Last Updated:

September 26, 2023

Grant Application Guidelines: A Comprehensive Guide for 2023


Instrumentl team



September 22, 2023

To further their missions, nonprofits often rely on grants as a critical source of funding. However, securing a grant is no simple task. It requires a deep understanding of grant application guidelines, a strategic approach, and a compelling proposal.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricate details of grant application guidelines, equipping nonprofit organizations with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate this challenging terrain successfully.

From understanding primary grant objectives to managing grant eligibility, this article will help you learn how to confidently approach grant applications and secure vital funding for your organization's mission.

Let’s get started.

Overview of Grant Application Guidelines


Before we dive into the specifics, let's take a moment to understand what grants and grant application guidelines are and why they are crucial for nonprofits.

Grants serve as invaluable financial resources for nonprofits, offering funding opportunities to support their missions and projects. However, securing a grant isn't a guaranteed endeavor; it requires a strategic and well-prepared approach. To apply for a grant, a nonprofit has to submit a proposal detailing how it intends to utilize the funds for a specific project or initiative.

While grants are a vital source of funding, competition can be fierce, and not all applications will be successful.

What Are Grant Application Guidelines?

Grant application guidelines are the rulebooks provided by the grantmaking organizations, outlining precisely how to apply for funding and what they’re looking for in a proposal. Understanding and adhering to these guidelines is essential for a successful grant application.

Grantmakers rely on these guidelines as a tool to filter through numerous applications and identify projects that align most closely with their missions and objectives. Failing to comply with these guidelines, no matter how meritorious the proposed project, can lead to immediate disqualification.

Here are a few examples of typical grant application guidelines:

  • Submission Deadlines: Grant guidelines specify the exact date and time by which proposals must be submitted. Missing this deadline can result in disqualification.
  • Eligibility Requirements: Granting organizations define who can apply for their grants based on factors such as nonprofit status, geographic location, and project alignment with their mission.
  • Application Format: Guidelines often detail the preferred format for grant proposals, including document type, length, and any specific templates to be used.
  • Project Scope: Grant guidelines describe the scope of projects or initiatives that will be considered for funding, as well as any specific areas of interest or focus.
  • Budget Requirements: Instructions on how to prepare and present the project budget, including allowable expenses and financial reporting expectations.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Granting organizations outline the criteria by which they will assess and evaluate grant proposals. Understanding these criteria is crucial for tailoring your proposal effectively.
  • Supporting Documents: Guidelines may specify additional documents or attachments required, such as financial statements, letters of support, or resumes of key personnel.
  • Submission Method: Information on how to submit the application, whether electronically through an online portal, by email, or via traditional mail.
  • Contact Information: Grant guidelines typically include contact details for inquiries and clarifications, allowing applicants to seek guidance if needed.

Here’s a real example of the Walmart Foundation’s grant guidelines.

Walmart Foundation’s Grant Guidelines

Why It’s Important To Understand Grant Guidelines for Nonprofits

Grant application guidelines provide a clear framework for what grantmaking organizations are looking for in their grant proposals.

When you thoroughly comprehend grant guidelines, you can tailor your grant application to align with the granting organization's objectives. This alignment is often the key to a successful grant application. It demonstrates to the grantmaker that your project or initiative is in line with their mission and values, increasing your chances of approval.

Furthermore, ignoring or misunderstanding these guidelines can lead to wasted time, effort, and missed opportunities, which can hinder your mission's progress.

Consistently submitting incomplete or ineligible applications can lead to rejection and harm your nonprofit's reputation. Granting organizations remember past submissions and a history of noncompliance may affect your organization's credibility in future applications.

Where to Start When Assessing Grant Guidelines

Start Button

Starting on the right foot is essential in the grant application process, and grant guidelines set the stage for successful proposals.

Identifying Grant Objectives and Priorities

Before writing a grant proposal, one of the first things a nonprofit must do is identify the primary objective of the grant in question.

