How to Peek Under the Hood when Becoming Familiar with a Funder

There can be a lot to think about when beginning a funding request, award proposal, or contract proposal. What are the patterns for this particular funder? What kind of projects do they like? What would be a dream project for them in the area you’re applying to? How does the net tighten from what you can see in the eligibility and stated program interests (this is especially useful for funders with very broad guidelines)?We recommend taking four broad aims when you start preparing your grant proposal.

1. Confirm Fit and Eligibility

Check the obvious items like sections titled “eligibility” – and also read through whatever other info they present for eligibility “Easter eggs.” We find “FAQ” sections are excellent hunting grounds for eggs. If the website you already scanned did not include any grants to your location, see if it looks like there are invisible geographic limitations by checking any grants databases on their website or checking the most recent 990. 

2. Explore the Application Process

First off, is the deadline or lack thereof what you understood? If you are also pulling application data or creating a template, you will obviously be getting very familiar with the application process and items. Likewise if you are creating a work plan that lists all of the documents that need to be submitted. If this is a brushing pass, the main things are to understand what the process is like, and what needs early attention. If it’s an online application, can you get in? Is it a complicated or straightforward online tool? For attachments, are they on hand or needing a head start? How challenging are the questions, criteria, and are there items that need significant research?

In thinking through these items, you should also be working toward two main assessments: 1) What does this mean for the project timeline? 2) Does the work facing you jive with the size of the grant award (is it right-sized)?
3. Prioritize Case Building Points

Starting with the more straightforward facets, where do the funder’s stated areas of interest intersect with your organization and the program you are pitching? If funding criteria are listed, what does this tell you in terms of where to spend more and less energy? What do you pick up in terms of their values or philosophy of funding (for instance, some funders like to help lots of clients with efficient direct services, while others like to tackle systemic issues through multi-sector rethinking of traditional interventions)? Do they have their own language, buzzwords, or core concepts? Are there logical programming additions or carve-outs for the project you’re pitching that will better fit the funder than a general request, or even another program entirely? 
4. Feel out their Personality
Here’s where your gut feelings and senses come in to play. What is this funder’s brand? You want the “voice” in your writing to mirror and respond to this (unless there’s a clever or organizational reason not to). What does the design of their website tell you? What does their language style tell you? What drives them? How do they talk about the issues that concern them? Basic aspects to think about are:
+ Level of formality (writing style, relationship formality)
+ Level of emotion (are there touching client stories, does “caring” come off in their language)
+ Level of modernity (are they old school, modern, visionary)
+ Attitude/politics (do they stake out or indicate a worldview or strategic preference for solving problems)

This doesn’t happen often, but is important when it does: do they have a current or former founder with a clear personality/perspective? It can be helpful to anthropomorphize or metaphorically capture and distill this information so you have an easy and unified reference point. Is this funder a Mac or a PC? A Mustang or a Hummer or a Volvo or a Prius? A bubbly and enthusiastic cheerleader or a jaded but dedicated strategizer or a bean-counter who dreams of effective metrics or a tech-loving innovator? If they were a person, how would you talk to them face-to-face about the project and the agency? Given what you’ve discovered for priorities and personality, should your writing have an overarching focus, theme, meme, or story (some sort of a thread weaving through your writing)?
The Grants Collective Team
Many Grants. One Collective.

P.S. These are a lot of questions to truly walk through for each funder. Those above are provided to help define a mental framework and toolbox of questions to pull from, to get you used to pulling meaning from funder websites or materials. You don’t need to make sure you know answers to all of the questions above, but you do need to be able to answer the four below:
Confirm fit and eligibility – Is this a good match? (Answers other than “heck yeah” and “heck no” usually mean a call or email to the funder is appropriate.)
Explore application process – What are we in for on this one?
Prioritize case building points – What do I need to make sure to emphasize?
Feel out their “personality” – What should our writing voice be?