studying funders, talking to funders, and listening to what funders have to say, there is one very important piece of advice they desperately want you to have so you can write great grants that get funded.

Are you ready for it? You should probably lean in and read carefully, because this is gold.

Every funder wishes grant writers knew one main secret, and it can be summed up in one word. Any guesses?


The word is “different.” Many funders have been in “the game” for a long time and they understand the subtle nuances and tricks of the trade in grant writing. They have seen hundreds of programs, hundreds of projects, and read thousands of grant proposals. If you can’t bring something different to the table, you may be limiting your opportunities.

Let’s Break It Down

The idea that you need to be different, can be highlighted in three separate ways, by asking three different questions:

  • How is your work different?
  • How will you be making a difference?
  • How is your grant proposal different?

1. How Is Your Work Different?

There are an estimated 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada, with 85,000 of them being registered charities recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency. That’s a lot of organizations doing great work! Within that 170,000, there may be a few organizations that are doing similar work (there really needs to be a font for sarcasm… go back and read that last sentence with sarcasm). With that many organizations out there, it only stands to reason that funders get proposals all the time that look eerily similar. Not because people have copied someone else or plagiarized a proposal, but because different organizations have a lot in common. A growing trend within the last few years has seen funders encouraging organizations to pursue collaborations and partnerships because too many groups overlap in the work they do, and funders have to work hard not to duplicate the areas of their funding.

Within the grant proposal process, and as you interact with funders along the way, it is extremely important to find ways to demonstrate that the work your organization does is unique to the work of others. What sets your program apart? What makes you stand out among the crowd? How are your outcomes different or better from others? If your organization closed, what gap would it leave in the sector?

If your grant proposal can begin to identify the exclusiveness within which you serve your stakeholders, funders will take notice. Study your “competitors.” Do some research and look to create newness within your organization. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.

Make sure potential funders see how the work you do is different.

2. How Will You Be Making A Difference?

Impact, influence, results, and transformation are important concepts. Funders need to be able to quickly identify through your grant proposals that the programs and services you offer will make tangible differences in the community and for the groups you serve. You need to demonstrate results. You need to clearly establish that your goals and outcomes are reachable and realistic. A funder wants to know their investment has a solid return.

Evaluation has also become a key component for funders. Most funders want to know that you have already evaluated your work and are driving toward success, or they want to understand how you will evaluate your program to carefully measure success.

If you can’t show a funder the difference you are making, why would they give you any money? Do your research to make sure your facts are correct and your methodologies effective. Measure everything and analyze your data to look for weaknesses, strengths, trends, and areas for improvement. And share your stories! One of the most effective ways to engage a funder is with stories of transformation.

3. How Is Your Grant Proposal Different?

Everyone talks about the power of a first impression. Think of a networking situation or a blind date (no thank you) scenario, and how quick we are to begin to form judgments about people based on the first few seconds or minutes. We do it all the time. We gain an impression of someone based on very little information.

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule

I’ve heard a rule that’s supposed to help one manage the perception others gained of a person. The 12 x 12 x 12 rule was this:

  • How do you look from 12 feet away?
  • How do you look from 12 inches away?
  • What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

That’s a lot of pressure on a person. I look terrible from 12 inches away!

But this rule can be applied to the grant writer, grant proposal, and funder relationship. Let’s just change it slightly.

Imagine it’s midnight (12 am). The funder has been working for 12 hours straight. Yours is the 12th proposal they have pulled off the pile. How do you get their attention? What makes you different from the other 12 proposals they have just read? What impression will you leave with them? What is their perception of your organization and your program based on what they have just read?

Does that change your perspective at all as you think about writing your next grant proposal? It’s not easy being a funder. There are often many more asks than dollars available. They have hard decisions to make, and some organization is likely getting a “no”… don’t let it be yours!

How Do You Plan To Be Different?

So, what are you going to do the next time you sit down to write a grant proposal? Take a personal inventory and ask the three questions in this blog to make sure you are setting yourself up for success. How is my work different? How will our organization make a difference? How will my proposal be different from many other proposals? Don’t be average. Don’t be the same as everybody else.



