How to write a winning grant proposal

You have a great project. You need money. How do you get it? What are the secrets to writing a winning grant proposal?

In March 2023, Decoda Fund Development Director Gail Hanney and Decoda Controller Fanny Romeyn held a chat-style webinar to help literacy practitioners learn how to write winning grant proposals.

Gail provides fundraising expertise in direct mail, online giving, major gifts, foundation grants, monthly and planned giving, to increase the capacity of literacy organizations in BC to raise funds for their programs. Fanny keeps Decoda’s finances in order as a chartered accountant with more than 20 years of experience working for a variety of nonprofit organizations.

Finding funding for literacy programs and projects is an ongoing struggle for nonprofit organizations.

Purpose of a charitable foundation

Charitable foundations give money to support charities. Public and private foundations give out more than $8 billion annually to Canadian charities (Imagine Canada). In 2023, the federal government increased the disbursement quota for foundations with over $1 million in assets from 3.5 per cent to 5 per cent. In B.C., there are 1000 private foundations and 779 public foundations.

There are four types of foundations:

  1. Family Foundations
  2. Corporate
  3. Community
  4. Government

How to find funders for your project?

There are free resources available to help you find foundations and their funding information, such as:

  • charityvillage.com – see the sector/organization directory foundation listings, choose a category (like Education or Children, Youth and Family)
  • Annual Reports – look at the reports of other charities that are similar to yours (mandate, mission, demographics, or geographical area) to identify potential funders.
  • Foundation Websites – 25 per cent of foundations have websites with information on their giving priorities and application process.
  • CRA Charities listings (T3010) – Foundations are required by law to show proof of their charitable activities. Use keywords (e.g., children or B.C.) to narrow the search using the search engine.

Subscription-based databases are available that provide information on thousands of foundations, e.g. Imagine Canada’s Grant Connect and GrantStation. Grant Connect is also available for free at many libraries in B.C.

Why would a foundation want to fund my project?

Gail recommends applying only to foundations that are a match with your organizations based on:

  • Interests – Does the foundation’s giving interests align with yours, e.g., literacy, youth and children, access to education?
  • Location – Does the funder support organizations in your geographical region?
  • Priorities – What things they will fund, e.g., core funding, capital campaigns, research, gift-in-kind, startup projects.
  • Amount and Timing – Is your project within their giving range and grant cycle?

It is unlikely that a foundation will fund your entire project. Provide a list of other funders (confirmed or tentative) who support the project and if the project involves any community partners.

Corporate foundations are more likely to support a charity if it is beneficial to their business, e.g., your bank, your telecommunications supplier.

Every foundation has its own guidelines and application process. Some are more rigorous than others. “In my experience, the application process for family foundations is less rigorous. Sometimes you only need to send a letter of inquiry.”

When in doubt, ask! If you are unsure if your project fits with a foundation’s giving interests, pick up the phone or email them. Many foundations have administrators to handle questions.  It’s also a good way to develop rapport.

Letter of inquiry

Some foundations ask for a letter of inquiry before inviting a full proposal.

A letter of inquiry should only be 1-2 pages and include:

  • history, mandate and mission of your organization
  • description of the project
  • the need and who it will benefit
  • amount requested

Keys to writing a winning case

“Show that your organization knows what it’s doing,” said Gail. “You have a need, and you have a practical solution to solving the need.”

  • This is our goal.
  • Here is what we are going to do and when. (Include outputs, actions, targets, and participants, using numbers and percentages.)
  • This will be the outcome. (Use numbers and percentages, as well as soft data.)
  • This is how we will measure success. (Surveys, testimonials, measurements.)
  • This is how we will use the funds.

Grant reporting and stewardship

It is important to report back to the funder on how their gift made an impact. Donor recognition and engagement can make a difference in being eligible to apply for funding opportunities in the future.

  1. Provide a final report with photos, testimonials.
  2. Offer recognition in your annual report, newsletter, on your website and social media.
  3. Engage employees – let the funder know about volunteer opportunities with your organization.
  4. Invite funders to your events.

10 more grant writing tips

Webinar attendees brainstormed in a breakout session to come up with these additional grant writing tips:

  1. Start small – apply for local grants.
  2. Print the application form and any instructions to refer to while you’re writing your proposal.
  3. If the application is online, copy and paste the questions into Word to work on it.
  4. Keep an organization ‘cheat sheet’ with all your general information, address, website, charitable number, etc. that will be reused on every proposal or application.
  5. Use the same key words found in the application.
  6. Keep track of program results so you can show impact.
  7. Use an A.I. writing app to check your grammar and wording, e.g. grammarly.com, wordtune.com (Gail uses this one!).
  8. Use CLAD (Clear Language and Design) principles to keep it simple and make it easier for the reader to get your key messages. (See Plain language tips to reach your readers.)
  9. Check if there are local grant writing resources, such as at your Regional District.
  10. Get your proposal in early! Don’t wait for the deadline. Computer or internet crashes, power outages and personal emergencies can derail your last-minute application. And funders appreciate early applications.

 With a little research and these tips, we wish you luck in writing winning grant proposals!

“There are many reasons a funder may not support your project. Try not to take rejections personally,” Gail said. “Never ever be afraid to ask for money. Your organization is doing great work. All they can say is ‘No’.”

Comments and takeaways from webinar participants

  • Great presentation, knowledgeable individuals.
  • Start with a problem that you need to solve and then look for funds to support it. This is better than chasing grants around and squeezing your ideas to fit their requirements.
  • Knowing that I’m not alone in facing certain challenges for grant writing and knowing that building closer relationships with smaller funding can be impactful in the long term. Thank you for hosting!

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

Find more professional development opportunities on Decoda’s training page.

Related Blog Posts

Controller values accountability and workplace culture

We’re highlighting Decoda’s controller Fanny Romeyn during Financial Literacy Month!

Fostering Literacy helps children, inspires youth

Fostering Literacy programs support children who struggle with reading and provide work experience for teens.

Decoda Literacy Solutions’ 2022 year-in-review

Read about Decoda Literacy Solutions’ highlights of 2022!