Corporate grant proposals: boosting your chances for success

publication date: Oct 7, 2011
author/source: James Temple

It’s that time of year again: back to school, back to business, and of course, request for proposals for corporate grants piling in.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll see a variety of announcements from major companies who are prepared to give out thousands of dollars to nonprofits in need. How do you make your proposal stand out from the rest? James Temple photo

Here are some pointers to help make a great corporate grant proposal:

Do your research and customize your pitch

Get to know the company or foundation that you’re applying to.  Visit its website and look for information about where and why it’s given out funds in the past. 

Make sure to look for opportunities to go beyond transactional philanthropy. See if you can integrate volunteer experiences, board training or skill development into the customized experience your charity can offer as a value(s) add.

Also be sure to review important information about the company and spell its name correctly on the application – something people often miss (believe it or not!). 

Don’t reframe questions – you won’t make them ‘better’

Corporate grant applications are designed to help the reviewer look at critical information that balances both the philanthropic, strategic and commercial goals of the business, and the outcomes it hopes to achieve through its community work. 

It’s important to answer each question in a direct and honest way, being sure to add lots of examples and data to back up your claims.  Never attempt to re-write a question or provide an answer you feel is a better response.  The corporate grant reviewer will be looking for specific elements in each of the answers based on the questions the company has developed.

Balance your passion with your business

It’s always important to keep the focus of your application on the facts behind why your organization (or program) provides a great fit with a corporation’s funding interests.  In most cases, this information provides the basis for a business case for a reviewers to bring to their leadership teams or board of directors for approval.  Make sure to keep your passion in check and help the grant reviewer focus on the core business issue (not the emotion behind it).

Need clarity? Call!

Corporate grant reviewers are nice people!  In most cases, they’d prefer to have you call if you have questions rather than taking a guess about information you see in their grant application.  The reviewer can help walk you through the application and provide detailed information about what the corporation is looking for and how to position your responses.  In some cases, the reviewer can provide you feedback on an initial draft!

As basic as these tips may seem, they can make a big difference in helping you formulate stronger and more effective corporate grant applications.  Sometimes we forget the simple things that end up strengthening the case. It’s easy to overlook the small stuff when you’re bogged down with extra work and are faced with doing customized pitches to a never-ending list of potential donors. But the devil is in the details. 

From my point of view, it always comes back to refreshing our skills and looking for new ways to augment our capabilities as grant writers, reviewers and educators.

On September 12, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation launched its annual Leadership Grants request for proposals. This signature project provides funding for leaders and board members of small to medium-sized charities who require funding to support professional development initiatives.  For more information, visit

James Temple is the director of corporate responsibility for PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada and director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation. He oversees a team responsible for integrating good social, environmental and economic values into PwC’s decision-making processes.  

James is a featured presenter at international conferences, speaking on the value of developing strong corporate-community partnerships.  He co-chairs the Association of Corporate Grantmakers and sits on the Advisory Board for the Institute at Havergal College.

Contact him at 416-815-5224, by email, or visit

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