The 5 Grant Writing Indiscretions That Drive Funders Crazy

It was a rainy and cold Tuesday morning and I had just made my way into the office. As a funder, I loved my job. I loved connecting with community organizations and doing everything possible to support them in their incredible work. But this particular Tuesday, I felt tired and wasn’t at all energized about my upcoming day.

What was my problem you ask? I had just spent the entire previous day combing through a stack of new grant proposals and the majority of them had careless mistakes. Some were “lucky” enough to have combined a few of these gaffes into one submission!

After seeing thousands of applications, all with the same errors, it made me want to do something like a sailor (if you thought swear, you’re right)! I always loved the grant review process. It was exciting to see new ideas that would make our community better. But it could be really frustrating to see great project ideas weakened because of careless mistakes.

Here are just 5 of the frustrating writing indiscretions that grant writers consistently included in their proposals. Read them, and then please don’t ever do them again.

1. Submitting An Application In A Different Format Than Specified

Funders spend a lot of time working on and tweaking their application forms. Even though it may not be apparent to you why the questions appear in a particular order or why they are worded in a particular way, the funder has their reasons and expects you to apply using the format provided. No cheating on this! Typing “see attached” in a section and then attaching other documents is not a successful way of dealing with word count limitations. Most funders are happy to provide clarification about what they are looking for with specific questions – more and more are moving to the provision of online resources and transparency around their assessment process.

2. Use Of Jargon And Acronyms

We all develop language that becomes second nature to our specific organization and sector, and often lose track of the fact that not everyone has a common understanding of those words and symbols. If you are going to use an acronym throughout your application, make sure you spell it out the first time you use it. You want to make it simple for the reviewer to be able to read straight through your application and get the full picture, without having to constantly refer back to an earlier part of the application to remind themselves of what the PSAC is, as opposed to the PCAS. I always say, use the Aunt Betty test – if Aunt Betty can read it and understand your story and what you are asking for, you are good to go. In fact, I often encourage grant writers to ask someone who knows nothing about their program or sector to read their application before they hit submit.

3. Inconsistencies

Once you have completed your application, leave it for a day or two and then reread it, looking especially for inconsistencies (this means you can’t be preparing an application at the last minute – a topic we will address in future blog posts). Does the budget request in your financial section match the amount you listed in the rest of the application? Do the numbers add up? If you are providing quotes, do they match to the amounts you have included in your request? Does your work plan line up with the project description you provided? Are the attachments you provided connected to the project you are requesting funds for?

4. Incomplete Applications

You may have a fantastic idea, which is a great fit with the potential funder’s programs, but if the application is incomplete, it likely won’t go forward. This absolutely kills the reviewers who want to fund your project, but are unable to do so. It simply wouldn’t be fair to the other organizations applying if you received funding for an incomplete submission and they were required to submit a complete one. If you are asked for financial statements, make sure you include the full set (the notes section of an audited statement is a key part of those statements). Once again, building in enough time to do a good job on the full grant seeking process is key.

5. Spelling And Grammar Mistakes

Believe it or not, a lot of spelling mistakes can be really off-putting to a potential funder. The message it sends is that you couldn’t be bothered to look over your work, and that doesn’t give the funder confidence that you will pay attention to the details of your project/program. “Spell check” certainly helps, but may substitute the wrong word for a misspelled one, so don’t rely on it. Asking a third party to review and potentially edit can often be more effective. Remember, first impressions count. Funders try to be as fair and impartial as possible, but they are human beings with opinions and experiences that shape their responses to applications. Check out our free resource, Five Commonly Misused Words, which can be downloaded at the end of this blog post, to improve your grant applications!

While these five writing indiscretions may seem incredibly basic, they’re not. I’ve seen thousands of grant applications that have at least one, if not more. Avoid these five indiscretions like the plague, so your grant slides right into the “approved” pile.

Make sure you’re not misusing these five commonly used words in grant applications! Download our free resource, Five Commonly Misused Words.

