How to Stand Out Through the Nonprofit Grant Application Process

Social Solutions Blog

How to Stand Out Through the Nonprofit Grant Application Process

You’re here because you work for a nonprofit organization. Maybe its next endeavor is going to be a very expensive one—and we’re not talking about a $100,000 project; maybe it’s a $1 million project or a $5 million project. In any case, your nonprofit wants to embark on a brand new journey (say, a new building for a university), and it doesn’t quite have the funds to get there—that’s where a grant can come in handy. If you’re unsure about the world of grants, it doesn’t work like a loan; grants do not have be repaid. The challenges of obtaining a grant are finding a quality funder and getting said funder to approve your grant application. If you don’t remember, we went through what funders are looking for in a previous blog.

So, your nonprofit has decided to apply for a grant—great! But does your team know what the grant application process looks like? (Hint: It’s a timely process.) From the time your nonprofit applies for a grant to the time the funder (hopefully) approves your grant, this process could take up to a year. It’s so crucial for your nonprofit to plan accordingly.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are three stages to the grant process, which are:

  • The grant application
  • Application referral and review
  • Pre-award and award process

As you can probably tell, you have control over one stage of the process: the grant application stage. It’s the most important and the most sensitive stage, so you want to make sure that your organization does this perfectly; there is no room for error, and there’s certainly no room for slip-ups.

The Grant Application

After you have a funder that checks off all the boxes of what your nonprofit is looking for, your nonprofit has to prepare to submit a proposal to that funder, explaining why your nonprofit deserves the grant. And while the process seems simple enough—research, write and submit—it’s a little more complex than that. Think of a grant application as a college application or a job application—with much, much, much more on the line. There are so many phenomenal, worthy candidates for this role (grant), so why should they choose you (your nonprofit organization)? Not only do you have to sell your nonprofit’s mission, but you have to sell its strategic plan of what it will be doing with the grant and how it will use the grant to achieve its goals.

When sculpting that stellar grant proposal, here are a few questions to make sure you answer:

  • What is this organization about, what difference is it making in the world and how is its business model unique and innovative?
  • What’s the nonprofit planning to do with the grant? How will this project help reach the nonprofit’s long-term goals? How will it benefit the community? How will it make a difference?
  • How will this grant fit into the nonprofit’s strategic plan? What is the timeline, and how will the grant money be distributed?

Don’t skimp on the details! A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the grant proposal is hitting every checkpoint: who, where, what, when and how? And, most importantly, stay on schedule! Make sure to submit your application before the deadline. Any grant application submitted after deadline can stamped with a big “denied.”

If you’d like to learn more about data and trends around what funders are looking for, check out the Nonprofit Funding Kit.

Nhu Te is editor-in-chief and content director for NonProfit PRO. She is also the editor of DMAW Marketing AdVents. Reach her at

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