The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need


By Ellen Karsh

By Arlen Sue Fox

Formats and Prices




$30.99 CAD


  1. Trade Paperback $24.99 $30.99 CAD
  2. ebook $16.99 $20.99 CAD
  3. Audiobook Download (Unabridged)

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 5, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From top experts in the field, the definitive guide to grant-writing

Written by two expert authors who have won secured millions of dollars in government and foundation grants, The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need is the classic book on grant seeking, providing a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for government, nonprofit, and individual grant seekers. Drawing on decades of experience in grant writing and professional development, Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox demystify the process of securing grants while offering indispensable advice from funders and recipients.

This updated fifth edition includes:
  • Vital information about grantsmanship in today’s ever-changing economic and social climate
  • In-depth interviews with funders, nonprofit leaders, and policy makers about the grants process
  • A new chapter on how to diversify funding and think “outside the box” when grants are scarce
  • Concrete suggestions for developing each section of a proposal
  • Hands-on exercises that let you practice what you learn
  • A detailed description of important websites for grant seekers
  • Strategies for developing and presenting programs that are likely to receive grants


To Tess Karsh
In Memory of Rubin Karsh and Ruth and Irv Barish

As we are preparing this new edition of The Only Grant Writing Book You’ll Ever Need, the United States and countries around the world are mired in a recession. Although we hope that by the time you are reading the book we are enjoying a strong recovery and a renewed sense of optimism, it is likely that when it hits the shelves your day-to-day life won’t reflect a boom or a bust, but something in between. No matter what is going on today, we have learned the hard way that the outlook can change almost overnight for a million different reasons (some of which we probably can’t even imagine). We understand from firsthand experience just how fluid the economy can be, and how unpredictable life is. We lived through 9/11 and its fallout. We watched hurricanes—especially Katrina and Rita in 2005, but also Ike and Gustav in 2008—clobber people and their cities and towns. We experienced the catastrophic economic meltdown of 2008, and we hope we will never forget that few—very few—economists, business leaders, and seasoned politicians predicted (let alone planned for) the devastation it would cause.
With all that’s going on, has the grants process changed? Yes, in the sense that the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression is taking a terrible toll on grants. Money is scarce. Those of you who write grant proposals in this new climate need to figure out how to convince grantmakers to fund your programs and projects when dollars are scarce . . . and, frankly, when you are desperate. But no, in the sense that the nuts and bolts, the key elements of a solid grant proposal haven’t changed.
To better understand the distinction we are making, take a look at our national pastime, baseball. Even if you’re not a fan, even if you don’t know Babe Ruth from your Aunt Ruth, you may have overheard people lamenting that “baseball has changed.” What these folks probably mean is that they liked the supposedly good old days of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio a lot better than they like these bad new days of astronomically high salaries for coddled players and the off-the-charts ticket prices they have to shell out to see a ball game.
But the game of baseball hasn’t changed one lick. A pitcher still has to throw a ball 60 feet 6 inches to home plate and prevent the guy in the batter’s box with a hunk of lumber on his shoulder from getting a hit. A batter has to hit the pitched ball, just as he had to do 50 years ago, so he can get around the bases to score a run for his team. As in the good old days, today’s infielders must acrobatically snare hard ground balls, out-fielders must gracefully shag line drives, and base runners must motor quickly and slide smartly.
No, baseball hasn’t changed. But the climate in which baseball is played has changed.
Similarly, preparing a grant proposal hasn’t changed but the climate has. What we have tried to do in this new edition of The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need is to suggest how you can succeed in the new climate. Like baseball players, who may start younger, practice harder, eat better, stay healthier, and use better equipment, today’s grant seekers have to be better and more diligent at doing the homework we talk about in this book. You need to push program staff to make your organization’s programs even more comprehensive, more carefully thought out, more relevant. And, of course, you must write grant proposals that are clearer than ever, with transparent budgets and rigorous evaluation plans. Some grantmakers have said that in this economy nonprofits must think outside the box. And as much as we hate clichés, sometimes they make sense.
In the first two editions of The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need, we suggested that “grant writing” is one of those seemingly innocent terms that tap into many of our neuroses. We still think that grant writing triggers quite a bit of angst, probably even more now, but perhaps our neuroses have changed.
• Neurosis 1. It’s not just terrorist attacks or hurricanes or tsunamis. Now it’s the economy. Isn’t it selfish of me to ask perfect strangers for money when others may need it more than I do?
• Neurosis 2. For that matter, what’s the point of writing a grant proposal when there’s probably no money for anyone these days?
• Neurosis 3. When I look at Craigslist or Idealist and see the demanding qualifications for development specialists, how can I imagine I could write a decent grant proposal when I feel self-conscious writing an email to my mother?
Over the last decade, the events of September 11, followed by hurricanes and other natural disasters and now an economic meltdown have put more pressure on all of us to overcome the panic associated with writing a winning grant proposal. As many newly minted writers approach their task, they often may feel clueless about the grants process and how they fit into it. What is a grant? Who is eligible for one? What are the restrictions on grant funds? How do I even begin to write an effective proposal?
And, of course, even the most experienced development staff can’t help worrying about the competition for dollars from new grant seekers.