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The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen

I’m that guy you don’t want to watch movies with very often (or at all). Especially the typical Hollywood productions that make their way to local theatres. Why? I always know the ending. I try not to say anything out loud, or ruin the experience for others (except for maybe my wife… I do find that funny). Even though I love being surprised, which is why I’m pretty enthralled with a show like Game of Thrones (“I never saw that coming”), it just doesn’t happen often enough.

So What Do Stories Have To Do With Grant Writing?

How do stories and grants connect? At GrantsEdge, we believe that stories are a vital part of every grant application. Tell your story well, and a funder is more likely to connect with your idea, and more likely to say “yes” to your application. Bore them with a proposal that reads like all the others and you may end up back at the drawing board looking for money from a different funder.

If you can begin to include great storytelling in your grant proposals, funders will take notice, and your success rate will begin to increase.

Stories Have A Typical Formula

Before you go thinking I have some kind of special gift to be able to guess the outcome of a story, I don’t. I’m not alone in my ability to understand the classic rhythm of storytelling. You’re probably thinking of someone in your life right now who has been known to ruin the ending of a movie from time to time. It’s because most great stories follow a formula.

Even with all the predictability that most stories (books, movies, T.V. shows, etc.) bring, I still love them, and would never want to live a life void of story. As humans, we are wired in such a way that story captures us and moves us more than any other medium of communication.

The 3 Things You Need To Know To Write A Good Story

The 3 principles to writing a good story are:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero
  3. Articulate The Transformation

These are foundational principles for storytelling within a grant writing context. If understood and implemented, they can begin to take your stories from common to compelling, and your grant proposals from a “no” to a “yes.”

1. Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing in general, and storytelling specifically. Not knowing your audience is just asking for trouble.

I was reminded of this idea recently when attending a program in my community. The facilitator of the group had invited a guest speaker to lead a conversation around financial literacy.

The guest speaker had prepared a ton of great information. You could tell he was passionate about the topic and really wanted to be helpful. There was one big problem though, he didn’t know his audience.  As he described some of the finer points of saving money and planning for a strong financial future, participants became frustrated. Some were even angry. What he didn’t realize was the main source of income, for the vast majority of the group, came through government assistance. Being told they needed to “save money” was offensive to them. It’s wasn’t that they didn’t want to save money, but once they covered their basic needs, there wasn’t much, if anything, left at the end of the month. Even if there was, saving money was not even a possibility within the rules and regulations of the system.

I sat uncomfortably in the corner (as a guest) and watched, as most participants felt frustrated and angry. It was obvious that no one left the session feeling like they had gained anything valuable from the experience. One of the most unfortunate aspects, was the guest speaker actually had valuable information about how to manage money… it just never got heard. He didn’t know his audience. Had he known his audience, he could have shared his story and information in a way that would’ve resonated, rather than isolated.

Could you imagine alienating a funder that way by submitting a grant proposal that is so far off the mark they get angry? Maybe the example is extreme, but grant writers make this common mistake far too often.

One of the most critical components of telling a good story and writing a good grant is to write it with your funder in mind. Don’t write the proposal for you, write it for them. Tell your story in such a way that funders know you’ve tailored it for them. Do the work to understand their purpose for providing funding. Recognize the results they hope to foster through their fund.

The story you tell in your grant proposal must connect your mission with the priorities of the granting agency.

2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero

Let’s get right to the point. The hero of your story, every time, should be the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character, the protagonist of your story. In most storytelling frameworks, the hero is usually taken on a journey, or looking to accomplish a task that seems to be beyond what they think they are capable of doing. Without taking action, the hero, whose flaws and weaknesses are visible, will find themselves (and others around them) in danger or dealing with significant struggle. The hero needs to do something different. They need to take action for their survival. For the audience, this character is compelling.

At this point in the story, a sidekick or guide usually appears. In most stories, they come alongside the hero to help them solve their problem. Their job is to listen, understand, and empathize with the hero’s problem. The hero also needs a plan or a solution. It’s the guide who shows the way.

  • Frodo must save Middle Earth, but he’s not sure he is courageous, or brave, or good enough to accomplish the task. Gandalf is the guide.
  • Luke Skywalker isn’t sure if he has what it takes to be a Jedi. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi play the role of guide.
  • Bridget Jones doesn’t feel worthy of love, and it takes her mother and friends to guide her through this journey of self-discovery.

