We all know that grants are awarded in response to submitted proposals—not the draft sitting on your desk but the one you actually get out the door. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you’re spending too much time writing—with endless editing and fine-tuning—your proposals won’t get in front of the decision makers at foundations, or at least not enough of them to bring in the significant dollars that you could be raising.  So my “top tip” for bringing in more funding is to spend more time asking and less time writing.

But getting more proposals out the door isn't a strategy in and of itself. Effective fundraisers determine the correct amount to ask from foundations that care about what they do, and work to build connections over time to raise more money and deliver more on mission.

Here are my Top Five Strategies to streamline your fundraising program and ensure that you spend your time as effectively and efficiently as possible:

  1. Write proposals of interest to more than one foundation. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time. Write a base proposal that can be multi-purposed and tailored to be submitted to more than one foundation.
  2. Tell the story of your work using the page most often read first – the budget! Too often it’s the finance folks who create the proposal budget without considering how clearly and effectively it conveys key points to the reader. The proposal is more than words alone—the budget supports your proposal narrative!
  3. Write proposals that support your general operating budget. That’s right—whenever possible, include general operating support in your project budgets. The true unrestricted grant is hard to come by, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include administrative costs in a program grant—when the funder allows it.
  4. Build relationships with funders before you submit your proposal. Arguably, this is where the real work gets done—getting out in the community, building the reputation of your organization, and making connections. Sending in the “cold” proposal is a last resort.
  5. When you get a “yes,” use the grant year to set the stage for your next proposal.The relationship building doesn’t end when you get the grant—that’s when it really begins! Use the initial grant period to further engage the program officer and learn more about the foundation’s interests. That way you’ll be in a stronger position when you ask for a renewal.

Easier said than done, right?  That’s why we’ve designed a webinar series on best practices to reduce your proposal writing time and use it for more effective asking. Join me over four Wednesdays in April as we address the most important practices to help you raise more money from foundations.

The topics we cover are not only based on my advice—I’ll draw on 30+ years of listening to what foundations and corporate foundations have to say about effective writing tips, dealing with electronic proposal formats, preparing for meetings and site visits, troubleshooting when you run into problems, and more. And, attendees will have an opportunity to share their own expertise, so you’ll also learn from peers with a diverse range of experience.

The number of foundations is increasing and so are the funds they have for grantmaking. The funds we raise advance our work and increase other funders’ confidence in our organization. There’s never been a better time to do more asking and less writing.


Marilyn Hoyt is active nationally and internationally as a teacher, writer, and consultant. This article first appeared on the 28 March 2015 at the Foundation Center website.