This new edition of The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need is for everyone—those who know nothing about grants and those who know a thing or two . . . or much more. Although most grants are awarded to organizations rather than individuals, the strategies we describe here apply equally to funding opportunities available to individuals—writers, artists, scholars, researchers. And although some grant applications (e.g., in the sciences) seem so highly technical and other applications seem totally—and, perhaps, deceptively—simple, you can be certain that the same principles apply, no matter how overwhelmingly complicated or unbelievably simple the application looks.
The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need organizes the whole grant-seeking experience into three parts (preparation, proposal writing, and follow-up) and 18 lessons, each lesson designed as if it were a workshop, starting with opening remarks, followed by a set of discussion questions, and concluding with a short “pop quiz.” These are questions for you, the reader, to mull over or work through before you move on to the next lesson. (The quizzes give you an opportunity to practice what we preach, so we hope you give them a shot.)
There’s a lot more to grantsmanship than just the proposal, all of which we’ll talk about later. But we were feeling so daunted by the fear that money for grants is drying up that we thought we had to ask grantmakers about their experience with the economic crisis. And we thought what they had to say was so useful that we wanted to give you the benefit of their thoughts before we went any further. So we’re starting this edition off with what we’re calling an economic summit (how’s that for a lofty sounding heading in a little book on grants?). This new section, following the introduction, includes the diverse views of the economy from grantmakers we interviewed for this book.
After the economic summit, Part I starts you off with prerequisite lessons: identifying who you and/or your organization are; what kind of funding you should be looking for; where to look for it; and how to make sense of grant-application packages. Although this part seems to be directed primarily to newer proposal writers, we think that it includes some useful updated information and refreshers for even the most experienced among you.
Part II starts with our philosophy about proposal writing as part of a program planning, development, and evaluation process. We discuss some “intangibles” and assumptions about proposals that you won’t find anywhere else. Two writing chapters give you some rules and guidelines for confronting that blank page, and the opportunity to practice writing sections of a grant proposal. Then we take you through the process of developing each element of a typical grant proposal.
In Part III, we walk you through the next steps after you learn whether you have been approved for funding—or not.
At the end of each part, we present a lively funders’ roundtable, giving you the responses of a large and diverse group of grantmakers from government funding agencies and foundations to a slew of pertinent questions on the topics and issues covered in that part. Their answers will help even experienced grant writers gain new insight into the grant process and an understanding of what the money people really look for.
Throughout the lessons, we share our own experience in proposal writing. Over the years—and throughout many and varying economic and political climates—each of us has won tens of millions of dollars worth of grants, and we believe now more than ever that our skills are readily transferable.
These lessons and funders’ roundtables are followed by our updated appendices. Appendix 1 offers 50 tips to improve your chances of winning a grant (drawn from our own experiences, the comments of our panel of grantmakers, and other successful grant seekers). Appendix 2 is a proposal checklist you can use to make sure you have pushed all the right buttons. (We urge you to create your own checklist for each new proposal that you plan to write.) Appendix 3 is an updated glossary of common terms used in the grants world. Appendix 4 presents sample application forms, including the Washington-area common grant application; Form SF-424, the cover page of most federal applications, and sample letters to grantmakers. Appendix 5 contains a representative list of community foundations across the country; these foundations are a good place to start your search for grants. We think you will appreciate the updated Appendix 6, a list of useful foundation and government websites. Appendix 7 provides the answers to the pop quizzes (when there are any right answers) with brief explanations.
There are some important differences among grant seekers: those from government agencies, those who are applying for funding for not-for-profit organizations of all sizes, and individual artists and scholars seeking money to pay for their projects. There also are enormous differences between smaller and newer nonprofits and the larger, more experienced organizations, some with a great diversity of funding and with their own development departments. Although the overriding principles of grantsmanship are the same for all—develop a high-quality program and use the proposal to convince the grantmaker of your capacity to implement and sustain it, in some lessons we’ll examine differences among nonprofits, individual grant seekers, and government agencies, and between larger and smaller nonprofits and grassroots organizations. Generally, however, our focus is on the approaches and strategies that all grant seekers will need to use.
We’ve presented two lessons focused on actual writing skills. We think these chapters are important for most readers because they address the continuing concerns of many grantmakers about what they see as a lack of writing skills in the proposals they receive. So in Lesson 6 we’ve laid out 12 rules of stylish (grant proposal) writing—with examples of how to apply the rules in a proposal. In Lesson 7, we describe in great detail a fictitious organization that is seeking funding for a new program, and we ask you to organize the material as the funder requires and do quite a bit of editing (following our rules for good writing, of course). The writing chapters will be helpful to beginning proposal writers but, maybe surprisingly, to seasoned writers as well.
We hope that by the time you’ve finished all of the lessons you will have internalized our rules for proposal writing; identified a compelling problem; chosen the partners necessary to help you; decided on a program or activity that you’re sure will solve your problem; determined that your program is appropriate for either a government or a foundation grant; figured out the best grant-seeking strategy; and prepared a proposal to a prospective funder. We also hope that you will feel more relaxed about the prospect of writing a grant proposal, more self-confident as you write, and more optimistic about receiving funding for your projects. (That’s not expecting too much, is it?)
Throughout the book, we have tried to demystify the process of developing programs, writing proposals, and winning grants so that anyone—even those with the least experience—can succeed. We don’t think it’s too grandiose (well, maybe just a tiny bit) to say that this really will be the only grant-writing book you’ll ever need.


