Grants Demystified: 3 Tips for Building a Nonprofit Culture that Wins More Grants


Leadership plays an important role in every fundraising activity. Foundations and corporate sponsors want to interact with the CEO and board members. Donors want to know that leadership will spend their gifts wisely. Volunteers need to be embraced in a culture that values their work and supports their interests. And of course leadership plays a pivotal role in empowering any nonprofit’s most important asset: its employees who depend on leadership to both meet/live the mission and make sure they are paid regularly.

Leadership is at its most effective when we integrate three essential elements: vision, culture, and communication. Nonprofit leaders can create an organizational culture and work environment that is more conducive to fundraising, and specifically (or selfishly from my perspective) grant seeking success.

How? By following best practices, of course. Here are three tips based on national nonprofit Standards of Excellence. How does your nonprofit compare?

1. Lead through vision and communication.

  •  Vision – knowing where you are headed as a leader related to the mission, knowing that grants are not a means but an end unto themselves beyond raising money
  • Communication – defines organizational roles clearly and in writing, has written policies/procedures to support grant seeking; say what you mean and mean what you say, budgets based in reality (and communicated broadly as public information), and gathers staff input

If you are a nonprofit leader who is not embracing these attributes or doesn’t see how they’re connected to grants, someone else should serve as the main fundraising contact. Furthermore, leaders MUST build their competencies in this area by participating in fundraising and nonprofit management training. That’s the main element of any nonprofit CEO/executive director’s job. Embrace it!

2. Lead through strengths.

Grant seeking cannot exist in a vacuum. It cannot be an activity that is siloed away from other fundraising work or relegated to a stack on the desk that’s only visited on Friday afternoons. (How many of us have been there)? The most effective leaders use their grant writer’s many skills to maximize outcomes. Get to know your grant writer and see what else s/he could do to support organizational management and effectiveness. Here’s a short list of unexpected skills among the professional grant writers I know: graphic design, database design and management, media relations, financial analysis, and statistics. Use those strengths to your competitive advantage.

3. Allocate resources to help employees do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

Grant writers cannot do their jobs without access to technology—a good computer, printer, scanner, remote access, and fast internet access. For employed grant writers, nonprofit leaders must allocate funds as available to support their work. Contracted grant writers must provide for these resources on their own (so be sure to they have the tools they need to get the job done). The ability to access grant prospecting databases and network online and in real-time with other grant professionals will help your nonprofit find its real BFFs (best fit funders) and stay on the leading edge about important trends in grant seeking. It can also significantly increase your competitiveness among the thousands of other nonprofits seeking funding from the same pot.

How will you lead your nonprofit to greater success?


(For more on this topic, visit the Grant Professionals Association website to view the archived webinar, “It Takes an Agency: How Nonprofit Leaders Can Create Environments that Foster Grant Seeking Success,” which I presented in 2013 with colleague Scott Herr, PhD. The following list is a follow up to a previous blog.)


By Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC, grant consultant to Laurus Strategies. Read more about grants, communications, and nonprofit management at

Headquartered in Chicago, Laurus Strategies has a passion for helping nonprofits advance their mission. Laurus Strategies’ Non Profit and Public Affairs Consulting Group provides a wide range of fundraising, strategic planning, training and leadership services with a proven track record of success. Together, the team has over 80 years of experience and has helped clients raise over $650,000,000.


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