Grant Writing Basics: Understand the Funder before Writing

Whether you are writing an email, blog post, or lengthy proposal, you need to consider the question, “Who is my audience?” In the grants world, your audience will usually be the agency awarding funds and the people reviewing your application.

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The process of learning about a grant-making agency is closely related to evaluating mission alignment, so this next installment of the Grant Writing Basics series assumes that (1) your organization’s mission aligns with that of the grant-making agency and that (2) you are actively preparing to write a grant application.

Why Is It Important to Understand Your Audience?

Let’s recall the broader context of federal grants. As an applicant, you are attempting to make the case that you are the best equipped to receive potentially millions of taxpayer dollars to carry out a legislatively authorized public-serving program. As a result, federal agencies take the program design, application review, and monitoring of grant implementation very seriously.

Knowing, then, that federal grants are serious work and highly competitive to receive, what should you learn about the audience before writing a grant application? Here are a few examples:

  • What is the history of this grant program?
  • What is most important to the people reviewing my application?
  • What tone and type of language does the agency use? (e.g., highly technical, casual & creative, very formal, etc.)
  • Will the reviewers be subject matter experts in the field?
  • What percentage of the agency’s overall grant portfolio does this particular program represent?

Where Can I Go to Answer those Questions?

Begin by reading the grant-making agencies pages on, then go to the particular federal agency’s grant program webpage. Of course, reading all the information about a grant program you plan to apply for is helpful, but, as time allows, reviewing the agency’s other grant programs will give you a better picture of what is (and isn’t) important to your audience.

Carefully read the funding opportunity announcement (FOA). This may be obvious, but while you are looking for the requirements, limits, and other ‘nuts and bolts’, pay attention to the tone and language the agency uses. You may also want to look at social media feeds, press releases, annual reports, and whatever else you can find to help you learn the language of the funder. The types of words and phrases they use tells you what is most important to them and helps you speak the same language in a grant application.

Review past award data. This is something we have mentioned before here, here, and here. What better way to understand a funder’s priorities than to look at what they have already funded?

Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice, and resources from the federal agency, past award recipients, and fellow grant professionals. Yes, everyone has limited time for more emails, calls, and meetings, but this can provide invaluable insight for your grant application. Places like social media and the Discussion Forum are places you can ask questions and find resources.

What other steps do you go through to learn about a funder? Share your wisdom on the Discussion Forum or on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Grant Writing Basics: Understand the Funder before Writing

  1. Hi, my name is Elena Velikoivan. Presently, I am the student in GCU in Masters Degree in Mental; Health and Wellness/focus on Prevention program. I will graduate in December of this year. I really work now at opening my own place, where I can work with youth (substance abuse, suicide, opioid abuse). I want to make a difference, here in Wichita Kansas we need a Holistic place where we can address these youth problems and I need help. I never thought that one day I will need Grant writing help! Please, orient me. I see great need to open a Holistic clinic where I can help youth with counseling(CBT, Mindfulness and others), diet counseling, the movement is life counseling, all kind of Alternative medicine approaches. We with my husband work with the idea of opening a small child care center (he worked as a Child Start manager for 16 years and has a great experience). HELP, from where to start!


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