Grant Seeking and Financial Sustainability

This chapter focuses on how grant seeking can serve as a strategy to generate revenues that may ultimately contribute to the financial sustainability of a nonprofit (NPO) organization. The chapter discusses the grant-searching and proposal-development process, criteria for writing quality grant proposals, and management of grants and contracts to further the financial sustainability goals of a nonprofit organization.


A grant is a monetary fund disbursed by an institutional or organizational donor to a recipient (individual or entity), which does not have to be paid back. Agency use calls for proposals to inform grant-seeker organizations about funding opportunities. A call for proposals is a statement or announcement that indicates the availability of funding for a particular purpose and according to certain guidelines. This is the point of entry to receive a grant. You cannot apply for a grant that is not available. A call for proposals in any form confirms that funding is available. Grant seekers use grant-writing principles and strategies to apply for funding. Grant writing is simply the process of searching and completing the applications and requirements needed to apply for a grant opportunity.


Founding sources for nonprofit organizations to seek grant opportunities include federal (e.g., U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Department of Health and Human Services, and other similar agencies) and state (e.g., State Department of Agriculture), and local (e.g., county agencies) agencies, private and corporate foundations, and community foundations. The grant-maker agencies maintain websites where they post funding opportunities with conditions of eligibility and deadlines for application. Further, there are agencies that publish directories and other online resources to aid the search for funding opportunities (see Box 15.1).


The grant-seeking process encompasses searching, complying with requirements, and applying for grant opportunities. Searching is the first step of exploring funding opportunities through various sources (e.g., websites, directories, and databases). Complying means ensuring that a nonprofit organization is eligible and can meet the requirements (e.g., documentation, deadlines, matching requirements). Applying refers to the tasks of compiling, writing, and submitting grant application documents (Box 15.2).

Successful grant proposals stem from innovative and creative ideas, suggest new solutions to address existing gaps, result from effective communication with the funder, follow the grant proposal guidelines accurately, and adhere to all headings and format restrictions. Some of the preliminary questions to ask include, but are not limited to:

Box15.1 Sample Funding Sources

- Will the grant opportunity help further the mission and vision of my organization?

- Is the size of the award ceiling worth the time required to prepare the proposal?

- Does my organization have available expertise on board to develop the proposal?

- Federal government:

- States:

- Local government (county or city):

- Foundations:



- Corporate foundations





- Local foundations



Box 15.2 Key Information in Calls for Proposals

- Directory of funding sources



Description of the funding opportunity (What is the purpose of the funding?)

Target population (Which demographic category is targeted by the funding?)

Eligibility (Who is eligible to apply? state, 501 (c)(3), individuals, etc.)

Award ceiling (What is the maximum amount for your budget? Ask if not specified!)

Deadline (What is the deadline for submission? Is a letter of intent required?, etc.)

Guidelines (What are the guidelines and documents for submission?)

- Is there conflict of interest?

- Will there be human subjects involved?

- Is it realistic to meet the deadline?

- What is the page limit for the grant or per section?

- What are the spacing, numbering, and margin requirements, if any?

- Does my organization need letters of support for the grant application?

- Briefly, is my organization fully eligible for this grant?

Best practices in grant writing suggest contacting the program officer prior to submission of a proposal. One of the reasons for this is that the program or project officer is the individual in most grant-maker agencies who checks on guidelines and on eligibility when nonprofit organizations submit their grant applications. Other audiences for a grant application include peer reviewers, who review and rate proposals, and the generalist panel, which votes on proposals to receive awards.

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