Before we continue, we want to explain a little about the funders’ roundtables, a feature of the book that we continue to find very exciting. As you’ll recognize if you’re a longtime grant seeker, or as you will understand one of these days, experienced proposal writers can become a little presumptuous at times and, at least where grants are concerned, turn into opinionated know-it-alls about how to do it. Because we had written so many proposals and won millions of dollars in grant funding (we’re not mentioning right now how many grants we didn’t win); because we’d attended so many bidders’ conferences where grant applications were explained in minute detail and participated in so many foundation workshops; because we’d read the newsletters, taken (and given) grant-writing seminars, and spoken with so many grantmakers over the years, we came to feel pretty sure we knew what funders wanted.
But still, we can confide in you: We were secretly a little afraid that maybe we really didn’t know exactly what grantmakers think, want, like, hate, or love. So we decided to talk with funders representing foundations of all sizes (giving grants for as little as a $25 savings bond and as much as many millions of dollars) in all parts of the country, as well as with government funders. And we got some insights and surprises that made the effort worthwhile for us and, we hope, for you. Because the first edition was written after the attacks of 9/11, we asked grantmakers about the impact of terrorism on grant funding. Not to suggest we’re a jinx, but for the second edition, written just after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we asked funders about the effects of natural disasters, disaster planning, and other issues on the grants landscape. And this time we’ve asked about funding in and for an economic meltdown. Maybe we shouldn’t consider any new editions . . .
Although we call our conversations funders’ roundtables, in the spirit of complete disclosure we must admit that we didn’t hold an actual roundtable. Instead, we interviewed each grantmaker separately, following essentially the same interview format. We wanted to give the interviewees our undivided attention and the opportunity to frame their answers independently and without being distracted by things other panelists said. We also wanted to be able to ask plenty of follow-up questions in response to their remarks.
A word on the roundtable format: Many of the grantmakers were perfectly happy to speak on the record, but others felt that they would have to hold back—limit themselves—if they were going to be quoted directly, or even if they were only acknowledged by name in the book. Because our purpose in interviewing grantmakers was to get frank, uninhibited advice to proposal writers, we decided not to quote anyone directly. The grantmakers whom we interviewed couldn’t have been more forthcoming, more giving of their time, more willing to share their expertise and insights, or more clearly committed to the needs of grant seekers and their communities. Whether we name them in the acknowledgments or not, we are deeply grateful to all of them.

