How Many Grants Should I Apply For?
One of the hardest things about managing grant-writing for an organization is knowing how many grants to apply for. While you want to be thoughtful about applying to grants within the bandwidth of your organization, realistically you have fundraising numbers you need to meet.
So how many grants should your nonprofit apply for?
Don’t leave this important decision up to chance! This article will give you the guidance you need to know exactly how many grants you should apply for.
First, we will help you establish goals. Then, we give you a five step process to follow to determine how many grants to apply for. Finally, we will provide guidance on how to manage your new grants pipeline. But before you jump into applying to grants, you need to have a clear goal in mind!
Why Having a Grant Funding Goal Matters for Your Nonprofit
You may be wondering, why do we need to have a funding goal at all? If our nonprofit just keeps applying to grants, is having a goal all that important? We think it is — it keeps you on track, provides motivation, helps you manage time, and eliminates stress. But most importantly, it can also provide guidance on how many grants your nonprofit should apply for.
Now, let’s answer your first burning question: what is a grant funding goal? A grant funding goal is a target amount of money you would like your non-profit to secure from grants. Your grant funding goal should include:
- The total amount of money your organization needs to gain from grants that year
- The number of grants you’ll need to apply for in order to meet that amount
- Your estimated grant win rate (see below for a definition)
Having a grant funding goal can:
- Keep You on Track: When you know how many grants per year you need to apply for, you can create a timeline of the number of grants per month you need to complete. A monthly and quarterly check-in will provide you with more information when you know your goal and how close you are to reaching it.
- Provide Motivation: It is hard to get motivated to write when there is no clear objective! Knowing your funding goal can motivate you and your team to keep going. Consider keeping a running list of funding on a whiteboard where your team can see it.
- Help You Manage Time: Time management is arguably one of the most important aspects of grant writing. When you know exactly how many grants you need to apply to each month, you can plan your time accordingly.
- Eliminate Stress: Have you ever gotten to the end of a year or quarter and realized you are short on your funding goal? By setting a goal, planning ahead, and knowing how many grants you need to apply for, you’ll eliminate that end of year stress.
Goals are good for a lot of things — you may have fitness goals, career goals, or family goals. And, as you can see, making goals when applying for grants has many benefits. But how do you make a solid goal? Keep reading to learn the components of a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
How to Set a SMART Grants Goal
Now that you know you want to set a grant funding goal, how do you do that?
First, it’s best done with a team. Your organization’s leadership or board likely has an idea about how much funding needs to be brought in — use this as a starting point for making your goals.
When you’re ready to start constructing these goals, keep that popular SMART acronym in mind.
We’ll save you time and give you the gist:
- Specific: Your grant funding goal should be as clear and well defined as possible. Be specific about the type of grant, the focus of the grant, and the population.
- Measurable: It must include a number! This will likely include either the amount of funding or the number of grants (or both).
- Achievable: Be realistic. Set goals that you know you can achieve.
- Relevant: Choose goals that are consistent with your organization's values and goals. This could be related to the type of grants you apply for or the number or amount of funding you need, for example.
- Time-Bound: There must be a time limit on your goal. You can write your goal for the year, quarter, or month, or even have goals for each of those time frames.
Here are some example of how to write (or re-write) your organization grant goals:
If your organization wrote this:
It’s important to realize that this goal is too broad and not measurable.
Try rewriting it to say:
This goal is:
- Specific because the type of grants of interest and the target population are explicitly mentioned
- Measurable because there is an exact number of grants that should be applied for
- Achievable because, theoretically, there is a grant team that can write twenty grants this year
- Relevant because $50,000 in funding is what the organization needs, and
- Time bound because the goal will be completed during this calendar year.
Here’s another example. If your organization wrote:
This goal has some measurement, “every month”, but “at least one” is not very specific.
Try rewriting it to say:
This goal is specific in the type and focus of funding, measurable in the number of grants that will be applied for, and time bound to a month. We can assume this is relevant and achievable for the organization, as well.
So now you’ve written a perfect S.M.A.R.T. goal for your organization - what’s next? Check out the steps to figure out how you will meet that goal below!
How to Figure Out How Many Grants to Apply for: 5 Steps to Follow
Now that you know why and how you can set a grants funding goal, how do you know how many grants your nonprofit needs to apply for each month or year? The five steps below will help you figure out just that!
1. Determine your overall fundraising goal.
The first step is to know what your overall fundraising goal is. This likely will come from a leader in your organization or board, based on your operating budget. Ask them to give you a firm number for the amount of funding that is needed.
Doing this on a yearly basis is ideal, as it will help you plan ahead.
For our example, we are going to say that our organization gave us a fundraising goal for $100,000.
2. Determine the win rate of the types of grants you are applying for.
The “grant win rate” is the percentage of applications that a funder will fund each cycle, and it is different for different types of funding organizations.
