Grant Writing for Non-Profits

It is not uncommon for managers in new or expanding non-profits to have difficulty securing grant money for their organization. That’s why grant writing is so important. Sometimes even knowing who to apply to can be daunting. Start by establishing who you are as an organization, what you want to do, and how other organizations in your field are funded.

Institutional Giving

Most larger Canadian corporations will have a corporate stewardship foundation that accepts grant proposals from non-profits. Major banks and insurance companies are significant sources of funding for many organizations, though you should also think about the industries that are broadly related to your field. For instance, did you know that Home Hardware, a large supplier of building materials, is a major contributor to Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses?

Government and University Collaboration

Public grants are available from many federal and provincial agencies. Often, these grants tend to be more rigid in terms of deadlines and will only accept proposals at certain times during the year. Consider the ministries which have policy implications within your field and find out what funding opportunities they offer.

Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grants are primary sources of funding for academics and university researchers, and can present opportunities for ambitious non-profits doing grassroots work. Successful SSHRC/NSERC applications must demonstrate social responsibility, and most researchers will do this by bringing a non-profit on board for collaboration around a specific project. By cultivating relationships with faculty from local universities, you open up new opportunities for partnerships and resource-sharing.

Know Your Audience

Are you writing to a federal or municipal funding body, or to a private foundation? Find out who will be reviewing your application, whether they work in your field or not, and who they report to. Ultimately the grant-making body is accountable to someone, whether it is the public or their board. Think about who you are writing for and how their aims connect with those of your organization.

Make a Plan

Many grant applications come with a specific outline of how they want the proposal structured. Read the application carefully and identify the questions that are being asked in each section. This can be difficult, particularly with government grants, as many sections will appear to be asking the same thing. It is crucial that your proposal speaks to every facet of the application. Your grant will be reviewed against many other worthy proposals, and often reviewers will be looking for technical reasons to thin the ranks of contenders.

Your proposal’s focus should begin with a clear statement of the goals you want to achieve in the short, medium and long terms. Be explicit about how your project will be working towards specific ends, including how you are laying the groundwork for future work. Demonstrate that the change you are working towards is measurable, and that you have a plan in place for evaluating and monitoring its outcomes.

Make a Budget

A thorough, well thought-out budget is your chance to show your organization’s professionalism and demonstrate to potential funders that their money will be put to good use. Good budgeting is part of effective project management and will be covered in detail in another article. For the sake of grant proposal writing, it is important to be as accurate as possible; get exact figures for prices whenever possible, and document that an effort has been made to find the most cost-effective supplier. Be sure to take into account all expenses, including transportation, software, consultants’ fees and catering.


Edit for clarity: nothing is more detrimental to a grant proposal than vague, unquantifiable statements or assertions. Use clear, direct language and include facts and statistics to support what you are saying. Avoid the over-use of field-specific ‘buzz’ words – remember that you will be competing with other organizations that are using similar language, and that reviewing committees will tire of hearing the same things over and over again.

Have as many people in your organization read over your proposal as possible. The more feedback you have, particularly from those who might be less familiar with the specifics of your project, the better the chances are that your proposal will be successful. That being said, it is important that you exercise a strong editorial hand to ensure the focus of your proposal remains consistent throughout. The goal of editing and collaboration at this stage is to anticipate and answer the questions that may arise in the reviewer’s mind, not to overstuff your proposal with tangential information.

Last Words

Grant writing can be a lot of work for an uncertain outcome. Don’t get too discouraged if your proposal is not funded – with so many organizations jostling for a limited amount of money, often the determining factors end up being beyond your control. The first grant is always the hardest to get, but with the building blocks of a strong proposal and an established funding history, your organization will be in a better position to apply to future opportunities. With good preparation and a little luck, however, initial success is just a matter of finding the funder that fits best with your organization.


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