What Should You Ask Program Officers About Proposals

The world of grant writing takes a front seat for many of us in the spring and fall when a myriad of applications are available and due. This is a prime time to explore questions to ask when reaching out to program officers.

First, let me make sure everyone understands the following: unless a foundation tells you NOT to reach out to them, you should be building a relationship with a program officer PRIOR to submitting a grant application.

The Most Important Part of all Fundraising is Relationship Building

The next thing I encourage you to practice is to never write one word of an application until you have read EVERY word of the grant guidelines. Small tidbits of vital information can be found all throughout guidelines, even the last sentence.

If you are new to grant writing, you will learn lots of things you need to know before working on an application through trial and error. You will become more familiar with the pieces you need to find quickly and the ones you can’t find answers for. I always start a list with the questions I can’t find answers for, do my due diligence, and if I still can’t find the answer then I keep it on my list to ask a program officer during an initial call or email. You don’t want to waste the time of a program officer by not thoroughly vetting the 990s, reading the foundation website, or doing online research.

Some of the questions for which you will want to have an answer to include the following:

  • What is a typical grant award or range?
  • How much should a first-time grantee request?
  • Can we apply two years in a row?
  • Should we plan on a site visit? If so, before or after the award?
  • How many grant proposals does the foundation typically receive in the cycle you are applying for and how many do they typically fund?
  • Do you have to have the dollars in hand before you can spend any money, or can you pay yourself back from expenses incurred prior to receiving the check?
  • If you are selected for funding, when will you be notified and when will the check arrive?
  • If you have had a chance to look over the application, do you need clarification on any of the items you need to provide?
  • If you are asked for an audit, will a 990 suffice? Do you need an official audit, or will a compilation report or a financial review do?

These are a few of the things you will want to know as you narrow down the applications that are a great fit for your organization. Many times, knowing the answers to these questions will help determine if a prospect is ideal for you or should be benched until a later date.

Even if you feel you have no questions, you should reach out to program officers and build a relationship so they know who you are, you keep up-to-date on any changes with the foundation, and you establish an actual relationship that is not based solely on asking for money.

Check out this video for additional tips when having conversations with program officers.


Mandy Pearce is the owner of Funding For Good, Inc. She is a grant-writing expert, executive and development coach, fundraising consultant, and national fundraising trainer.




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