For every Shrek, there must be a Donkey. 

You, or your organization, are the sidekick. You’re the one who has a plan for the hero to follow. It’s that plan that results in successful outcomes.

In too many of our stories, we want to write ourselves in as the hero. As you begin to craft your grant proposals and write your program descriptions and organizational overviews, become the sidekick. Help funders understand the hero of the story and their challenges, and then go on to explain how you will serve as the guide. Tell your story in such a way the funder understands the plan and how it will have an impact.

3. Articulate The Transformation

The transformation is the most exciting and interesting part of the story. This is the part of the story where I get that lump in my throat because, in the end, the hero is different, they’re in a better place, and their challenge has been met with a solution.

I want to suggest a formula that effectively articulates the transformation of the hero.

Problem + Solution = Transformation

We’ve already referred to the problem and solution parts of the story. As the guide, you enter the story with an understanding of the problem and you provide a plan and a solution. The last part of the equation is to write about the transformation. What has taken place in the life of the hero because they implemented the plan? What positive changes have occurred as a result of the guide’s solution(s)? What success have they experienced?

The description of the transformation is key in your grant proposal. By clearly outlining how your solution will change the circumstances for your clients, the funder will gain a deeper understanding of the benefit of your project and be able to make a decision about whether they wish to invest their funds into such a venture.

If you don’t include the transformation in your story, a funder is left wondering if your plan really works or makes a difference. Paint a clear picture for them. Evoke in the funder, the type of emotion that causes them to get a lump in their throat, as they recognize the transformation of the hero in the story.

Be A Great Storyteller

We all love a great story. Utilize one of the oldest forms of communication as a way to demonstrate to funders that your program is worthy of their support. Take grant proposals from good, to even better, by implementing the elements of storytelling outlined in this blog post. Here’s a quick recap. Be sure to know your audience before you write. Make sure you understand that you are not the hero of the story, but that you are the sidekick with a plan. And as you conclude your story, write about the amazing transformation the hero has experienced.

GrantsEdge is all about action, and we want to do everything we can to help you become a great storyteller as you write your grants. Use the GrantsEdge Problem + Solution = Transformation Worksheet to implement storytelling into your grant writing.

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The #1 Step You Must Take To Improve Your Grant Writing

Many of my favourite memories, from working as a Program Manager at the Ontario Trillium Foundation, relate to meeting with potential grant applicants. I’ve sat in coffee shops, at kitchen tables, on park benches, and in boardrooms meeting with people who had ideas to transform the community. There were lots of laughs, a few tears, and incredible stories of resilience.

So How Can This Benefit Me?

For grant writers, there are many benefits to meeting with a funder before you submit your grant. Besides building relationships, the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated, meeting with a funder provides opportunities for you, as a grant writer, to:

  • Check for alignment. Meeting with a funder gives you an opportunity to better understand their priorities. Through the discussion, you can make sure your program activities match with what the funder is interested in funding.
  • Improve your grant. Most funders have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals. If you take the time to listen, funders can be a wealth of knowledge in terms of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing your proposal.
  • Save time. At an initial meeting, many funders will tell you whether your program appears to be a fit for what they fund. They obviously can’t guarantee your project will be funded. But, if you know upfront your project isn’t a fit, it will save you hours of time writing a proposal that will never be granted. This way, you can spend your time writing proposals where you do have a real chance.

Do you have to meet with the funder? No, you definitely don’t have to in most cases. There are some funders who won’t meet with you at all, and there are others that make it mandatory to meet with them.

It’s been my experience though, that meeting with a funder can help you write better grants.

If you’re not having success in grant writing, the number one step you can take is to meet with funders.

I’m Sold, How Do I Go About Meeting With A Funder?

  • 1. Do Your Homework

    Before contacting the funder, become well versed in their language and with their programs. Review their website and access any resources they may provide, including Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). You might be able to answer many of your own questions in this way.

