The Need of Grant Writing

Just because your organization exists and does good, important—sometimes critical—work should be enough to convince a funder that your program deserves support.  Right?


Beyond the obvious of having to meet the current interest areas of a funder, your program must respond to a specific need.  And need is what too many nonprofits don’t bother to define.

The dictionary defines it as  “a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation” and “a lack of something wanted or deemed necessary.”  But in the language of grants, that’s not the meaning at all.

In grantspeak, need is akin to “gap reduction.”  That is “a need,” as Bo Morton my co-author (and co-teacher) and I write in our book, “is the gap between what the situation should be and what it is now; what you want to achieve for your clients—or have them be able to achieve for themselves—and what is actually happening right now.”

In short, you have to think about needs or problems in terms of what will change by the end of the grant period.  If you do this, you will find it far easier to write a compelling grant.

The need, however, is only the start.  Once you know where you want to you must develop the outcomes.   Outcomes are just another word for objectives, which are specific and measurable results.  That word “measurable” is important; it is these objectives that are the focus of the evaluation plan.  Just as you shouldn’t mix up lack with need, you mustn’t confuse activities with objectives.  The former is the way you reach the latter.  For some reason, this seems to be the second hardest concept for novice grantwriters to grasp.

One way to think about it, of course, is that the activities are what drives your budget.  These are things you will be paying for.  While your budget must reflect your need, what that really means is that the way you chose to address the address—the activities you will be engaging in or the methods you will employ—must make sense given the need you’ve posited.

Think about that—it means that the activities must grow from the need, and not the other way around.  Too often, organizations have things they do or want to do and in order to fund those things, they work very hard to create a need or a problem that could be solved or mitigated by the activities they have already chosen.

It’s not quite as bad as creating a project that fits a funder’s current area of interest or RFP.  This is simply chasing dollars without thinking about your mission or responding to the people or cause you are supposed to be serving.

Looking at grants this way will probably cause you not to get the grant.  Or worse.  You just might get funding for something that has nothing at all to do with the reason your organization exists.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to build their resource development capacity (and yes, that does include grants!).  To learn more about her, her grantwriting class and Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants the only grantwriting book you really need, check out  You can buy the book directly at


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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