Is this the worst possible time to be searching for grants? Well, we have to admit that it’s not the best. But it’s not an overstatement to suggest that grants are more important—and much more competitive—than ever. The good old days when organizations large and small might submit a short $50,000 request for funding to a friendly foundation were (relatively) stress-free times for grant seekers. As we write, even organizations that have been able to support programs through generous individual and corporate donations and sponsorships, gala fundraisers, and endowments. in addition to grants, are finding their resources dwindling as the market affects donors’ financial capacity and their own investments.
In preparing this third edition, we have debated whether strategies for developing and writing successful grant proposals have really changed in this economic crisis—or if it is only the climate in which grants are written that has changed. When we wrote the first edition, we had recently lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As we prepared the second edition, we confronted the natural disasters of 2005—the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi, Rita’s destruction in Florida, and the earthquake in Pakistan. As we worked on the third edition, we watched the emergence of the worst economic crisis in 80 years. The huge outpouring of financial donations, personal assistance, and other support by individuals, businesses, and foundations after the earlier disasters was as heartening as the disasters were horrifying. We appreciated grantmakers’ decisions to set aside funding specifically for disaster recovery, while working to maintain their normal level of giving for ongoing programs. But the times were different then; the economy was stronger. We wondered whether the economic meltdown would have a greater impact on giving than the other disasters; we expected it would but we weren’t certain how the impact would be felt. So we asked—and in this initial roundtable we want to share with you what grantmakers and other people involved with the grants process had to say about how the current, challenging economic climate is affecting the world of grants.
It goes without saying that different funding organizations are weathering the changed climate differently. Some foundations’ endowments haven’t been hit as hard as others’. Some government agencies—those dealing with antiterrorism and emergency management, for instance—may have more money available for grants than agencies that support the arts. And all grant seekers aren’t finding the sledding equally tough. Some large not-for-profits may not have been hit as hard as smaller ones; some college endowments have fared better in this economy than others. But we want to give you at least a smattering of viewpoints before you start the grants process.
You should be aware that this Economic Summit covers much more than writing a proposal. Later funders roundtables will go into detail about the proposal itself. Here we address fundraising more broadly, because that’s the way funders are talking about it these days.

“So What’s the Fallout for Philanthropy?”

