National Wildlife Refuge System

Q & A

Sea level rise is affecting salt marshes and beaches at Chincoteagaue National Wildlife Refuge, VA.
Grant funding helped Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA, restore a full-scale Chinookan-style cedar plankhouse on the refuge.
Credit: Greg Knadle/USFWS

FAQ: What is the key to a winning grant application?


Every proposal, no matter how modest, should reflect the Friends’ passion for the refuge. Give the reader goose bumps!


80 percent of your time is in planning the project; 20 percent in writing the grant proposal


Why are you seeking a grant?

  1. Discuss the need: a new educational program; more space; restore habitat; protect wildlife? Is your proposal innovative? Is it ambitious but realistic?

  2. Is a grant the most effective way to fund your project? Are there local businesses that might be interested in providing cash or in–kind donations? Could a community fundraiser meet your needs?

  3. Are there organizations or agencies with whom to partner? Who does the problem affect—just the refuge, the whole community, a watershed? Why might other organizations/agencies want to partner with Friends?

  4. Do you have the skills within the organization or partnership to complete the project?

  5. What outcomes are you expecting —how will the Friends, the refuge, the community, other partners benefit?


There are four main sources of grants: federal (www.grants.gov), state, foundations and corporations. Be strategic in applying for grants. For each funding source, find out:

  • Purpose and mission

  • How much they give for each grant

  • Grant criteria and timetable

  • Current areas of interest

  • Contact person for questions along the way

  • Geographic, program and eligibility guidelines


General tips:

  • Follow directions carefully.

  • Pay attention to deadlines.

  • Be concise—don’t change the font to fit more words into a smaller space.

  • Have someone proofread your application.

  • Call the program contact if you have questions; don’t guess.


Start writing!

  • Write a succinct summary that will grab the interest of the reader. It may be the only portion of the proposal that is read during the first cut.

  • Highlight your credibility. Describe your purpose and goals. Provide evidence of related accomplishments.

  • Describe the size and nature of your constituency. Explain the importance of your project (and the negative results if the problem is not addressed). Use action verbs to explain what the project will accomplish and how you will measure its success.

  • Include sufficient detail about how you will complete the project.

  • Provide a reasonable and accurate budget, including partner matches.


Review what you’ve written. Watch out for:

  • Lack of consistency or coordination

  • Unrealistic budget

  • Weak outcomes

  • Need for ongoing support with no sure sign of funding


Funders are partners: be courteous, respect their time, know their interests, discuss opportunities, build relationships. If you don’t win the grant, don’t burn bridges. Ask about ways to make your next proposal more competitive. If you win, celebrate!


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Friends Forward Summer 2011

Last updated: September 2, 2011