Surveys & Reports

Riding the Grantseeking Wave


Like a photograph of a gentle wave, GrantStation’s annual State of Grantseeking Report usually captures the ebb and flow of the grantseeking experience. However, the pandemic has brought about a tsunami of change, sending nonprofits into a tailspin to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Released in the spring of 2020, last year’s report captured the challenges organizations faced as they navigated the early days of the pandemic, running the gamut from shortages of essential goods to office closures and swiftly changing funder priorities. A year on, The 2021 State of Grantseeking Report, which includes a special section on the pandemic, takes a wide-angle view of how organizations have adapted during this turbulent year. Let’s examine three strategies that have helped nonprofits and other organizations stay afloat.

Socially Distanced Work and Services

Perhaps the most significant changes related to the need for social distancing, which increased organizations’ reliance on virtual environments. Fifty-one percent of respondents to the 2021 State of Grantseeking Survey reported that their organizations transitioned staff to virtual or work from home status.

51% moved staff to virtual or work from home status.
51% moved staff to virtual or work from home status.

Many organizations switched to virtual programming and services as well. For example, healthcare organizations offered telehealth consultations while arts organizations presented virtual exhibitions or moved their performances online. As one respondent summed up, “Like everyone else—we moved everything to Zoom.”

Organizations also met social distancing requirements by moving their services outdoors, adapting their facilities, or offering home deliveries of essentials such as food. Some organizations reported using a combination of virtual and in-person programming.

Several respondents felt that the changes they were forced to make were ultimately beneficial and would continue into the future. One of them commented, “Adapting to a virtual format has allowed our organization to reach a broader audience than before.” Another said, “Our conference went virtual and we are now in the 21st century with more web-based events in the works.”

Coronavirus-Specific Support

Over the past year, budget shortfalls became commonplace due to lost income from in-person events, the costs of technological adaptation, or the expansion of services to meet increased community needs. One strategy for addressing these shortfalls was to apply for coronavirus-specific support, usually in the form of COVID-19 related grants or forgivable loans offered by the Small Business Administration.

The vast majority of respondents (76%) applied for coronavirus-specific grant funding. Of those who applied for this type of funding, 68% reported receiving awards. Almost half of those who applied (47%) received $25,000 or more in total coronavirus-specific awards.

76% applied for COVID-19 grants.
76% applied for COVID-19 grants.

Some respondents utilized GrantStation’s free COVID-19 Related Funding tool to search for this type of award. One person reported, “As a result of our GrantStation search for COVID-19 donations, we have located other donors who we plan to reach out to for hurricane relief donations, on conclusion of our search for COVID-19 relief assistance.”

Most organizations also applied for forgivable loans offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), either through the Paycheck Protection Program (61%), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (13%), or both. Of those who applied, 58% were awarded Paycheck Protection Program funds and 12% received the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. For those who were successful, the effort to navigate the application process paid off, as the median of total SBA funding was $77,750.

Median Total SBA Funding: $77,750
Median Total SBA Funding: $77,750

Creative Budgeting and Fundraising

In addition to seeking coronavirus-specific funding, organizations also used a combination of cost cutting and creative fundraising techniques to balance their budgets.

In order to lower costs, organizations reduced programs and services, the number of staff, staff hours, organization hours, and staff salaries. Compared to last year’s report, more organizations reduced programs and services (44% vs. 20%) or organization hours (26% vs. 5%). This was also reflected in the respondent commentary. A representative from an animal welfare organization stated, “We reduced all our programs, including animal adoption, low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter, and we closed our pet hotel.”


Chart 1


Organizations that traditionally relied on an annual gala or other event to raise fundraising dollars had to get creative in their approach. Most turned to grantseeking, virtual events, and social media campaigns to replace lost income.


Chart 2


However, 58% of respondents reported that these event income replacement techniques raised less money than their traditional events.