The first thing we asked each member of our diverse panel was a question that the New York Times raised in November 2008, after the collapse of the housing markets, Wall Street’s meltdown, and the worldwide string of bank failures. We were curious to know how grantmakers were reacting to the economy—whether they were as stunned as we were by the suddenness of the crash or whether they (miraculously) saw it coming. And, of course, we wondered how the downturn affected their grantmaking activities.
One funder bluntly acknowledged that the “economic meltdown throws a wet blanket over philanthropy.” She said that, to the best of her knowledge, typical foundations lost about 30 percent of the value of their investments as the markets crashed—just as hers did—but some lost 50 percent and more. “Our investment advisors aren’t the stupidest guys in the room,” she explained. “That’s just the way it is.” Most of the funders already were thinking hard about philanthropy, and their first responses to our question tended to offer a self-assessment.
What are we grantmakers doing about it? “The economy has forced us to take a pause and look at what we’ve been doing,” one said. Most funders agreed that, in a dire economic climate, taking a hard look at their own strategies and practices is a good idea. “We’re waiting to see what’s happening and what will happen,” a panelist explained. “This economy invites us to be self-critical.” The self-examination extended beyond grantmaking. One funder wondered whether the foundation “needs all the space we rent—could we work from home instead?”
“Look,” said a grantmaker, “when the economy is going badly, it is important for the philanthropic sector to help floundering groups that rely on grant funds so it’s not a ‘survival of the fittest’ contest. In a recession, philanthropists need to analyze their giving strategies so they are more responsive to the needs of the groups that are vying for support.” Another funder hoped that foundations would take on other responsibilities—advocacy for instance—and not just write smaller and smaller checks in a poor economy.
On a more positive note, one grantmaker reminded us that, “while many of us took an enormous hit, some foundations and some individuals still have considerable wealth.” Another funder reassuringly promised that her foundation was maintaining its level of funding. “We’re committed to multiyear grants—they give stability to grantees.” And still another told us an anecdote about a foundation actually giving out more money in this dire economic climate, because it had never expected to be around this long anyway.
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that, in a time of economic crisis, “the fallout for philanthropy” is pretty much the fallout for everyone else. Philanthropic organizations aren’t immune from world events (and most philanthropists didn’t see the economic meltdown coming any more than economists, government leaders, or the rest of us did), and it is a good idea always to remember that grantmakers aren’t cash cows. As one funder put it, “Foundations need to be modest—in this economy, we should use our money to leverage money. “
Today, it’s not just foundations that are tightening their belts. State and municipal government agencies—which receive as well as give grants—not only are slashing their own funding to local providers but also are being asked to find new resources in the wake of huge city and state cutbacks. This is a challenge some city agencies have never faced before. One funder explained, “The Mayor is pushing agencies to seek alternative funding sources—saying, ‘If you want your budget to be whole, you’d better find other funding.’” And just in case anyone thinks help is on the way from private philanthropy, a foundation funder warned us that “We [foundations] can’t fill government holes, so cities and states had better not expect us to come to the rescue.” (This funder did admit that “Once in a while we will come to the rescue if the need is very great and we don’t see other options.”)
And now (more than ever) we’re asking, “Why do you need the money?” A grantmaker from a small foundation explained that since the downturn, “money feels twice as precious and now I want to make very sure that ‘best practices’ are being utilized by grantees.” A funder from a large foundation agreed. “We ask, ‘Do you really need that amount of money to do what you say you want to do?’ You’d better sell us on why you need the specific amount you’re requesting. Grantmakers know how much things cost!” A government grantmaker chimed in with a similar reminder. “We’re very experienced about cost. Don’t ask for $2 million for something that costs $250,000.” Another panelist added, “We’re looking hard at what we want to do because—pure and simple—we have to do less. We’re raising the bar. Money is worth more.”

“If You Are Cutting Back on Funding, Are You Focusing on Fewer Causes (for Example Food and Shelter but not Arts and Education) or Are You Cutting Grants Across the Board?”

With endowments down, portfolios diminished, and government finances in deep trouble, we wondered whether funders who needed to cut back on funding were using a particular strategy to make the cuts.
As we were researching this edition, we read countless articles suggesting—or predicting—that many funders would eliminate all grants that did not have to do with feeding or sheltering people. Surprisingly, most of the funders we spoke to were not changing their priorities, although—we hate to say this—some had to stop giving grants altogether and some saw the downturn as a good time to institute new policies that they were considering anyway.
We’ll keep our priorities and honor current grants and grantees—but some things may change. According to one funder, “Most grantmakers aren’t going to change their priorities—though some all-over-the-map family foundations might respond to the dire headlines by only giving to organizations with new, compelling needs.” This grantmaker went on to explain that in many cases a foundation that wanted to sponsor an initiative around, say, foreclosures, would handle it through a set-aside or a special fund, as had happened after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Another funder agreed. “We will be considering some emergency grants—feeding programs, for instance—but these will not impact the rest of our grant giving.” And still another added that in this economy “we are asking other organizations to join us when a problem is identified. We get the best and the brightest together to address ways to tackle the problem as a group—and we get financial contributions—then we create a special fund specifically to deal with the problem we identified. If hunger is an emergency issue in the community, for example, we will create a challenge grant that we make available to local groups working on this problem in ways we believe are likely to make a significant impact.”


On Sale
Nov 5, 2019
Page Count
448 pages
Basic Books

Ellen Karsh

About the Author

Ellen Karsh was the director of the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Grants Administration for more than seven years under both Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg, and previously developed and wrote grants for the New York City Department of Education for five years. She received her doctorate in special education from Teachers College, Columbia University and has written for Newsweek and the New York Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author

Arlen Sue Fox

About the Author

Arlen Sue Fox was director of research, planning, and evaluation for the New York City Commission on Human Rights for ten years and consultant to nonprofit organizations, from small grassroots groups to national organizations including AARP, for twelve years. Recently retired from a position as executive director for development at Sunnyside Community Services, she is currently writing and editing. Fox lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author