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January 20, 2022
A Check List to Make Your Compelling Proposal a Winner
By Kenny Weill

Kenny Weill 90 x 90
Kenny Weill
With grant dollars more difficult to secure, a compelling grant proposal alone is no longer enough. You need to know in advance how attractive your proposal will be to a prospective funder.

The following checklist will help you think through 20 key facets of your organization’s programs, personnel, board of directors, finances, and other key factors.

Even if you cannot check off all these items, you can certainly apply for grants. However, the more check marks, coupled with that compelling grant proposal, the more likely you will secure multiple grants.

The eight items included in the first group need to be in place before you write your next grant proposal:
We have realistic and justifiable board-approved operating and program budgets for the current and, if nearing the end of the fiscal year, upcoming fiscal years.

All funders will request these budgets as attachments. If it is time to submit and your board has not yet approved them, then label them “draft” (and always label them “projected”).

We can generate accurate, monthly financial statements such as Income & Expense (budget to actual) and Balance Sheets.

Probably half of the funders you pursue will request year-to-date financials.

We can document concrete organizational and programmatic achievements, including over the past year (assuming.

This assumes your organization is not a start-up. Most funders want to see some sort of track record for the organization. For those willing to provide seed funding to a new organization or project, you should provide examples of how that same staff or leadership was successful in other previous endeavors.

We have set organizational and programmatic goals for the next 12 months.

All funders will want to see that this has been thought through, so they will know what sort of impact their investment will make. Make them “SMART”: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

We have dedicated staff time to evaluate whether we are attaining those objectives, i.e. measuring progress against indicators of success.

Objectives are those measurable indicators of success whose achievement will enable your organization to achieve its goal(s). Make clear who will be designated to evaluate that you are achieving them, how and how often they will do it, and what they will do with the findings.

We have a sustainability plan for the program for which we are requesting funds, so we will not be dependent on the funder beyond the end of the grant period.

Will the program be self-sustaining? If not, what is the medium- and long-term plan for securing other sources of revenue? Will you dedicate more resources to soliciting gifts from individuals, which, according to GivingUSA, comprised 83% of private giving to nonprofits in 2009?

We have clearly documented the need for this particular program or project and/or the internal organizational needs (e.g. infrastructure, capacity, capital).

This critical information will answer the funder’s question: why should I support this particular initiative? Although this is the emotional pull of your grant narrative, it should be backed up by such relevant data as recent reports by trusted sources.

We have differentiated ourselves from other organizations doing similar work or working with the same target population.

Funders like to see that your agency (or the program for which you are requesting support) is unique either in its approach or in the population or geography it serves.

This next group of grant-ready requirements, while equally important as the first group, may take some time for your organization to put in place. If you cannot check off one or more of these requirements now, set a goal of accomplishing this requirement in the next 12 to 18 months.
We have an executive director and board members willing to dedicate the time to develop long-term relationships with current and prospective funders.

This is truly critical. The actual grant proposal in most cases is only one piece of the grant puzzle. Particularly with larger funders, it is really about developing a relationship, inviting their opinions, bringing them under your organization’s “tent” so they feel vested in your mission, and not always asking them for money. It is a key role of the Board and Executive Director.

Our leadership (executive staff and board) are diverse in experience and ethnic background (i.e. they mirror our target population).

If 55% of your constituents are Latino while 20% of your staff and 10% of your board is Latino, you are raising a red flag to funders.

We have an active board of directors that meets monthly.

The board’s role is critical in all aspects of organizational development, not least of which is fundraising. Funders will frown upon small boards that meet only three times a year, have no committees or similarly show little time investment in your agency.

We have the following active board committees comprised of both board and non-board members: Executive, Finance, Development and Nominating.

Some funders want to know this. Regardless, if you are looking to grow your agency, it will be necessary to have at least these four committees, with community participation.

One hundred percent of our board members provide an annual gift to the organization.

Some funders will ask this. Regardless, from an organizational development point of view, this is a fundamental expectation of board members. Being able to communicate this to potential donors can, in some cases, help secure gifts.

We have secured other grants over the past two years (assuming your organization is not a start-up).

Funders tend to be conservative and often do not want to be the first one in the door. You will likely have to answer the question in a grant application, “Who else has funded you and at what levels?” Provide at least a small list.

We have undergone a formal audit of our financial statements (or, if your annual revenues are under $250,000, some other outside independent accounting review) each of the past two years, with no findings.

Most funders request audited financials.

We can document recent recognition and awards from reputable entities.

While not a deal-breaker, such recognition may sway funders in your favor.

We measure progress against a multi-year strategic plan or like document.

Many funders will ask if your organization has gone through a strategic planning process recently. A strategic plan helps define short- and long-term organizational and programmatic goals, and therefore ties in directly with grant proposals.

We have a written logic model for each program that identifies inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes (i.e. indicators of success).

Increasingly, funders are asking for logic models, which tie into the SMART goals and objectives mentioned previously. Walk through this with staff to help strengthen proposals.

Our staff has the expertise to ensure that we carry out those activities within stated timeframes to achieve targeted outcomes and attain our goals.

Funders will want to see that your organization has the infrastructure and your staff has the experience and skills to be successful. Otherwise, they may feel your goals are unrealistic and will not want to risk the investment.

We provide ongoing opportunities for volunteer involvement in our programs.

Aside from being a huge (and cost-effective) boon to any nonprofit, properly trained and supervised volunteers from the community served by your agency shows funders you are not just throwing programs at your target population, but are drawing on the talents of that population to help achieve solutions.

Kenny Weill is principal of K. Weill Consulting Group, specializing in strategic fund development. He can be reached at

January 2011
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