Lesson 1: Introduction and Grants Basics

Grant Process

The grant writing process is not completed in a vacuum. It is part of a larger process that begins with planning. This is where the broad strokes and details of the funding plan are articulated. The plan forms the basis for conducting research to find potential funding partners. After narrowing down prospects, the proposal will focus on those funders’ interests. It is important to follow up with the funder after the proposal is submitted. Additionally, be sure to maintain good communication with other team members, collaborators, advisors, and funding partners.

Grant Proposal Writing Process

Open Grant Proposal Writing interactive object in a new window

Grant Definitions and Types

There are many different types of grants. Funders may use different terminology or definitions than expected. Let’s use the definition from the Council on Foundations: An award of funds to an organization or individual to undertake charitable activities. This could also be something worth money, like an in-kind contribution, and there is no expectation of repayment or services to be performed.

Some common grant types include: fellowships, travel, research, operating funds, etc. Since not all funders may use the same definitions or terminology, be sure to read any guidelines and restrictions to the funding. It is important to determine whether the money can be used for your purposes.

Applicant Types

Some funders are only able to give directly to nonprofit organizations while others are able to give directly to individuals. You may be eligible for different funding types depending on how you apply. Funders will also wish to know different things about you or your organization based on the application type. We will discuss these further in Lesson 2.


If applying as an individual, funders will want to know about you and your goals in addition to details about your project. Items they wish to know about may include, but are not limited to:

  • Level of study completed
  • Demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, single-parent, returning student, etc.)
  • Citizenship/residency
  • Long-term goals
  • Geographic Location of the activity to be funded

Funding types describe how the money may be spent. Here are some of the ways in which you may receive funding:

  • Study (scholarship, fellowship, doctoral completion, doctoral planning, stipend, etc.)
  • Research
  • Travel
  • Conference attendance


If applying as a nonprofit, funders will want to know about your organization or institution and the needs it fulfills. Here are some of the things funders may consider:

  • Type of organization (e.g., university, research group, lab, hospital, types of populations served, etc.)
  • Geographic location (Wisconsin, Midwest, US, etc.)
  • Population served by the nonprofit

Fiscal Sponsorship

Fiscal sponsorship, or institutional affiliation, is when a nonprofit organization acts as a financial agent on behalf of an individual or other organization that does not have tax exempt status. This may be a good option for individuals and newly formed nonprofit organizations to get access to more funding opportunities. Fiscal sponsors serve as the applicant. The charitable donations or grants get channeled through them to the individual or organization conducting the project. There is usually a contract set up between the sponsor and sponsee.

Common Funder Types

It can be helpful to know what kind of funder you may be approaching as a potential partner. Grants are usually provided by educational institutes, foundations, government agencies, businesses, professional associations, and service clubs. The motivations of a particular funder can inform your approach. While many may overlap, it is good to keep the funder’s mission and past giving history in mind.


  • Educational Institutions: Provide access to educational opportunities at the institution; advance educational mission
  • Foundations
    • Private: fulfill philanthropic goals and interests while supporting a variety of issues through an objective process
    • Public Charities: make an impact in designated communities or regions, or focus on specific population groups or issue areas
    • Company Sponsored: focus more on branding, visibility and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
    • Operating: Run own organization; grants to help others use resources related to the organization
  • Government Agencies: Adhere to tax paying responsibilities to provide services
  • Businesses: focus more on branding, visibility and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Professional Associations: Advance research and involvement in the association’s subject area; assist own members
  • Service Clubs: Generally committed to community service

Summary and Next Steps

This section provides an overall understanding of common grant elements and some of the terms that will appear during the proposal process. The next section will explore creating a researcher funding plan.

Resources and References

Council on Foundations Glossary of Philanthropic Terms
Grantspace Knowledgebase: Glossaries
National Council of Nonprofits: Fiscal Sponsorship for Nonprofits
Grantspace Knowledgebase: Fiscal Sponsorship
UW-Madison Research and Sponsored Programs
Grantspace Knowledgebase: What is a Foundation?
Grantspace Knowledgebase: Corporate Giving