  • 2. Prepare Your Questions

    Write down your questions before you contact the funder. This will help you formulate your thoughts in advance and will help you feel more confident, which will be noticeable to the funder. This will also show a respect for the funder’s time. The funder will receive many inquiries from many different organizations about granting programs. If you have spoken to them in the past, don’t assume they remember you or your program. This is not a lack of interest on their part, but rather a product of the volume of interactions they have.

  • 3. Reaching Out

    Different funders have different ways of interacting with potential grantees. The key is to determine the funder’s preferred method of communication, and then use it. If they say they prefer to use email, don’t phone them – use email! Here are some ways you can connect with funders:

    • Information Sessions. Some funders have information sessions delivered in person or online. If they do, it’s a good idea to start there.
    • Telephone. Set a time to speak to a funder on the phone. Remember, don’t just call them up and expect them to be able to talk. Making an appointment respects the time of both you and the funder.
    • In Person. You can also request to meet with a funder in person. This will allow you to meet at a convenient location and discuss your idea together.

    Set telephone and in person meetings through email or phone. I personally think email is better, because the funder can respond to your request when it’s most convenient for them. But, if you can’t find their email address, a phone call might be your only option.

Where Do I Go From Here?

It’s time to get started! If you have a funder in mind, review their website, prepare your questions, determine how to best contact them, and then connect.

Are you nervous about contacting a funder to set up a time to meet? Don’t worry, the GrantsEdge Email Contact Template For Funders will provide you with everything you need.

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The 3 Types Of Funders To Approach For Your Next Project

Finding the right grant for your project can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack, blindfolded!  It can be even more difficult if you don’t know where to look.

In this post, I’ll share with you three types of funders you can approach for your next project. Being aware of these types of funders will increase your chances of finding grants, since you’ll have a better idea of where to look.

There are many types of funders, but for now, let’s look at these three:

1. Corporate Foundations

Where was the last place you bought groceries? Went out to eat? Bought gas?

It’s likely the companies you do business with every day have a corporate foundation.

Foundations are usually separate from the company, but derive much of their funds from the parent company and its employees. For example, the Co-operators Foundation contributes a percentage of The Co-operators’ pre-tax profits to various non-profit and charitable projects in Canada.

Corporate foundations usually support causes, which often, but not always, align with the parent company’s core business activities. Want to raise funds for your local food bank? Try looking at Loblaws or other grocery stores in your community. Upgrading the computers in your school’s lab? Check out Best Buy or other tech-focused companies.

2. Private & Family Foundations

Private and family foundations are the second type of funder. Typically, private and family foundations are registered charities that provide grants to other registered charities. Some make grants available to other “qualified donees,” basically, individuals or groups that are not charities, but are still eligible based on the funder’s specified criteria.

There are two main types of foundations:

  1. Private Foundations. Private foundations derive their funds from a family, like The Sifton Family Foundation, or an individual, like The David Suzuki Foundation. Individuals or family members often play a significant role in the governance of a family foundation.
  2. Public Foundations. Funds for public foundations come from a range of sources, including other foundations, individuals, and government agencies. A community foundation, like the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, is an example of a public foundation. Community foundations are often endowment based, and work diligently to benefit their local community.  Community foundations exist across Canada.  You can search for one in your area on the Community Foundations of Canada website.

3. Government

Government funders are the third type of funder you need to know about. This includes government agencies at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

  1. Municipal. Municipal governments often fund projects that benefit the city as a whole, such as projects that create and maintain green spaces, promote arts and culture in the city, and enhance neighbourhoods, like the City of London’s SPARKS! Neighbourhood Matching Fund.
  2. Provincial. Provincial governments fund projects that impact communities across the province, like Ontario’s Ontario150 Partnership Program.
  3. Federal. The Federal government funds nation-wide initiatives. For example, the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund is an investment in cultural infrastructure.

So what should you do next? Take a look at each funder’s website to determine if their funding priorities align with your program or project. If they do, apply!  If they don’t, record the funding opportunity somewhere so you won’t forget about it. In the future, you might have a program or project that does align.

Want to learn about more funding opportunities? Download our Funding Opportunities resource. We list additional funders in each of the three categories.

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