108 Pages of Frustration and Pain


Twice each year, as part of the State of Grantseeking™ Survey and Reports, we ask respondents to tell us about their greatest challenges to grantseeking. This year, 4,047 people took part in the fall survey, and their comments stretched to 108 pages (and each of us here at GrantStation read them all).

Respondents continued to report that grantseeking’s greatest challenges stem from the lack of time and staff for grantseeking activities (18%), although this was the lowest frequency within the past eight reports.

Increased competition for finite monies (15%) has placed greater emphasis on strict adherence to varying funder practices and requirements (12%). Many respondents mentioned the difficulty in finding grant opportunities that matched their specific mission, location, or program, regardless of their focus, service area, or interests (11%). Reduced funding (10%) was reported at the highest rate since the Spring 2014 Report.

Each of the remaining six challenge types was reported by 8% or fewer of respondents. The following chart shows how responses have changed over time to the question, “What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to successful grantseeking?”

Table of Greatest Challenges

Respondent Commentary

We asked survey participants to tell us more about their organizations’ challenges to grantseeking. The “word cloud” below, which gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in source text, was formed with those answers.


Many respondents across all focus areas stated that there was limited funding for their specific mission. From a big-picture perspective, respondents told us that there is a greater need for non-restricted funding, regardless of mission focus. Many respondents also referenced the changing political landscape and the proposed state and federal funding reductions and resulting confusion. In addition, frustration with greater expectations placed on fewer staff members, funder practices perceived as arduous, and a sense of disconnect between organizations and funders, the government, and the community as a whole were frequently called out. Respondent commentary on grantseeking challenges stretched to 108 pages.

A sample of representative comments from survey respondents follows:

  • Lack of alignment between what grantmakers are interested in funding and the true needs of our organization.
  • Federal program not being started in timely manner with the DC fighting over budget.
  • Varying online requirements and processes.
  • Lack of REAL grants for REAL money that do not require matching funds and that really help organizations instead of being how some foundation can get the most publicity.
  • We are in a county woefully under resourced with only a handful of foundations with limited assets. Foundations in neighboring counties cite "geographic boundary" as reason for not funding our organization.
  • Current political conditions.
  • The competition seems greater; the relationship building makes a difference for sure and funder requirements seem more ridiculous than ever for smaller amounts of money (NEA for example).
  • Local foundations are still working under the wrong assumption that the 5% rolling average is a maximum rather than a minimum; too many are still hung up on overhead. Too many foundations have hired outside web-based platforms to create an online process and it's written/created by people who have never written a grant before. Unsettling.
  • Economy, political unease, lack of staff time, finding aligned funders, lack of previous relationship building.
  • Anti-intellectualism, anti-education mindset of federal and state legislatures and the ensuing budget cuts for research of any kind.
  • Increased non-grant writing responsibilities on development staff.
  • State and local grants require the same work for small awards as for large awards, making the process very difficult for small organizations.
  • Overall, funding sources are decreasing and the political climate of cutting funds for social services and the potential for change in donor incentives is impacting giving all around. Some of our donors depend on tax incentives for giving and the confidence in this benefit is decreasing, which requires more fund-seeking through grants or contracts with state agencies; however, these are also decreasing with added restrictions (professional licensing or accreditation requirements) on service providers, increased or changing service standards that require more non-face-to-face time with clients (paperwork, reporting, care coordination, engagement, etc.).
  • Our biggest challenge is that our organization does not fit neatly into the boxes most foundations set up around their giving criteria.
  • Time consuming, each grant requires individual attention, and there is no guarantee the organization will receive a grant. So, it is costly of staff time, then interim reports, final reports, and all take an enormous amount of time.
  • We are in a political and social moment where grassroots nonprofits need support to respond to the fact that many of our democratic institutions - not to mention our own communities - are under direct attack. Unfortunately, many funders are taking a "wait and see" approach, or creating insurmountable barriers to accessing rapid response and emergency funding.
  • In these times of great human and environmental crisis, new funding in the arts is likely to be limited or non-existent; hopefully, the stalwart supporters will maintain and not diminish their support. Increases are not forthcoming despite rising budgets.
  • Many foundations have restructured and some that we have received funding for specific program areas for several years have shifted funding priorities and we no longer fit within their funding categories. Changes in deadlines from the funders also caused challenges that change when we could expect funds and they may fall within a future fiscal year. Competition is a challenge and more funders are going towards no unsolicited proposals, which makes it more difficult.
  • Too many organizations fighting for too little money.
  • This seems to be a popular question. This is the third time in only a few weeks I have been asked. Challenges: Funders don't know what they want to support. Funders are hung up on arbitrary ideas about the percentages allocated to general operations. Funders provide impossible media to use for grant applications (Excel sheets with incorrectly designed formulas, narratives required on Excel spreadsheets, outmoded PDF format, applications that require personal SS#s, word documents beset by bugs, etc.). Funders don't comply with their own guidelines, e.g., they insist on advance approval of all publicity material but then don't respond in a timely manner. Funders want to give money to an organization for pet projects that may not align with the organization's mission rather where it is needed.
  • In addition to not really having volunteers with grantwriting skills/experience, we don't have the infrastructure to support the data gathering and reporting required of larger grants.
  • Government funding decreasing for organizations who have a high percentage of their budget in government grants and the concern is that the competition for private foundation and DAF contributions will be significantly increased.
  • We are an all-volunteer organization and the board does the grantwriting, lack of time and staff.
  • Many organizations apply for funding from grantmakers, the challenge is both competition and developing a relationship with funders to determine fit and likelihood of support.
  • Flash fire social justice fundraising is dominating the spectrum (hooray) but it is making it hard for issues that are more chronic and ongoing to hold onto the urgency around our issues. Hopefully what we will see from the trend is that all social justice issues win and that more people are donating and hopefully not only to big national organizations.
  • As an established agency, we are frequently passed over in favor of a new program or territory. Also, creating new relationships with funders has been a challenge. Many local funders seem overwhelmed by the requests they currently have and are unwilling to take on another agency or, in the case of long-time funding partners, unable to increase award amounts.
  • It seems to be more who you know than the quality of the programs provided to the underserved.
  • The greatest success has come through a relationship with funders; the challenge is the time needed to foster those relationships and the competition for funders' time and attention.
  • Writing grants is hard work and a specific skill. Very time consuming, very easy to make a mistake.
  • Some projects/programs have the potential for a lot of funders, others do not.Often the funders ask questions that are not relevant to the project or are hard to answer based on the number of people served.
  • State application for funding takes 6 months for a decision that leaves the organization in a budgetary state of uncertainty.
  • While we continue to seek new opportunities, we have found that the pool of potential grantmakers has grown smaller over time. The potential for losses in federal pass-through funds and state funding for human services continues to be a concern, due to political and economic conditions in the U.S.
  • Funders sometimes ask for a ridiculous amount of information relative to the amount of funding they are giving out. Providing all this information takes time, which then counts as admin/indirect/overhead. Then they penalize you for spending too much of your income on "overhead.”

We at GrantStation hear your frustration – it can feel like the route to good works is filled with potholes and roadblocks.

One of the ways we are focusing on our service leadership is to ensure that you are aware of the FREE tools that we provide to the grantseeking community.

PathFinder is designed to help you develop your career path as a grants professional. You can browse our library, search our resources, or use our Find Your Path tool to get a customized curriculum for your learning plan.

Through TrendTrack, we want to make sure our community is up-to-speed on what’s happening in the world of philanthropy. Included is the GS Insights blog, which features the thoughts and observations of our research staff, our CEO, as well as Tracks to Success, which includes magazine-style articles written by nationally recognized guest writers. TrendTrack gives us the opportunity to share our insights as we research grantmakers and talk with grantseekers.

The GrantStation Insider is our weekly newsletter filled with the latest information on grantmakers, upcoming grant deadlines, and news that will assist the serious grantseeker. When you read the GrantStation Insider each week, every link will take you to updated and relevant information on funding opportunities.

And of course, there is my personal favorite, the State of Grantseeking Reports, free to you and ready to download. Stay tuned for the most recent benchmarks; we expect to publish the Fall 2017 State of Grantseeking Reports starting in early November.

Finally, please consider investing in a GrantStation Membership. We list only those grantmakers who accept unsolicited requests – which saves you time since we have already done that research for you. In addition, you can search for funders by mission, support type, geography, target population, and more. With GrantStation Membership you get the tools and info you need to secure your funding this year and beyond.