I know no not-for-profit that is not excited when they see a call for proposals. After all, a call to send in a proposal is a chance of contributing to your organization’s objectives. It is a possibility for receiving money that can help you work on your mission. An opportunity to actually maybe have a salary for your staff, or to buy some equipment that you need, or to print a leaflet that has been sitting in your computer waiting for such a moment. In short, dreams you have nurtured might come true if you get money for them, and a call is the starting point of making it happen.

Wait a minute

It is true that a call can be a starting point for you to obtain money for your organization’s dreams. But only if the call and your organization’s dreams are a match. And then only if you are able to make that very clear to the funder.

However small the call seems, or however easy the application, this does take time. Time to read, to think, to write carefully. To re-read. To make sure. However small you think the task is, double the amount of time you set aside for doing it.

Read carefully

First, you must find out what the stated aim of the call is. What does the funder want to invest their money in? They are usually very clear about what they want. And sometimes they even make very clear what they do not want. See for a good example: http://www.feminist-review-trust.com/guidelines/

Carefully check out what the funder is about. What is the mission of the funder? Why was the funder established? What is the history of the organization? What can you conclude from that about what is important to this funder?

Read what projects they have supported before. Can you recognize some of the elements they highlight in the call? For instance, see http://www.feminist-review-trust.com/awards/  

Take your time to read and to consider what you have read. Is there among your dreams and plans something that really matches very well with what this funder wants to achieve and has supported in the past, without being an exact copy?


Check out the conditions for the call. Is there a maximum budget amount? Are there costs the funder will not cover, even if they are within the total maximum budget? What does the funder say about the budget? For instance, the Feminist Review Trust says clearly that GBP 15,000 is the maximum amount they give, but also that they rarely award that amount. If you check the past awards, you see that most grants are much smaller, in the range of GBP 4,000 to GBP 6,000 with the highest around GBP 8,000. Keep that in mind when developing your project idea.

Never go for the maximum in a first application with a new funder, especially if your track record is still small and if you do not know the funder. A smaller application has more chance of success sometimes. Some funders might award higher amounts after a successful small project.

Don’t forget: each small grant builds your experience and your organizational curriculum vitae.


Check the deadline. Some funders publish their deadlines in advance. That way you can decide which round is most suitable for you, in terms of the preparation time needed in combination with your other activities. See for instance http://www.feminist-review-trust.com/feminist-review-trust/deadlines/ but also https://www.ned.org/apply-for-grant/en/ (click to open Dates and deadlines).

Consider the work to be done for applying thoroughly, and see which date fits the best. Sometimes you just cannot make it for the next upcoming round because you need more time to prepare.


Carefully check out the application form if there is one, including notes explaining the different items. Sometimes a funder asks for a concept note first, instead of a full proposal. In that case, selection happens in two rounds. If your concept note is approved, you can develop a full proposal. This is still not a guarantee for success though.

For the concept note you may not need to develop all your activities in detail. You may not need to provide a detailed budget but can provide just a total estimated amount. My advice is to ALWAYS develop your activities in detail and to ALWAYS make a detailed budget based on this. That is the best way to be sure that any total estimate you mention is realistic for the activities you plan.

I have seen too often that an amount was estimated that was half or less of what was realistically needed for those activities. By the time this became clear in the full proposal phase it was too late to correct much. Because by then the donor had enthusiastically approved the activities and the estimate. And there was only a 10% margin for adjusting the total budget amount, which was not sufficient to cover the 50% (or more) gap.


It is best to form a team with project management staff, finance staff and overall management staff (for instance: the executive director, the finance manager and a project manager) that meets regularly to discuss calls and proposal ideas. With these different skill sets you can be sure that any project you propose will not lead to a financial loss or other financial problems, will fit the overall profile of the organization and is practically implementable.

Help needed?

If your organization is small or not much experienced, feel free to ask me for a quick reflection on a call or your draft idea. I am happy to help.

Check out my Ten Tips for Clever Project Budgets here (free download).

In August, I will reopen my online course on Project Design. If you want to be among the first to know, subscribe to my weekly updates here.