Recently I wrote how crucial it is to make sure that the projects you develop are aligned with your vision, mission and value statement. Immediately, people asked me: “But what about the money?” Yes, I know all of us nonprofits need money. And you may think that means you need to apply for anything and everything. I disagree. The key is in applying cleverly, not randomly – and desperately. Here’s my take on what projects you should apply for.

Apply for projects that are aligned with your vision, mission and value statement. 

If the project is not aligned, you will not be credible to the donor as an organisation that can implement the project successfully and they will not give you the money. So, you will have spent all that time developing a proposal for nothing.

… Instead

Instead, when a project idea comes to mind, check with your vision, mission and value statement and be strict in interpreting the scores.

Apply for projects that fit where you are as an organisation.

If your annual turnover is $10,000, getting a million dollar project is going to be like jumping into an ice bath. A multiyear million dollar project requires a different level of work organisation, quality of team and systems. A donor knows that, too. That’s why they won’t give you that one million dollar grant if you’re not ready for it. And so, you will have spent all that time developing a proposal knowing it cannot be successful.

… Instead

Instead, use smaller grants to build solid systems and organise your team effectively, growing step by step, so that you will at some point be ready to enjoy that million dollar grant!

Apply for projects that don’t bring your organisation stress

In one of the nonprofits I worked with, the finance manager set very clear boundaries for which kind of grants would work for them and which would probably cause problems and stress.



Budget and workload

I often think of that person, for instance when I see that nonprofits accept project grants with a very low budget, that isn’t sufficient really for all the planned activities, and with very detailed donor conditions, like monthly reporting plus monthly calls, for instance. Remember, time for reporting and calls also has a cost. In money. In workload. And in job satisfaction.


Or an organisation accepts a grant where they need to pre-finance a big part of the project expenses. While they don’t have money in the bank. Can you imagine the stress??? I can, I have seen it and experienced it firsthand. It’s not pretty.

… Instead

Check very carefully the conditions of the donor for reporting and implementation of the project. Very often you can check that before you apply. If so, do that! And if it looks tricky or stressy – don’t go there if your organisation is not yet built strong enough to handle it.

Apply for projects that have added value to your organisation and work

Not all donations have equal value to you. If you need to pay your team for the work they do, in-kind donations won’t help much (or at all). It’s the same of course for project budgets that don’t include (enough) budget for time spent by your team.

But also think about what the grant can be used for. Will the grant help you create a durable impact for your community or cause – or at least make a good start? Is it going to open doors for you? Will it make things possible for you, like testing something new, hiring a new person, or something else?

… Instead

Be very clear for yourself about what you will gain from the project, the grant and the chance to work with this donor. Weigh pros and cons. Sometimes you can afford a project that’s not paying the bills of your time spent, if there are other (potential) advantages to doing the project and working with that grant. The thing is, you need to be realistic and intentional about your choices.

These are my four main tips when it comes to deciding to apply for a project grant or not.

There have been times when I have been desperate to land a project grant. So desperate that I applied for almost anything, just to have a chance at success. But I have always – really always – been guided by these four insights. It really is a waste of time to apply for things that won’t help you. And the more you need that money, the more you need to be intentional in how you use your time.

How I can help

If you don’t have your vision, mission, value statement, I have a free mini course for you to help you with that. You can sign up here: to get started straightaway.

If you want to learn more about how you can design a successful project, join my course Project Design for nonprofits. You can learn at your own pace and ask me anything in our live sessions and in our members only community. Find out more and enroll via this link:

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.

You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

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