Moving from Research to Proposal Preparation

This post is the last of a four-part series on the preparations to complete in advance of preparing a grant application. To recap what has been covered:

Stage One

The first stage of the process involves collecting the background information you'll need to write the proposal. This includes things such as your funding needs; your organization's history and recent accomplishments; a project description; the names of the staff members who will be working on the proposal, and, if different, the names of the staff who will work on the project. As part of the work under the first stage, you'll gather relevant keywords to use to identify potential funders.

Stage Two

The second stage of the process is deciding which tools you'll use to conduct your research. There are both free and fee-based databases, or you can use Google or another search engine to get started. If you do not have the resources to pay for a premium database, but want something more targeted than Google, you can see if your local library has a subscription to a funder database such as

Stage Three

The third stage of the process involves using your list of keywords (generated in the first stage) and your chosen research tools (from the second stage) to identify potential funders. You'll start your research by doing a broad sweep of potential funders by taking a look at all foundations that come up using your keywords.

To get the list down to a manageable size, you'll want to do a quick review of each foundation to decide if it deserves a closer look or if it can be eliminated from the list. Many of the foundations on the list can be eliminated immediately based on their eligibility requirements. Others may require a little more time, but the goal is to scan each foundation to see if your organization fits within its focus areas and eligibility requirements.

After you complete your scan of each foundation that came up through your keyword search, you'll be left with a significantly shorter list. You'll use this list for your more in-depth reviews. The foundations that survive closer scrutiny will be written up in one-page profiles to inform later discussion about what you'll do next, which will be one of three things:

  • Apply for an open opportunity

  • Schedule a time to revisit the foundation to look for opportunities

  • Eliminate the foundation from your list

If you decide to eliminate the foundation from your list after looking at the more in-depth summary, you can officially retire the foundation from your list of prospects. If you do remove a foundation from the list, update your foundation tracker with a note that the foundation no longer requires follow-up. 

Summarizing an Opportunity

If a foundation has an opportunity that you are interested in possibly responding to, your next step is to review the details. This includes everything, from the application deadline and award amount to the expected results. The foundation summary is about the big picture, the foundation's program areas, interests, leadership, and history. The opportunity summary focuses on the details of a specific funding opportunity announced by the foundation.  Some of the information may overlap between the two profiles, but the opportunity summary has a narrower focus.

What you capture in your opportunity summary will vary depending on whether the opportunity is a government grant or foundation grant. The opportunity summary form (see template below) leans more toward government grants, but it can be used for foundations too. If you want to create your own templates, you could create one for foundation-sponsored opportunities and a second for government grants. If you use a single template, you'll want to make sure that it is comprehensive and has a place for everything you'll want to evaluate across all types of opportunities.

Using the Opportunity Summary for Go/No-Go Meetings

The opportunity summary should be referred to during go/no-go discussions. The go/no-go meeting is a meeting of key stakeholders (program staff, finance staff, senior leadership, etc.) to decide whether to pursue an opportunity. Among other things, the meeting should review the opportunity costs and benefits and whether the opportunity fits with, and advances, the organization's mission. To keep the meeting on track, it helps to refer to a written description of the opportunity that covers all the key points. This is where the opportunity summary comes in handy.

When you review the specifics of an opportunity, you'll need to think through what resources it will be needed to respond to the opportunity (people, time, money, skills). If the opportunity costs are too high, or if the opportunity isn't a good match with your organization's interests or direction, you can stop there and eliminate the opportunity from further consideration. You may decide not to follow the funder anymore, or maybe you'll choose to keep an eye out for future opportunities released by the funder that might be a better fit.

If an opportunity looks interesting and has potential, but you don't think you have the resources or expertise to be competitive, you'll want to consider letting the opportunity go instead of investing in a response that has little chance of resulting in an award.

Next Steps

If the opportunity is a good match with your organization's mission and you have the resources to respond, you'll move into the next phase, which is managing the proposal's preparation.

If you are interested in the proposal management piece, keep reading! We'll cover the proposal management process in future posts.

For more detailed guidance on  prospect research, including five templates, one for each stage of the process, check out the eBook Prospect Research Tools from The Organized Grant Writer.