A  S T R A T E G Y   F O R

Sustainable Grant Seeking


A single grant can provide needed funding for a project. But half a million dollars in grant funding, secured from multiple funders in a single year, can transform an organization's ability to achieve its mission over the long run. For a grants effort to gain the momentum to yield transformational results, an organization needs to do more than grant writing: it needs to pursue a targeted grant strategy.
One organization shows how.

The Cleveland-based addiction recovery agency Stella Maris had received small grants from a variety of local foundations for years based on having a high performing staff, excellent track record, strong outcomes and measures, and good reputation in the community. But as the severity of the opioid crisis increased, Executive Director Deborah Bridwell, PhD, realized she needed to rapidly ramp up programs and services. She knew that required growing the organization's budget, but didn't know how to get there alone. She engaged Grants Plus to help her identify funding sources, develop a plan, and generate higher levels of investment from funders.

Identifying the opportunities

“Step one was a Funding Scan to find every possible grant funder for Stella Maris and hone in on the best prospects," says Grants Plus Senior Consultant Gail Dancy Heim. A thorough search of private, family, corporate, and government funders yielded 80 carefully matched prospects. Gail ranked these prospective funders in order of likelihood and priority. She explains: "Stella Maris needed funding for services, capital expenses, and other needs. We recommended the funders Stella Maris should pursue, on what timetable, for what dollar amount, and for what specific purpose."

Creating connections

With these prospects identified, relationship building could begin. "It was important for Deborah to have conversations with potential funders to introduce Stella Maris before applying," Gail says. Gail drafted talking points for Deborah, prepared strategy memos, and even role-played interactions.

“Gail helped me feel confident and prepared to frame discussions with funders,” Deborah explains. In fact Deborah proved to be very effective, as she received invitations from funders to apply. Gail handled the writing and submission of grant applications on Stella Maris's behalf. She gathered notes and information from Deborah to craft a powerful proposal tailored to each funder.

Gail also managed the grants calendar and kept Deborah's relationship building efforts on track. Each month, Gail led a grant strategy meeting with Deborah to plan for upcoming deadlines and remind Deborah of the phone calls and decisions she needed to make. “It was a great stress reliever to know Gail was making sure we never missed a deadline or an important step," Deborah explains.

A foundation for the future

This strategic approach to grant seeking paid off. Together Deborah and Gail submitted 18 funding requests totaling $620,000. More than $580,000 was awarded—a success rate of 94%. This funding has helped Stella Maris build toward its upcoming capital expansion and better serve individuals affected by the opioid crisis.

“Deborah was a true partner in following through on the relationship steps that only she could take with funders," Gail explains. “She brought to life the grant strategy we created based on careful research and best practices."

"This partnership with Grants Plus was very successful for Stella Maris,” Deborah says, “It's still paying off in the resources it gave us: the prospect research, the proposal templates, and the confidence I gained to steer relationships with funders."

Grants Plus

DEBORAH BRIDWELL, PhD pursued a targeted grant seeking strategy to secure her organization's future.


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Making a Connection with the First Call

You're phoning a prospective funder. How can you increase the odds of getting a grant?

The key is establishing a relationship with a funder before you ever submit.
This relationship often begins over the phone. How you handle the first
phone call with a funder can make or break your chances of being funded.
Follow these tips to make the most of this crucial interaction.


Do your research

Review the foundation’s mission and funding guidelines. Ensure your organization's priorities are aligned to those of the foundation.

Timing is key

Reach out at least 4–8 weeks before a deadline. This shows initiative and gives you adequate time to prepare a submission before the due date.

Don't wing it

Sketch out short bullet points to help you keep the conversation focused on the most important ideas. Focus on connections and common ground.

Prepare to pivot

Think on your feet. Be ready to describe a “Plan B” or even a “Plan C” if the first idea you describe doesn’t pique the funder’s interest.

Know your aims

Call with a clear, genuine, and appropriate purpose. Don’t put the funder on the spot to ask outright if they will grant your request for funding.

Make an invite

Consider inviting a funder to an in person meeting or site visit to show off your mission in action. Some may decline, but there’s no harm in asking.

Follow up

Send a thank you email after the call or meeting. If the funder didn't invite a proposal but was open to learning more, send an info packet, then plan to follow-up again.

Assess success

Was your call successful? It's a positive sign if the funder encourages a submission, accepts an invitation to meet, provides guidance for a stronger proposal, or suggests other funders you can approach. Well done!

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"We’re very proud to be part of The Giving Institute because it underscores our commitment to raising the bar in grant seeking and delivering the very best to our nonprofit clients."

Lauren Steiner


The highest standard in philanthropy.

We are proud to announce that Grants Plus is now part of The Giving Institute.


Since 1935, the Institute and its members have embraced and embodied the core values of ethics, excellence, and leadership in advancing philanthropy. Member firms embrace the highest ethical standards and maintain a strict code of fair practices. The Institute is devoted to promoting ethical giving, in large part through Giving USA – its annual report on philanthropy – which it has published since 1955.

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