What Annoys Grant Applicants Most about Foundations Part II

Writing grant applications requires time and effort, which a lot of educators do not have enough of. Many schools cannot afford to have a person or a whole department dedicated to writing applications. For time-strapped educators trying to find funding for school and classroom projects, it can be even more frustrating when funders require extensive documentation in the application.

In Part II of Vu Le’s index list for funding organizations, he examines frustrations regarding grant narratives and attachments, as well as finance requirements.

Narratives and Attachments

  1. You ask for extensive information for small amounts of money.
  2. You ask the same questions three or four different times. “What are your goals?” “What does it look like if you are successful?” “What do you hope to achieve with this funding?”
  3. You ask for a cover letter, an executive summary, and a narrative.
  4. You ask for excessive contact or personal information about board members, despite only really needing the contact information of the board chair and treasurer.
  5. You ask for major donors’ personal information. Sometimes donors don’t want you to know who they are.
  6. You ask for volunteers’ personal information. A funder once asked for volunteers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. That is unnecessary and kind of creepy.
  7. You are not thoughtful about asking for personal information, such as about sexual orientation of board, staff, and clients.
  8. You force people to have logic models. Some people are not familiar with them, and you can get the same information with a question like, “What are your program activities, outcomes, and long-term results?”
  9. You require videos or other gimmicks. It takes me three hours to do a one-minute video because I tend to freak out on camera.


  1. You force applicants to fill out your budget form. We all have our own budget formats, and we spend way too much time translating it across 20 different funders who each have a different budget template. Please stop the madness and just accept our format.
  2. You have a budget form in Microsoft Word. If you force us to fill out your budget template, please use Excel so we can use formulas.
  3. You ask for a five-year budget. Considering the volatility of the sector, many of us can barely project one year out. We’ll project three or five years out if you ask, but just know that it’ll likely change.
  4. You punish nonprofits for having too much in reserve.
  5. You punish nonprofits for having too little in reserve.
  6. You ask for things you refuse to help pay for. If you don’t pay for “overhead costs,” then don’t ask for evaluation data or audits or program reports because those things are all “overhead costs.”
  7. You ask the sustainability question. The answer to the question, “How will you fund this program when our support runs out” will always be a euphemism for, “We will leave you alone and bother other people,” so there’s no point asking it.
  8. You ask, “How will you fund this project if we don’t fund you?” Same—we’ll bother other people.
  9. You restrict administration expenses, even if we don’t ask you specifically to pay for it. If we are not asking you for funding for administration expenses, it’s aggravating when we still have to conform to your indirect expense guidelines.
  10. You ask for a list of all other funders. Top three to five, fine, but many of us have dozens.
  11. You ask for full printed-out copies of 990s. Those things can be looked up on Foundation Center’s 990 Finder or Guidestar.
  12. You require more than five attachments.


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, both as an executive as well as an applicant. You can follow him on Twitter @nonprofitAF.



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