Cindy Adams

Change in the field of philanthropy can be so subtle that it often goes unnoticed. Look at one aspect of that field – grantseeking – and it becomes almost impossible to detect.

To help us recognize and track these changes, we conduct a survey every six months to determine the current state of grantseeking in the U.S. Over 3,200 people responded to our latest survey, providing us with a fairly clear picture of the challenges small- to medium-sized nonprofits face.

Lack of time and staff is the largest challenge facing nonprofits trying to secure grants, as it has been for many years. However, the gap between this issue and the second challenge, competition, is narrowing. This chart shows how the gap has changed from Fall 2012 to Spring 2016.


Spring 2016 Fall 2012
Lack of Time and/or Staff 19% 24%
Competition 16% 9%
Funder Practices/ Requirements 13% 5%
Finding Grants 13% 13%
Funder Relationship Building 9% 8%
Reduced Funding 7% 14%
Economic Conditions 6% 8%
Need a Grantwriter 6% 6%
Other Challenges 5% 5%
Internal Organizational Issues 4% 5%
Writing Grants 3% 4%


This also provides a good idea of the other major challenges facing nonprofits trying to secure grants, including the funder’s application and management requirements, and the ever present hurdle: finding the right grant maker for your program or project.

How can you, as a leader in the nonprofit sector, break this pattern?

Changing the Paradigm

When I worked in the nonprofit sector as a full-time development director, I had no time to write and submit as many grant requests as our organization needed and deserved. I knew the importance of keeping the grant pipeline full and always having requests out there, but it was not possible to make that happen.

I needed help to create a strong grantseeking program within the organization. Drawing on the board of directors for this type of help was not going to work. They were already too busy governing the organization and putting on several fund raisers each year. So I formed a Grant Writing Committee.

I made this committee fairly large, with each task clearly defined and requiring a different set of skills, including research, writing, data research and development, copy editing, accounting, graphic design/layout, and evaluation. I then developed a short job description for each particular task and set out to recruit my volunteers.

By the time I had found the right folks for each of these areas (for some tasks I had more than one volunteer, such as writing and editing), I had a committee of 17, each working independently but on very specific tasks that were truly in their wheelhouse.

For example, the volunteer helping with budgeting was a young woman just hired at a reputable accounting firm. She was eager to use her skills to both make a living and to do good in this world. She could develop a budget for a special project, or even our general operating budget, ten times faster than I. She was doing a bit of work outside her day-to-day job, of course, because she was doing the research on the cost of items we’d include in our budget. But she was fast, and the documentation, as well as the presentation, was excellent.

The beauty of this committee was its size! No one person was overloaded with too much work. We only met once a year as a team, and that was really just a social event. Everything else was done via the web.

Bottom line: you are the only person who can change the paradigm. When you are up against something as stubborn as the number one challenge facing nonprofits seeking grants – lack of time and staff – then it is up to you to tackle that challenge head on.


Cynthia Adams, President and CEO of GrantStation, has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofits raise the money needed for their good work. She opened GrantStation because grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world.


This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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