The 7 Biggest Factors in Grant Eligibility
One of the biggest reasons why grants aren’t funded is because they didn’t meet all of the funder’s eligibility requirements. Practically perfect doesn't cut it when it comes to grant eligibility. Some funder requirements are flexible, but others are hard lines in the sand which can make it challenging to figure out if you’re a good match for their grant. Not to fear! I’ve compiled a list of the 7 biggest factors in grant eligibility below so you know what to keep an eye out for the next time you’re researching a new grant opportunity.
1) Location I emphasize looking at location first a lot on this blog because it’s such an important detail! If you learn you’re not in a funder’s priority area you’ll save yourself (and your organization) a lot of time, money, and effort spent in writing a grant that was never going to be funded in the first place. For US grants, the biggest considerations with location are the State, County, and City you are located in. For example, some funders may say they fund organizations in NJ, but if you dig deeper you may realize they only fund in Mercer County. Or they may fund Essex County, but only specific cities within Essex. To make matters more confusing, some funders may say they fund a general region like greater New York City or greater Philadelphia. In those cases it’s always important to ask a funder what cities or towns they feel are part of the aforementioned region. In my experience every funder (and resident) has a different opinion on a region consists of, so you can never assume you’re on the same page.
2) Funder Specific Definitions What’s your first thought when you hear sustainable environments? Does it involve recycling, preserving green space, and learning how to live with the land? That’s my first thought, but for some funders like the Surdna Foundation sustainable environments refer to investing in the infrastructure, policy, and systems changes that are need to support low income communities. It’s not anything green related at all!
In the same vein, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has a very specific definition of programs that support individuals with paralysis—even if your program helps people with physical ailments it may not meet the specific definition set by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Funder specific definitions like these are more common than you’d think, so double check every funder’s definition of their focus areas, and never assume their definitions are the same as your own.
3) Number of People Your Program Impacts Imagine you’ve researched the funder’s funding priorities and know your organization is a great, competitive contender for the grant. You write the application and see a question about the percentage of individuals living in low-income households that your program helps. Since the funder wants to support programs where more than 50% of the participants are from low income households and half your participants are, you put in 50% and submit the application . . . only to learn later the application wasn’t funded because the funder only supported programs with at least 51% of the population being from low income households.
This scenario is a true story I heard from a colleague. That one digit is what disqualified their application. So before applying you need to find out if the funder wants your program to directly support a specific number of people or percentage of the population. If they do, what limitations or restrictions do they put on that number? Do they have to be ethnic minorities, come from low income households, live with a specific medical condition, etc. If you can’t find this information on their website, ask contact the funder directly to get the details—it can make or break your application.
4) 3rd Party Data This factor may not apply as much for local foundations, but it certainly can for larger foundations and corporate grants. Some funders want to ensure your need is on the same level as their request, so they’ll either reference 3rd party data that constitutes a sufficient need in their eyes or request that you corroborate your organization’s own research with 3rd party data. You’ll need to compare the research gathered by your organization to that 3rd party’s independent data to determine if you are eligible for the grant.
For example, Walmart recently had a grant open that focused on addressing food insecurity, however they had a specific definition of food insecurity that had to be met. Your county had to be above a 15% poverty rate on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap chart. Even if you had a high level of food insecurity for your city, if it wasn’t reflected in that chart’s county your grant would have been disqualified.
5) Program Development Phase Just like Bertie Botts Beans come in every flavor, so do grants. There are grants available for programs in all stages of development. Some, believe it or not, are for programs in the planning stage. Those funders want to help you establish all the data and partnerships you need to successfully implement a program that addresses your community’s problem later on. Others want your program to be an established, well oiled machine that just needs funding to keep it going. Others still only want to support established programs that in the process of expanding. Multi-year grants can fit the models above or even combine them. Some funders will allow you to build a planning phase into your multi-year grant so you don’t have to have everything planned out from the get go. (Usually in those cases they have an adviser on their end for you to consult/update throughout the entire grant process.) Whatever the case may be for your nonprofit, make sure that the development phase of your program matches the development phase—planning, maintenance, or expansion—that your funder wants to support.
6) Required Documents Some documents are pretty standard in the grant writing game like the program budget, IRS determination letter (aka the 501(c)3 form), board of directors list, and audited financial statement. But depending on the type of grant you’re applying for there may be more details or more documents you have to give. Instead of the most recent audited financial statement they may want the 2 most recent years of audited financial statements. A list of board members may require each member’s financial contribution to the nonprofit. Collaborative efforts may need Memorandums of Understanding (MOA) or Letters of Commitment from partners. You may even need 1 paragraph resume summaries of the key program staff. Some of these documents may be relatively easy to find in your organization’s files, but others may take some time to find or generate. If you won’t be able to get all the required documents in time to meet the deadline, you simply may not be eligible to apply this funding period. The one caveat for this is if you know you only need a week or less after the deadline to get all of the required documents. In those cases you can reach out to the funder, explain you’ll have everything within a week, and ask if you could submit most of the documents now and the missing documents later. Some funders will give you that wiggle room.
7) One Time or Recurring Grant Increasingly I’ve seen a trend of funders offering one time grants over recurring grants. What does this mean? One time grants are usually only for new programs or expansion of an existing program, and they require a solid sustainability plan to support them. Recurring grants are what allow you to apply for funding that will keep a proven program up and running year after year without making changes to the program. For funders, one time grants are a safer investment because they see immediate results. Unfortunately, this can make it challenging to find grant funding for established programs unless you are willing to expand the program. Unless the program expansion was pre-planned or a natural progression for the program to take, please do not change your program simply for one grant. It’s much better for your program and organization to search for a different grant opportunity instead.
After reading this list did you learn of a factor you hadn’t considered before when it comes to program eligibility? Is there another factor you’ve found important to consider that I left off this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below so we can all learn from each other and support each other.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week with another article!
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