March 22, 2018

Having a thoughtful grants strategy is essential to achieving results efficiently. While you might think the term ‘strategy’ is jargony and overused – and we won’t disagree! – it has an actual, limited meaning, and an interesting history.

A strategy is a high-level plan to achieve your goals under conditions of uncertainty. The term ‘strategy’ comes from Greek and initially referred to a ‘generalship’ or the art of commanding troops in war. When it entered the Western languages in the 1700s, its meaning was broadened to incorporate any way people used to pursue their goals, especially their political goals.

One of the key confusions today is that nonprofits often engage in some version of strategic planning, which can take a lot of different forms or final products. For example:

A Strategic Plan

is a plan that outlines your overall organizational goals for a certain time period (generally one to five years) and outlines how your organization will achieve those goals. Your strategic plan will incorporate the full organization – not only programs, outcomes, and new initiatives, but also operations, infrastructure, and staffing.

A Strategic Planning Process

is the process by which the staff and Board of Directors create this plan. It usually includes conducting external research, analyzing and committing to measurable goals, and approving priorities.

While these examples of strategy play an important role in any nonprofits’ success, your grants program needs also needs its own basic, high-level strategy that has a distinct meaning and goal separate from the above.


Your grants strategy should include your fundraising goals and priorities, the strategic thinking you have done about how to achieve those goals, and your recommendations or plan about what to actually do throughout the year.

As a nonprofit, with limited resources, you do not want to spend your time and energy moving in the wrong direction. Creating a brief grants strategy plan and memo can help you clarify what to do and what to not do.

While you might think that your grants strategy is “to find everything that possibly aligns and pursue it” – and it just might be – there are a few questions we want you to also think about first! They include:

Goals & Priorities
  • What are your goals for your grants program? What are those goals based on, and are they reasonable? No matter how good your strategy if your goals are unreasonable, you will not achieve them. Learn how to create an appropriate forecast here.
  • What are your top priorities for the year or 18 months?
Your Plan & Focus
  • What type of activities do you initially plan to emphasize: prospect research and cultivation, upgrading existing funders or improving existing proposal language, developing new language, organizational’ capacity building or some mix of these?
  • Regarding prospects and cultivation, where do you plan to look for funders? What other organizations or programs will you start with?  What type of priorities are you seeking in those funders?
  • What is your plan for cultivation and approaching new funders? Do you have a lot of stakeholders, and are those stakeholders engaged? Will you naturally be able to cultivate or will you need training and support?
  • Regarding how to divide the proposals you write, will you:
    • Focus on organizational support, or highlight specific programs or initiatives? If relevant, why did you select those specific programs?
    • Focus on national funders or state or local? Family foundations? Corporate? Public opportunities? Why did you select these?
Strategy for your Case Statement & Putting it all together

Once you can answer the questions above, you will be able to pull together a brief high-level strategy for the year. But you also need to do some strategic thinking about how to present your organization to funders. When it comes time to actually apply, you should also be able to answer the following:

  • Briefly, what are the top 2-5 reasons funders should support your organization or program? What are its strengths and how is it different?
  • What new language do you need to develop? Is there anything you are doing now that you can re-package for a different audience?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses or key programs’ weaknesses? How will you message or frame these?
  • Why should funders give now? What is the broader context? What trends do you see that are relevant for a context?
  • What is the future vision or strategy for your organization? Is it clear how you will get there? Do you need more details from the organization?


When you put all these pieces together, you should have all the components of a focused grants strategy for your organization that reflects your priorities, gives you a focused sense of direction, and ultimately delivers results.

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