Top 3 Ways to Improve Grant Applications for 2021

Top 3 Ways to Improve Grant Applications for 2021


If you’re pining for a return the way things were pre-pandemic, let me stop you right there. Of course, I am longing for an end to the extreme suffering and death that COVID-19 has caused. Let there be no doubt on that point. But in the nonprofit world, everything was not all coming up roses pre-pandemic. Centuries of systemic bias and oppression have left their mark. People of color are still woefully under-represented in the leadership of foundations and agencies. Nonprofits led by people of color still receive a much smaller slice of grant funding in general. 


A “back to normal” approach will not right wrongs. But a slender silver lining emerged in 2020—a national reckoning on race and other inequities has sparked so much needed changes in grant making. Some foundations are shifting toward participatory grantmaking, streamlining or even eliminating processes and paperwork.  Grant writers, fundraisers, and other members of the philanthropic community are helping to change the often inequitable relationships between philanthropists and nonprofits. 


I’m happy to address the top three ways that funders can improve grant applications in a calm, orderly fashion in this blog post. (If you’d care to hear me rant and froth at the mouth about how most grant applications are designed to exclude those organizations that need philanthropic support the most, check out Episode 1 of Season 4 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast.  My long-suffering co-host Amanda Day can attest to the fact that I have…feelings…on the subject.) 


In the following list, I describe each point and then offer suggestions to funders and grant writers on how we can all help each other improve grant applications that ultimately will help more good things happen in the communities we serve.


Top 3 Ways to Improve Grant Applications for 2021


  • Use COVID-19 funding applications as a model for streamlining ALL applications. Community foundations, private trusts, and United Ways are just a few of the many organizations that came together in spring 2020 to push out relief funding for agencies in addition to the CARES Act. Although many of these RFPS came with very tight deadlines, I worked on several of these grants for different clients and found them markedly more concise than traditional grant applications. Reporting, at least for private funders, has also been much more straightforward.  Funders, please use this as a springboard to re-thinking and revising ALL applications. Grant writers, this could be a great time to deepen your working relationships with programs officers and other funding contacts—sharing with them what has worked well in COVID funding efforts and asking if they are considering refocusing other grant cycles as well.


  • Provide and offer feedback in meaningful ways. Over the years, I’ve completed many applications that end with a seemingly innocuous and well-meaning question, “How can we improve our funding process,” or words to that effect. “By trashing this forsaken portal and your need for 20 attachments for a $10,000 maximum request,” may have been my heartfelt response. But it was never the one I wrote, because I wanted the organization to receive more funding more than I wanted to vent. Funders, offer anonymous surveys that are not connected with grant applications if you are really seeking honest feedback. Or consider asking a panel of grant writers to help you re-design your application process or pilot your new application portal. Organizations like the Grant Professionals Association can provide access to thousands of grant writers who could help. Grant writers, sign up to be grant reviewers. Standard opportunities exist at many Federal and State agencies, but also consider local United Ways and private foundations. Start with the ones you know best and simply offer to help. 


  • This last one is just for you grant pros out there in blogland. Review funders you’ve worked with—the good, the bad and the ugly— at Grant Advisor  or Grant Advisor UK  As of this writing, a total of 2,549 reviews about 783 funders are on the US website.  You can create an account, or review anonymously, all for free. This can be a great first step in advocating for positive change.


Chaotic times like these are stressful and difficult, but can also create opportunities for powerful and lasting change.  Let’s all start where we can and do what we can to make things better. 



DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 4 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 -3  and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.


  1. Jason Adkins January 12, 2021at4:17 pm

    Hear-hear to these recommendations! In 2020, I experienced astonishing flexibility in reporting requirements for grants. If only that would last… 🙂


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