For some, creativity paid off. One respondent shared her organization’s approach, “I personally worked with [high school students] to teach grantwriting and actually apply as a team to new funders. Students were really feeling isolated, and this helped them feel like a big part of the community. We received every grant they helped with. I think funders thought our idea of teaching while fundraising was a great one, and it allowed for more personal one-on-one conversations about our mission.”

The Bigger Picture

If the past year can be likened to a wave, the strategies mentioned above are just a few of the ways in which organizations rode out the pandemic, balancing atop their surfboards ever so gracefully. For a more complete picture of grantseekers’ experiences over the past year, be sure to download your copy of The 2021 State of Grantseeking Report. It includes additional data on the topics covered in this article, information on funder responsiveness during the pandemic, and benchmarks to help your organization develop a grantseeking strategy for the coming year.

Action steps you can take today

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.

Take the Survey, Again


The Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Survey is live and ready for your input. Twice each year GrantStation encourages grantseekers to commit 10 to 15 minutes of valuable time filling out a survey. The survey asks detailed questions about organizations’ financials and grantseeking practices and outcomes. We have found that the results of these surveys can provide grantseekers with valuable information that can be used in strategic planning, managing board expectations, and day-to-day business operations.

Identify with respondents. The State of Grantseeking Reports depend upon thousands of respondents to supply current, accurate data on grantseeking efforts. Respondents to the State of Grantseeking Survey are largely nonprofit organizations with an annual budget of about $1 million. That doesn’t describe you? We break down the results of the survey by mission focus, budget size, service area, organizational age, and U.S. region so you can identify similar organizations to guide your grantseeking research.

State of Grantseeking

Use grantseeking data. The results of the State of Grantseeking Survey can be used by your organization to figure out who is most likely to fund your organization, to set realistic grantseeking expectations, and to observe grant funding trends. Watch a webinar on the latest data to learn more.

  • Know where to look for grants. The rate of funding varies by the grant source, with private foundations being consistently reported as the most common source of funding, followed by community foundations and corporate grants.
Sources of Funding

Private and community foundations may be the most common grant awards received but they are not the easiest to win. Organizations that applied for state and local government grants received those types of awards at a higher rate in Fall 2017.

Applications vs. Awards
Applications vs. Awards

  • Set realistic expectations. The results of the State of Grantseeking Survey can help you determine a reasonable level of funding for your organization type. The number of awards and amount of grant awards varies greatly by organizational characteristics. For example, organizations with an animal related mission might be very satisfied with a $10,000 award, whereas an educational institution could need a much larger award to reach the same level of satisfaction. Similarly, a suburban organization would need to set a grant award expectation closer to $25,000, compared to an urban organization that could expect a larger average award.  

Mission Focus & Service Area

  • Observe trends. The median largest grant award has been the same, $50,000, for the past two and a half years and has only varied by about $5,000 since Fall 2011. While the overall trend has remained steady, there has been variation in funding sources. The median largest grant for community foundations decreased from $25,000 in Spring 2017 to $15,000 in Fall 2017. In contrast, the median largest grant from the Federal government increased from $250,000 in Spring 2017 to $580,100 in Fall 2017.

Median Largest Grant Award
Median Largest Grant Award

Take the survey. Before you start the State of Grantseeking Survey, gather basic information about your organization and its grantseeking efforts in the second half of 2017. Think number of grants awarded, amount of grant funding, and sources of grant funding. The more accurate your answers, the better the results will be for you and other grantseeking organizations.

Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey. We thank you now, and we will thank you again with the published results in the free State of Grantseeking Reports.

Action steps you can take today

The Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Survey is live and ready for your input. Twice each year GrantStation encourages grantseekers to commit 10 to 15 minutes of valuable time filling out a survey.

Spring 2018 Total Report - GS Members Only


As a part of the grantseeking community, you know how important it is to stay on top of trends. The State of Grantseeking Survey spotlights recent developments in funding so that organizations can be more strategic in their grantseeking. The resulting free reports can serve as a valuable benchmark for organizations to review their grantseeking efforts, and will provide leading-edge information months earlier than other annual surveys.