For example, the Foundation Center’s 2004 survey reported that the majority of foundations funded 25-49% of proposals. Additionally, organizations that gave out less funding overall (e.g., a smaller community foundation) funded a higher percentage of proposals than larger organizations.
While a safe bet would be to estimate your overall grant win rate somewhere between 25-50% it’s better to use your prior rate. Assuming you applied for similar types of funding last year, what was your overall success rate? Taking the average of several years may be most useful in figuring this out.
If you’re new to grant writing or your organization hasn’t applied to many grants, you can also call the organization and ask what percentage of grants they typically fund to give you an idea!
3. Determine the average amount of money each grant provides.
There are a few ways to estimate how much you can expect to receive from each grant you are successful at getting.
If you’ve applied for the same grants or same type of grants before, look at your prior years and take an average of how much each grant made. For example, if you focus on community foundations and last year you were awarded five community foundation grants for $10,000, $15,000, $8,000, $5,000 and $6,000 the average award is $8,800 and you can use that for your estimate.
Alternatively, you can take a look at the grants you are interested in and see if the funder has a set budget (i.e., the grant is for $10,000). If they don’t, you can look at their FAQ’s or at prior grantees to see how much was typically awarded — don’t be afraid to give them a call and ask, either!
4. Do the Math - How Many Grants Do I Need to Win?
Now comes the math. We are going to use our example organization from step one, which needs $100,000 of funding this year. Let’s say that on average, the organization earns $8,800 per grant it receives. Additionally, it focuses on community organizations, so the organization can expect to win 50% of the grants it applies for.
$100,000 divided by $8,800 is 11.36 , so we can round up and say if the organization earned 12 grants that were each $8,800 it would meet its goal.
5. Do the Math - How Many Grants Do I Need to Apply For?
Unfortunately, most organizations don’t win every grant they apply for. Know that it’s normal and be sure to take it into account when you plan your grant funding goals.
Based on the above example, the organization’s funding goal is $100,000 this year and we figured out it would need to win 12 grants to meet that goal.
Our example organization focuses on community foundations, and the “win rate” for community foundations is about 50%. Side note: Generally, you can expect to win half of the grants you apply for.
So, you need to apply for twice as many grants — 12 times 2 is 24 grants to apply for, which would level out to applying for 2 grants per month.
If you go through these steps and realize the number of grants you need to apply for is far higher than is realistic, go back to the drawing board.
For example, you could:
1. Ask leadership how firm their number is. Did they give you the ideal number or a realistic number?
2. Look at the types of grants you are applying for. Are there other types of grants that have higher win rates that you could focus on to meet your goal?
3. Look at the amount of money each grant funds. Similar to above, consider looking for grants with higher budgets if needed.
You can complete these five steps for multiple ‘scenarios’ to see how you can realistically make your funding goal work!
5 Tips for Planning and Managing Your Grant Pipeline
1. Be Thoughtful About Choosing Grants
Now that you know how many grants you need to write each month, be strategic about which grants you choose. For example, if all 24 grants you want to apply for have a due date in December, that’s not going to be realistic. Take a careful look at grant deadlines so you can spread them out. Rolling applications are even better when applying for grants!
2. Create a Calendar
And stick to it! Now that you’ve decided which grants to apply for (need more help with this? See this article about choosing grant opportunities) and they are sufficiently spread out, create a calendar. Be mindful about months with a lot of deadlines. For example, if you have two major projects due in June, you might consider writing 3 grants in May and only one in June.
3. Be Strategic
Applying to one or more grants each month can be time consuming! Pull in team members as often as you can. Just remember to keep everyone abreast of your deadlines!
Also reuse portions of writing that are effective and general, rather than reinventing the entire wheel. For instance, descriptions of past projects or prior funding can easily be reused because they aren’t necessarily intended to capture the essence or goals of the funder.
Want to know more about meeting deadlines? Read this article on nine actionable steps you can take to never miss a grant deadline!
4. Consider a Buffer
Projects get off track! Something is bound to come up that will get in the way of meeting your goal.
One way to combat this is to plan on applying to two extra grant applications by the end of the year, ones that you didn’t include in your calculations above. If you’ve met or exceeded your expectations for the rest of the year, you can choose not to apply to the extra two grants. But if things have gone off track a bit, you now have a cushion that can help you get back on.
5. Stay Optimistic
Applying to grants can be frustrating! You are likely not going to get all of the opportunities you applied for, which can be disheartening. Remember that everyone is going through the same thing!
Take each rejection as an opportunity to learn something — how to choose better funders, how to write more effectively, or how to align budgets more clearly. And celebrate when you get funding too!
Wrapping Things Up: How to Figure Out How Many Grants to Apply For
Figuring out how many grants to apply for is more of a science than an art! First, set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your organization along with your leadership. Starting with this helps get everyone on the same page. Then, dig into the numbers to determine how you will meet your goal, and make adjustments as needed.
Finally, plan ahead so that you can meet those SMART goals. And don’t forget, organizations that have a larger number of applications are more likely to receive more awards! As Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.