How do we put together guidelines that attract the right grantseekers… and that are respectful of their time and resources?

Many family foundations have written the National Center over the past 15 years asking for guidance on how to create grantmaking guidelines that attract the right grantseekers and that do not place undue burden on the applicants (or the foundation itself).

On a recent Family Philanthropy Teleconference hosted by the National Center, Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting and Kathy Reich, program officer at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, discussed Project Streamline, a nation-wide effort to improve grant application and reporting practices, and described strategies and benefits for “streamlining” your foundation’s grants application process and guidelines.

They suggested four core principles to consider when thinking about drafting – or revising – your guidelines, including:

  • Take a fresh look at your information requirements: do you really need all the information you are asking for to make a good decision?
  • Have the right size expectations: are your requirements congruent with the size and complexity of the grant?
  • Where possible, relieve the burden: can your foundation take on more of the burden to reduce expenses for the grantee?
  • Have straightforward and clear communications: ensure that grant seekers are aware of your priorities and values, and whether or not they’re likely to be a good fit. Also ensure that they understand exactly how the process is going to work and why the information that you’re seeking is necessary for making a decision.

“Keep in mind that if you’re making a grant that’s $5,000 to $10,000, there is a limit to what the grantee is going to be able to accomplish with that money,” says Reich, “especially if they are going to have to spend a lot of time reporting back to you on exactly how they spend every dollar.”

On the call, the speakers provided a variety of quick tips for funders seeking to create effective, but respectful, guidelines (see below for additional tips from the National Center):

  • Know your current grants application process – and its impact on your grantees. Not sure what that impact is?… ask them!
  • Eliminate redundant and unnecessary questions.
  • Understand the basic legal requirements. Don’t make decisions out of fear and with misinformation about what’s necessary.
  • If you’re making small grants, have a small process.
  • Find ways to filter (i.e., eligibility quiz) so that only eligible applicants submit proposals.
  • Stage requirements. Ask for full proposals only from the most relevant and likely-to-be-funded grant seekers.

Project Streamline ( includes two free assessment tools for any funder taking a close look at its application process, including a guide to online application and reporting systems which identifies essential features that online systems need to be effective and user-friendly. The site also features a benchmarking tool to report how your practices stack-up based on the four principles in comparison to other foundations that have put their data into the system.

Tips: Guidelines that Attract the Right Grantseekers

  • Use plain, direct language and avoid jargon, trendy terms, and abbreviations known only to those inside the field.
  • Underscore your grantmaking philosophy and goals with statements such as, “We give top priority to programs that …,” or “We prefer to support organizations that ….”
  • Include a list of most recent grants.
  • List the types of organizations, programs, and program areas that you will not consider.

Source: “Establishing Grantmaking Interests and Priorities

Tips: What to Include in Your Guidelines

Guidelines help the board and staff define the process of application, review, and decision-making. They are primarily directed toward grantseekers, and secondarily toward the foundation community and the public in general. The guidelines usually include the following:

  • Areas of interest: i.e., education, the environment, the arts, and so on
  • Geographic focus, if any: state or region where foundation’s grantmaking takes place
  • Kinds of grants the foundation makes: direct grants, matching funds, and challenge grants
  • Types of support offered: general program, operating expenses, materials, technical assistance
  • Kinds of organizations the foundation supports – and does not support 
  • Whether unsolicited proposals are considered 
  • Prohibitions and restrictions on grant areas

Guidelines can also include the following:

  • Grant application procedures: how a grantseeking organization goes about applying for funding
  • Grant reporting requirements: description of the information or reports a grantee must submit at the end of its funding cycle

Source: Grantmaking with a Purpose: Mission & Guidelines

For additional resources, please consult the NCFP's Knowledge Center.