How Much Should You Request in Your Grant Proposal? How Much Do You Need?!

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How do you know how much to request when drafting a foundation grant proposal?”

Well, how much do you need?

Folks, this isn’t rocket science and I refer, once again, to my constant mantra of “systems, systems, and systems.”

Have you been researching foundation funders on a weekly basis?

If you have, then you should have a solid listing of prospective funders as well as their grant application guidelines. You should know a) that their funding interests provide a match with your organizational mission, b) that they have funded organizations similar to yours in the past, c) whether they fund general operating costs, d) their fiscal year, and e) whether your organization has applied to them in the past.

Now, take a look at your organizational budget and join me as we determine two separate grant request amounts …

First off, we have the ABC Foundation. They’re a fairly “new kid on the block” to grant making, having opened their doors a scant three years ago after the founder sold his company (according to your Google research). They’ve funded an organization on the opposite end of the city providing the same services as your organization, and their giving history shows general operating grants in the $1,000-25,000 range. Your routine surveying of your board members has also revealed that one of your board members also sits on the board of the local art center – and has a friendly acquaintance with the ABC Foundation’s founder’s wife, who also sits on the board of the local art center.

Your first proposal to the ABC Foundation will be a small one. You feel rather safe in seeking a grant in the amount of $2,500 towards general operating expenses (and your board member has agreed to mention the proposal to Mrs. ABC). Without the connection, your first proposal would have come in at the very lowest end of $1,000.

The XYZ Foundation, on the other hand, has been in existence since 1962. Your organization has been fortunate to receive three nice-sized program grants over a period of ten years in the amounts of $15,000, $25,000, as well as one two-year grant in the amount of $60,000 that ended two years ago.

You are launching a new mentoring program this year and, based on the site visit XYZ paid your organization following the $60,000 grant, you know that they would be as excited about this new program as you are. On the other hand, you also know that XYZ’s assets have taken a bit of a tumble.

Your sixth grant proposal to the XYZ Foundation will seek $10,000 in support of your new mentoring program.

What??!! Sixth proposal??

Didn’t I say that the XYZ Foundation had funded your organization three times?

That’s right. Your first two proposals were declined.

After all, development is all about systems and relationships.

Keep building.


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11 Responses to “How Much Should You Request in Your Grant Proposal? How Much Do You Need?!”

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  2. […] How Much Should You Request in Your Grant Proposal? How Much Do You Need?! | Pamela’s Grantwriting B… http://www.pamelasgrantwritingblog.com/2009/08/how-much-should-you-request-in-your-grant-proposal-how-much-do-you-need – view page – cached One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How do you know how much to request when drafting a foundation grant proposal?” Well, how much do you — From the page […]

  3. […] This post was Twitted by PamelaGrow […]

  4. Sandra Sims says:

    I am curious about the ABC Foundation example above, why the nonprofit would be advised to go in at such a low amount. If it\’s a first time request you don\’t want to ask for the maximum, as there is not a strong relationship there yet. However, if the foundation\’s giving history shows general operating grants in the $1,000-25,000 range, as long as the amount requested can be justified with the nonprofit\’s needs analysis and case for support it would seem that somewhere in the middle would be more appropriate.

    I would rather ask for 10,000 and end up get 5,000 instead of lowballing them at 2500 or 1000. In the business world of negotiations, the old adage is that the person who says a number first loses. (Especially if that offer is too low!)

  5. I appreciate Pamela’s advice to ask for the lower amount.
    People who say “it doesn’t hurt to ask” simply don’t understand that it can indeed hurt to ask.
    Your unrealistic request can signal to a grantmaker that you are not smart about money or relationships.
    When we get a grant request for a large amount when we don’t already have an established grantmaking pertnership, we question the grantseeker’s judgment.
    We sometimes ask how grantseekers decided upon the size of their ask, and when they say “we saw you gave X to ____,” we find that incomprehensible.
    How can you possibly know what factors went into that decision? How can you assume your relationship with us merits a similar figure?
    With us, and with many other foundations, you are FAR better off to lowball. Make it easy for us to say yes. Exceed our expectations. Be a good investment. Report back to us. And then ASK us what would be a good ballpark figure for the next request.
    We’re struggling right now with a request that is five times the size of the previous grant. We would have been pleased to double last year’s grant, but our Grants Manager described this request as “a gut punch.”
    When we asked “what factors went into this huge leap?” the answer was, “you ‘get’ us, you like us, and we saw what you gave to others.”
    Well, we DO like them. We DO get them. But this outrageous request reduced our affection level considerably.
    Whatever we end up giving, we will feel less than generous because they asked for so much. There’s no “feel good” for us here. There’s only “feel bad, feel cheap, feel as if there’s no understanding in the relationship.”
    No matter how professional the process of grantmaking may be, emotions arise.
    Be careful when you overreach and overask – you may trigger resentment. You may lead grantmakers to believe you don’t know the proverbial value of a dollar.
    And you may poison the relationship beyond repair.

  6. I too am on the side of the funders [I used to be CEO of a substantial foundation and now teach funders and grantmakers]. But I am a bit puzzled by Ms. Harnisch’ reply. If there has indeed been a history of several grants, there seems to have a missing piece in this story. I would have assumed that a conversation would have been appropriate prior to submitting this proposal. If there hadn’t been enough of a relationship to have talked about next steps prior to submitting a proposal, then something was amiss. Seekers shouldn’t be in the position of playing guessing games, and funders shouldn’t be put in the position of being surprised. If the scope and nature of the request is at odds with the conversation, then Ms.Harnisch’ reply is absolutely appropriate. But it should never have come to that.

    One more thought: funders also have a responsibility to help an organization present honest needs. It is long term unhelpful to encourage low ball requests if the real needs are greater. The key is that there should be some credibility to the budget which leads to that request, not a sense that “we hope for $5000 so we will ask for $10000.”

    Bottom line: the grant proposal is not the same as entitlement, but, especially where there has been some history, it should never be a surprise. And that relationship should allow a funder to fully understand the real needs of a potential grantee prior to receiving a request.

  7. Pamela Grow says:

    I wondered about that as well. It is entirely possible that the missing piece might be attributed to employee turnover.

    Thank you for your insight.

  8. […] Part IX-A – Summary of Direct Charitable Activities: Here’s where you find out the exact dollar amount given in grants. If the foundation you’re researching tends to give many grants in the $2,500 to $10,000 range (as opposed to a few grants in the $25,000-$100,000 range) and you are a first time applicant, you’ll want to frame your first ask accordingly.  (See How Much Should You Request in Your Grant Proposal?) […]

  9. […] Study the foundation’s giving histories, preferably for the past three years. Note the range of grants – and tailor your request accordingly. Is this your first request? Come in on the low end. […]

  10. Jacquie Woodward says:

    Thank you all for these detailed and intuitive comments. These insights are essential to me, a volunteer grant writer, as I sincerely seek relationship building and honest communication in financially underwriting the essential community programs of our organization (a small rural YMCA). I appreciate you taking the time to “teach”.

  11. […] Study the foundation’s giving histories, preferably for the past three years. Note the range of grants – and tailor your request accordingly. Is this your first request? Come in on the low end. […]