What Annoys Grant Applicants Most about Foundations Part I

Applying for grants is an important strategy for teachers and educators in cash-strapped schools and underfunded classrooms. However, funders have ramped up requirements for grant applications. At times, it seems almost impossible to compile all of the information in the right way and according to funders’ wishes.

Vu Le, author of the blog Nonprofit AF compiled a tongue-in-cheek index list for funding organizations with questions about their grant-making process. In this list, he includes the factors that applicants find most annoying and aggravating when applying for funding. The list is divided into General, Application Format, Narrative and Attachments, Finances, and Communications. Part I focuses on general issues and the application format.


  1. You give people less than three weeks to respond to an RFP. It takes awhile to be strategic, especially if you want strong collaborations.
  2. You don’t list your grantees and how much you give them on your website, so applicants have no idea how much to ask for.
  3. You don’t list clear information about whether you are currently accepting applications.
  4. You are not clear on what you will fund and what you won’t. Please have a list of what you do and do NOT fund.
  5. You don’t fund existing programs. Really, it needs to be “innovative”? How about you fund programs that “work”?
  6. You don’t fund “staff salaries.” Who do you even think is running the programs, much less writing this grant proposal?!
  7. You mandate in-person attendance at information sessions. Sessions are helpful, but mandating them does not help applicants that heard about the RFP too late.
  8. Your LOI is more than two pages. It’s an LOI; it’s supposed to be short.
  9. Your LOI requires attachments. If you require attachments, it’s now an application and no longer an LOI.
  10. Your process takes longer than it takes to conceive and give birth to a baby. If your LOI plus proposal plus site visit takes longer than for the average couple to make a human being, it’s too long.
  11. You ask for an entirely new proposal for renewal grants. This organization has been with you for a year or two or three. Why ask them to jump through the hoops again?
  12. You don’t note mandatory meetings upfront in the application, but then require them later. If you require anything of grantees, make sure it’s in the RFP.
  13. You make your proposal due during the holidays.


Application Format

  1. You don’t accept emailed applications.
  2. You ask for the board chair’s signature or board members’ signatures. Some of us have board chairs that are difficult to track down.
  3. You don’t accept electronic signatures.
  4. You require anything to be notarized.
  5. You require anything to be faxed.
  6. Your form is in Word and is not well-formatted, so typing in it looks like this Org:___Association of Unicorns for Equity____ .
  7. You use forms that are not fillable, so we have to recreate them or find a typewriter.
  8. You send paper applications and require nonprofits to fill them out. We don’t have typewriters!
  9. You require ridiculous stuff like “a stamp of the common seal of the organization.”
  10. You don’t allow for double-sided printing.
  11. You ask people to send multiple printed copies of the application. Tree killer!
  12. You require more than a login and password to get into your online portal. Please don’t require an organization code, a login, a password, a phone verification, and an iris scan.
  13. Your online portal only works with one browser.
  14. You don’t allow for autosave. Yes, we know to type our answers in another document and then paste them over.
  15. You don’t offer to show all the questions up front. It is irritating to have to fill out each page before being able to see the next questions.
  16. You don’t allow uploads. Everything has to be entered in one by one. Please don’t make us enter each board member’s name one at a time when we can just upload one document.
  17. You have severe character limits. It takes us way longer to edit something down than for you to spend an additional minute reading. And then sometimes we get penalized for not being clear enough in our 250-character answer about how we plan to undo systemic racism.
  18. Your character limits make no sense. “Please describe your mission, vision, and strategic plan in 500 characters.” “Do you have a line of credit? 4,000 characters.”
  19. You don’t warn about character limits upfront, so we type some stuff in and then have to revise it.
  20. You don’t have a live character-counter built in, so it ends up being endless copying and pasting and checking and repasting.
  21. You ask for multiple delivery methods: “Please email the narrative, fax us a copy of your 501(c)(3) letter, upload your budget to this online portal, and send 18 copies of your entire application by mail.”


Vu Le is a speaker, writer, the executive director of Seattle-based nonprofit organization Rainier Valley Corps, and author of the not-too-serious blog Nonprofit AF. With his tongue firmly in his cheek, he writes about his experiences working in the field of nonprofit organizations. You can follow him on twitter @nonprofitAF.


Leave a Reply