There are different kinds of grants, which is why it’s important to make sure you only apply for grants that align with your funding needs. For example, some grants are specifically designed to help nonprofits build capacity, while others are more project-specific.

To maximize your chances of success, your nonprofit needs to pay special attention to the intent of the grant.

Recognizing the Granting Organization's Mission and Values

Granting organizations also have their own missions and values that guide their funding decisions.

It's imperative to research and understand these principles. Are they committed to eradicating poverty, advancing scientific research, or promoting community development? Knowing this information is invaluable when crafting a proposal that will resonate with the granting organization.

Aligning the grant application with the funder's mission and values can be a deciding factor in the grant selection process. It not only demonstrates your nonprofit’s commitment to these mutual objectives but also shows that you’ve done your homework and are genuinely interested in the partnership.

When there's harmony between the nonprofit's goals and the values of the granting organization, you can create a compelling narrative that strengthens your proposal.

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How to Evaluate Eligibility and Applicant Criteria


Grant eligibility criteria are not one-size-fits-all; they vary from one grant to another. Nonprofits must delve into these specific guidelines to determine whether they qualify for a grant.

Understanding Who Can Apply

Grant application instructions often specify the types of organizations that are eligible to apply. These eligibility criteria can vary widely and may include considerations such as:

  • Organizational Size: Grants may target nonprofits of a particular size, such as small grassroots organizations or larger, more established nonprofits. It's essential to determine whether your nonprofit organization's size aligns with the grant's eligibility criteria.
  • Operational Focus: Grants can be designed to support specific areas of work, such as healthcare, arts and culture, or youth development. Ensure that your nonprofit's mission and projects align with the grant's focus areas.

Pro Tip: Instrumentl provides grant overviews where you can see the fields of work a grant is intended to be used for. In the example below, you can easily see that this grant is designed to support environmental conservation, climbing & mountaineering, and science.

Instrumentl Grant Overviews
  • Geographic Considerations: Some grants are geographically restricted to specific regions, communities, or countries. It's crucial to confirm whether your organization operates within the geographic boundaries specified in the guidelines.

Pro Tip: Instrumentl has a tool where you can see where certain funders have awarded grants in the past. So, even if there is no specific geographic requirement in the grant guidelines, this tool can help you see giving patterns and your chances of receiving a grant based on your location.

Instrumentl Past Grantees

Overlooking these eligibility requirements can lead to wasted effort. Nonprofits must assess their fit within these parameters to avoid investing time and resources into ineligible applications.

Special Considerations or Exclusions in the Guidelines

Beyond the general eligibility criteria, grant application guidelines might contain special considerations or exclusions that nonprofits must be aware of. These considerations can significantly impact your eligibility and application strategy. Common special considerations include:

  • Funding Restrictions: These guidelines outline how grant funds can and cannot be used. Understanding these restrictions is vital for budget planning and compliance.
  • Matching Funds: Sometimes, grant guidelines require nonprofits to match a portion of the grant amount with their own funds. This can vary in percentage and may pose a challenge for nonprofits with limited resources. It's crucial to assess your capacity to secure matching funds if required.
  • Reporting and Evaluation: These guidelines detail reporting and evaluation expectations. Nonprofits should be prepared to provide regular updates on project progress and demonstrate the impact of the grant. Failure to meet reporting requirements can have consequences, including the potential loss of future funding opportunities.

How to Understand the Grant Scope and Funding Details


Understanding the scope and financial elements of a grant is essential.

Distinguishing Between Project-specific, Operational, and Capital Grants

Grants come in various forms, each designed to address specific needs within the nonprofit sector.

Here are some common types of grants you may come across:

  • Project-Specific Grants: These grants support particular initiatives or projects. Nonprofits must ensure that their application aligns with the project's scope and objectives outlined in the grant application guidelines.
  • Operational Grants: Operational grants fund day-to-day expenses and support the overall functioning of nonprofits. Understanding these grants is vital as they contribute significantly to sustaining core activities.
  • Capital Grants: These grants support significant investments in assets like buildings, equipment, or technology and often require nonprofits to outline their capital plans and demonstrate how the investment aligns with their mission.

