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Step 4 (continued). Foundation Grants

There are many foundation grant programs that fund watershed related initiatives. In order to determine which source of grant funding is most appropriate for your program or project, it is important to do some research before writing your proposals.

Before you begin to search for grant opportunities and write grant proposals, consider these pros and cons.


  • Photo of money.There are lots of options. Foundations give a lot of money to watershed groups annually. You are likely to find a few that will support your group.
  • Grants come in large amounts. A grant can give an organization a large infusion of money to create a new program or redefine an old one.
  • Credibility. A grant signals that someone outside your organization is willing to invest in your success. This can increase your credibility with the media, prospective donors, businesses, and other grant-giving organizations.
  • Leverage. Some grants, specifically challenge grants, are designed to help raise more money by matching dollar for dollar the donations that are given by members. Other grants require a match from the grantee.


  • Lousy odds. There is a lot of competition for grant funding and many successful applications are only partially funded.
  • Long waits. It can take several months for the applications to be reviewed and processed and for applicants to be notified. If you are successful, additional paperwork will be required. For example, you may be asked to make amendments to the workplan and/or budget. Grants are not usually an appropriate option if you need money in a short amount of time.
  • Restricted money. The majority of grants are directed toward specific projects, not general support. This greatly limits your flexibility. A grant is a contract and you are legally bound to use the money are described in your proposal workplan. Any significant changes will need to be negotiated with the funding organization.
  • Who's accountable to whom? Grants can shift power over your programs to someone outside the organization. If you are not careful, your work can get distorted in the pursuit of money.
  • Paperwork. Increasing demands for accountability require you to devote significant time to measuring and reporting results.

Photo of woman looking through papers.Here are 10 tips for writing foundation grants:

  • Do your homework. Good research can help you narrow down the
    pool of potential funders to those most interested in the types of programs and projects outlined in your plan. For the foundations that you select, understand their mission, activities, culture (ex. how they prefer to be contacted), and funding history (ex. average grant size and grant range).
  • Make sure that you state your plan right at the beginning of the cover letter (and in your summary). You must be specific about how much money you are requesting and what you plan to do with it. Often, trustees may not have the time to go through the entire proposal.
  • During the process constantly ask yourself if your project fills a need. Make sure that your organization is not simply following the money.
  • Check to see if someone else is already doing the project. Many foundations like to see collaborations between organizations.
  • Understand the length of the application and review process. Allow sufficient time to write the proposal.
  • Check the list of staff and board and see if you have any personal contacts that would be useful.
  • Learn how the money is distributed and if matching funds are required. For example, some funders will provide grantees money upfront. Others grants are reimbursable and require that the organization has enough money to absorb the upfront costs. Also, it is important to be able to say how you plan to supplement their funding in the future.
  • Read the application requirements and follow them carefully. Tailor each proposal to a particular funder. While format and other guidelines may seem trivial, grantors will not consider proposals which do not exactly meet the application requirements. Be concise in your proposal and adhere strictly to the page limit. Proofread and watch for mistakes.
  • Whether you get the grant or not, it is critical to follow up with the funder in a timely manner. Remember, you are building a long-term relationship with the foundation. Persistence is key!
  • Identify how you will measure the success of your projects. Foundations need to show measurable results. Think about how you will measure success in your project and identify those measures upfront.

A helpful tool for organizing your grants is an internal budget spreadsheet (XLS)(24K), an example of which is provided here by Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Citation: See Resources, Works Cited #17

Additional Resources on Grants

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