How To Get Approved For A Grant: Look At What The Foundation Funds

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Published:

March 20, 2024

Last Updated:

April 4, 2024

So, you’ve found a grant you can apply for, but should you?

In this article, we are going to show you how to use Instrumentl’s insights on funders to help you decipher how competitive your grant application might be. You’ll look at the types of causes— or fields of work using their NTEE codes that a foundation or funder usually funds.

Let’s dive in!

How To Determine If You Are Competitive for a Grant

We know it may be tempting to apply for every grant available, but in the end, you’ll just be wasting your team’s time. Many of your pursuits will be on fruitless opportunities.

A much more effective strategy is to only apply for those grants that you have a high chance of securing—which is easier said than done.

To start, you’ll need to make sure that your organization is actually grant ready. Fortunately, we’ve created a grant readiness checklist that you can use to make sure your nonprofit is equipped organizationally, programmatically, and financially to apply for funding.

However, like we mentioned above, just because your nonprofit is eligible for funding doesn’t mean you’ll be competitive.

In her Instrumentl Partner Webinar, Stop Chasing the Money: Creating Winning Grant Strategies, Kimberly Hays de Muga explained this distinction:

“Am I eligible to maybe audition to be a New York Rockette? Maybe. Am I competitive? Nah.”


Just because your organization is eligible for a grant, doesn’t mean it’s a good fit.

So, how can you determine if you’d be a competitive applicant? With Instrumentl’s Advanced Funder Insights.

Using Instrumentl, you can learn more about a funder by looking at the types of causes or fields of work they usually fund—as well as their geographical preferences and openness to new grantees.


The next sections will walk you through how to leverage these insights to determine your chances of winning funding. Keep reading!

First, Are You a New Grantee?

If you’re looking to apply for a funding opportunity that’s new to your organization, one of the first things you’ll want to assess is that funder’s openness to new grantees.

In the funding world, some foundations almost exclusively award grants to repeat grantees. In these cases, even though you might be eligible to apply, you wouldn’t be a very competitive applicant.


Thankfully, Instrumentl provides a breakdown of a funder’s openness to new grantees as part of our Advanced Funder Insights.

Instrumentl pulls data from a foundation’s 990 reports and distills it into easy-to-read graphs so that spotting big-picture trends is a breeze.

Take a look at the example below for the Novo Foundation.


Over the past 3 years, only 22% of Novo’s awards have gone to new grantees. As a new applicant, this is certainly something to consider!

We usually recommend looking for funders that have a 50% ratio of new versus repeat grantees, which is a good indicator that they are willing to partner with new organizations and support new projects. However, even a funder who has more than 20% of its awards going to new grantees has potential.

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The Best Way To Gauge Your Chances: Evaluate Past Grantees

Once you’ve considered a funder’s openness to new grantees, the best way to gauge your competitiveness is by evaluating their past grantees, specifically:

  • Where they are located
  • How much they were given
  • What the grant was given for

Below, we have outlined how you can uncover all of these unique insights with Instrumentl.

Geographical Giving

Past giving is a great indicator of future giving—so looking to where a funder has awarded grants in the past is a great way to gauge your chances of success.

Knowing whether a funder has ever awarded grants in your state can help you better determine their willingness to give to your nonprofit.

As you can see from the infographic below, this funder has a national scope, but does focus more on certain areas of the country, particularly California.


The darker the shade of purple, the more grants have been awarded there geographically.

You can also hover over your specific state to see exactly how many grants were given in a particular year. Eliminating funders who don’t even focus on your geographic area will help streamline your grant research process.

Grant Sizes

Instrumentl also provides a breakdown of a funder’s giving for new vs. repeat grantees.

As you can see below, the average grant size for the Novo Foundation’s repeat grantees was over double that for new grantees.


Why do these numbers matter?

If you have a project that needs $50,000 in funding, but the average giving for new grantees from a funder is only $5,000, you probably won’t want to waste your time and energy applying for their grant.

Looking at past grant sizes can also give you a better idea of what an appropriate ask for a particular funder might be—making you a more competitive and strategic applicant.

Giving By Category

Finally, Instrumentl can also help you measure your competitiveness for a grant by breaking down a funder’s giving history by NTEE code.

The NTEE code stands for “National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities” and is a classification system used to sort nonprofits into different categories.

Instrumentl’s NTEE snapshots list what sort of focus areas a funder has awarded grants to the most in the past. If your nonprofit falls within one of these top codes, your chances of success go up!


These codes offer an efficient way to pinpoint funders who are likely to fund your nonprofit’s mission and cause.

By evaluating a funder’s top-giving categories, you should be better equipped to determine how competitive your application might be.

Wrapping Up

Thorough funder research is imperative to determine your chances of securing funding. Remember—just because your nonprofit is eligible doesn’t mean it’s competitive.

With Instrumentl’s Advanced Funder Insights, you’ll be able to evaluate a funder’s giving history, focus areas, and openness to new grantees, allowing you to approach your next application with confidence.

If you haven’t yet, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial of Instrumentl today!

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Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Morrows holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communications and is a professor at PennState Harrisburg.

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