Determining Funding Amounts, Durations, and Any Matching Fund Requirements

Grant application guidelines detail the following financial aspects of the grant, which are critical for project planning and implementation:

  • Funding Amounts: Guidelines specify the total amount of funding available. Nonprofits should assess whether the grant amount aligns with their proposed project or needs.
  • Grant Duration: Nonprofits must understand the grant's duration for project planning and align it with their project timeline and operational needs. Some grants provide one-time funding, while others offer multi-year support.
  • Matching Fund Requirements: Grant guidelines may stipulate whether matching funds are required and, if so, the percentage or amount that must be matched. Nonprofits should evaluate their capacity to secure matching funds.

The Key Components of the Application Procedure

Key Component

With eligibility and funding details in mind, it's time to navigate the application process and its essential components.

Identifying Required Documents

Grant application guidelines outline the essential documents required for submission, which must be accurate, transparent, and directly aligned with the grant's objectives.

Some documents that may be required include:

  • Budget Forms: Detailed budget forms outlining how grant funds will be allocated.
  • Project Proposals: A compelling project proposal that aligns with the grant's objectives and priorities.
  • Letters of Support: Support or endorsement from community partners, stakeholders, or beneficiaries that validate the project's importance and community backing.
  • Organizational Information: Concise information about the nonprofit's history, mission, and governance structure.

Timeline: Submission Deadlines, Review Periods, and Announcement Dates

Meeting deadlines is crucial in the grant application process. Grant guidelines specify:

  • Submission Deadlines: These indicate when the grant proposal must be submitted. Missing a deadline can result in the proposal being rejected.
  • Review Periods: These outline the timeline for the review process that can help nonprofits understand when to expect feedback or decisions from the granting organization.
  • Announcement Dates: Specific dates on which granting organizations communicate grant decisions.

Tips for Navigating Commonly Overlooked Guidelines

Beyond the obvious requirements, grant proposal guidelines may contain hidden or less apparent elements that can significantly impact the success of applications.

Hidden Requirements that Can Make or Break Your Application

  • Engagement with the Granting Organization: Some grants encourage or require prior engagement with the funders or granting organization. This may involve attending informational sessions, webinars, or networking with program officers. Such engagement with the grant funders demonstrates genuine interest and builds relationships.
  • Community Involvement: Granting organizations often prioritize projects that demonstrate community involvement and support. Showcase community partnerships, endorsements, or engagement strategies within your application.

Unpacking the 'Fine Print’: Legal Clauses and Contractual Obligations

Grant application guidelines may contain legal clauses and contractual obligations that nonprofits must be aware of and willing to comply with:

  • Compliance with Regulations: Grant guidelines may specify compliance with federal, state, or local regulations. Nonprofits should ensure that their activities and projects adhere to these regulations to avoid legal complications.
  • Reporting and Accountability: Granting organizations often require grantees to adhere to reporting and accountability standards. Nonprofits should be prepared to meet reporting deadlines and provide accurate and comprehensive reports on the use of grant funds and project progress.
  • Grant Closure and Obligations: Grant application guidelines may outline post-grant obligations, including the return of unspent funds, project evaluation, and the submission of final reports. Nonprofits should be aware of these obligations and plan for the grant's closure.

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Wrapping Up: The Next Steps

In conclusion, grant application guidelines are the roadmap to securing essential funding for nonprofits. By understanding these guidelines thoroughly, writing compelling grant proposals, and adhering to all stipulations, nonprofits can harness the power of grants to create lasting impacts in their communities.

As nonprofits continue their journey in the competitive world of grant funding, remember that decoding grant application guidelines is the first step toward success. Check out our tips for stronger grant proposals to streamline your grant application process. And remember, successful grants are not just about what you do; they're also about how well you navigate the guidelines!

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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