The opportunity to apply for a big grant for your nonprofit organization can be more than just tempting… it can be positively mouth-watering. But just because that big juicy steak is on the menu, it doesn’t mean you should necessarily order it. How do you know when to say “no”?

An Application is Not an Award

Just because there is an opportunity to apply for a grant, that doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That should go without saying, right? Twenty years of nonprofit consulting tells me that it does, in fact, need to be said. So here it is, extra loud for the cheap seats in the back: Just because there is an opportunity to apply for a grant, that doesn’t mean you are going to get it.

… even if your nonprofit organization, or it’s program, are incredible.

… even if your organization aligns well with the foundation’s giving interests.

… even if you REALLY need the funding, and you can clearly articulate the need.

… even if you know someone who works at the foundation or is a trustee at the foundation.

There are no guarantees. All sorts of stuff happens inside the closed door meetings at foundations. You simply have NO guarantees until you get that official grant award letter.

How Do You Know If You Should Apply for that BIG Grant?

I’ve shared some thoughts in another post about deciding whether or not it’s worth it to pursue a smaller grant. What I’m talking about here is pursing a BIG grant. A really big grant. A grant where it might seem crazy not to go for it! I promise you that it doesn’t always make sense to go for it.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, before you decide to pursue it:

  • Do we have time time and resources to write the proposal, create the budget, pull together all of the required ancillary materials, etc.?
    • Don’t forget: if it’s an online proposal submission portal, you’ll want to build in a few extra days before the deadline just to make sure that there aren’t any technical glitches.
  • Does the proposal require pre-work, such as conducting a community survey or setting up written agreements with program partners, that we will be able to carry out before writing the proposal?
  • What else — or who else — in our organization will have to suffer in order for us to complete and submit the application?
  • Do we qualify? Do we REALLY meet all of the minimum qualifications?
  • If we do qualify for the grant, what is the likelihood that our proposal will float to the top of the pile, based on our alignment with their priorities?
    • For example, the foundation might say that they want to make grants to nonprofits with an environmental focus. If your organization has that focus… great! But the foundation also might say that they are prioritizing organizations in a specific geographic area, or organizations with BIPOC leaders, etc. Do you meet the minimum requirements AND match their priorities?
  • If we get this huge grant, will we be able to handle the reporting requirements, the data collection, etc.?
    • Will we have to purchase new software or hire new people (evaluator, data analyst, finance professional) to carry out what the foundation stipulates vis-a-vis reporting?
  • If we get the grant for the program we are proposing, will the program further or amplify our mission? Or is it kinda-sorta-somewhat related to our mission, but really it’s a left turn from what we currently are doing?
  • If we have to hire new staff to carry out a new or expanded project, do we have room for them? Will they have office space or a place to work? Will hiring new staff also include renting new office or programming space, and/or other new expenses (that may not be covered by the big grant)?
  • How many other organizations are applying? Just how fierce will the competition be for this grant?

Sometimes, a big grant will cost you

It can be hard to justify not going for a really BIG grant opportunity, but sometimes, that big grant comes with a lot of hidden costs, both now and in the future. Not every great opportunity is a great opportunity for YOUR organization.

Don’t miss out on new ideas and great tips on fundraising, leadership, writing, philanthropy, and lots of related topics. Join the PITCH list to get Lauren’s monthly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox, and get a free gift when you sign up!