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    Developing A Grant Program At Your Animal Sanctuary

    An image of a person's arm resting on a desk, writing on forms. A coffee mug is in the background.
    Grants can be a very valuable source of funding for your animal organization. To learn about all that goes into creating an effective grants program, read on!

    Resource Acknowledgment 
    The following resource was written for The Open Sanctuary Project by guest contributor Chrissy Dinardo. Chrissy is a freelance fundraising professional with experience as a Development Manager at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and Development Director at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary. She is passionate about ending animal exploitation and inspiring people to extend their compassion to farmed animals.


    Fundraising can be a challenge and an opportunity for nonprofits, and is an ever present need for animal organizations! You can check out some basics on how to raise money for your animal organization here, and how to develop a fundraising plan here! The purpose of this resource is to focus on a very important area when it comes to fundraising: how to develop a grant program! Incorporating grants into your fundraising strategy will not only help diversify your funding, but you may be able to get specific funding for projects and programs that might be difficult to fund from other forms of fundraising. 

    What Are Grants And Foundations?

    A grant is a gift of money that does not need to be paid back. They are often given for specific projects and programs and can be paid by private or public funding sources. In this resource, we will be discussing grants made by private foundations. A private foundation is an independent legal entity set up for charitable purposes and can be funded by a family, a company, or a group of like-minded individuals. A common way for foundations to disperse money is through grants. Nonprofits can apply to foundations to receive grants to fund their charitable work. Grants can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of millions of dollars, there’s really no limit!

    Before you begin developing your grant program, identify who within your organization will be responsible for this program. If you have a development team member, this would be their responsibility. If you are a smaller operation, your grants program can often fall on your founder(s). If that’s the case, see if there is anyone in your community who can help support you with your grants program. 

    Make Sure You Have Capacity To Support Your Grant Program!
    Grants require research to find, and grant recipients may often have to do follow up work, for example, demonstrating the impact of the funds that they received on their programming. This follow up work can require time and care, and making sure you have a designated person who is responsible for it is very important! 

    Hiring A Grant Professional

    If after reading through this article, you feel that you don’t have the bandwidth to develop a grant program, consider hiring a grant professional. When considering hiring a grant writer, know that grant writers may charge by the hour or by the project, but may NOT charge a percentage of the grant. Paying a grant writer a commission or a percentage of the grant has been considered unethical by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association and is also in contrast to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for nonprofit fundraising. Additionally, it would likely greatly reduce your likelihood of getting the grant, so do not plan to pay your grant writer that way. 

    When looking at this option, consider how well the professional knows your sanctuary, mission, and impact. It’s important that these are conveyed in an accurate and compelling manner in your grant application. And keep in mind that while hiring a grant writer is always an option, we hope that this article leaves you feeling empowered to begin applying to grants and receiving the money that is available to do your lifesaving work!

    Grant Research

    After you have your research, writing, and follow-up responsibilities assigned, you can start researching grants and identifying grant making foundations that care about farmed animals and may be interested in providing funding to your sanctuary. Research is an extremely important part of a grants program and though it can be time-consuming and arduous, high quality research can pay massive dividends. The research process includes: 

    • Identifying potential foundations;
    • Understanding their priorities; 
    • And learning how they prefer to give. 

    Once you have done this, you can develop a proposal that has the highest chance of getting funded. Research is largely done online but there is also a relational component where you can learn more about the foundation, and they can learn more about you, through conversations with a program officer.

    Identifying Foundation Prospects

    When it comes to the first step of grant research, you’ll want to start close to home, by looking at your organization’s history of prior funding. Then you can branch out by exploring community and local grant opportunities. Finally, you can search more broadly by using directories to look for potential donors and grants! To learn more about each, read on! 

    Prior Funding And Referral

    It’s always best to go for low hanging fruit first! Look at your fundraising history and see if you have received donations from foundations previously. Sometimes donors give through their foundations without you having to submit an application, so you might be surprised to find some hidden foundation donations! 

    You can also let your board members and major donors know that you are looking to diversify your funding and are building out your grants program. Ask them if they know of any grant making foundations who might be interested in funding you. If they’ve been in the space a while, they may know of vegan foundations that like to fund sanctuaries, and help you forge a connection! 

    Community Foundations And Local Grants

    Community foundations are public organizations that typically focus on supporting nonprofits in a certain geographical area by pooling donations and providing grants to local nonprofits and supporting community needs. They often offer grants geared towards different community needs. Search online or ask around in your community about your local community foundation for grants that may be applicable to you.

    We will talk more about developing a relationship with foundations below, but when developing a relationship with a community foundation, you can also ask their program officer if they know of any other foundations who provide grants locally. Specifically ask if they know of foundations that fund animal causes.

    Finding Foundations And Grants Through Directories

    There are a number of grant directories you can tap into that will be more fruitful in finding aligned foundations than a generic online search. While there are many paid directories like GrantStation and GrantWatch, there are also many free resources you can use to save precious funds for your lifesaving work. is a free database that pulls information from organizations’ Form 990-PFs. A Form 990-PF is a nonprofit private foundation’s tax return, and provides foundation information, the names of organizations they are funding, the purpose of their grants, and grant amounts.

    A more comprehensive resource that you can access for free is Candid’s Foundation Directory. This powerhouse tool compiles public information about grant making organizations and nonprofits. Using this tool, you can look up foundations according to specific funding priorities, locations, and grant size, and you can also look up similar nonprofits and see what foundation grants they’ve received. While you would need to pay for a subscription to use this tool at your sanctuary, many libraries around the world have subscriptions to the Foundation Directory that you can use for free. Find the closest library to you here. To make the most of your research time, you can export search results and continue to do research outside of the library. Check out Candid’s video on how to use their foundation prospecting tool.

    A full list of free grant resources can be found here for you to peruse, however, be mindful not to overwhelm yourself with research options.

    Some ways to utilize a grants database include:

    • Search for keywords and areas of interest, including animal advocacy, farmed animals, vegan, vegetarian, specific animal species (chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, etc), animal rights, animal sanctuary, farmed animal sanctuary, etc;.
    • Search nonprofits who have similar missions and if their foundation funders accept unsolicited requests;
    • And search for foundations that fund nonprofits in your local area.

    Understanding Foundation’s Priorities And Learning How They Prefer To Give

    Once you have done the above research work to identify foundation prospects, it’s time to take a look at your prospects and see if their priorities align with your work. Signs that a foundation may be interested in funding your work include a mix of the below:

    • They fund other animal organizations, including rescues, animal advocacy organizations, shelters, or sanctuaries (especially farmed animal sanctuaries);
    • They fund vegan organizations;
    • They fund organizations of your size;
    • They fund numerous nonprofits in your geographic area;
    • They are local to your area;
    • They have an existing relationship with you or your board members;
    • And they have funded projects that your sanctuary is interested in.

    Another way to pinpoint whether your foundation prospects may be a match for your organization is to have a look at their Form 990-PFs, or foundation tax returns. We’ll offer you some guidance on how to do that next, as well as how you can learn how these foundations prefer to give!

    Decoding Form 990-PFs

    After identifying a potential funder, take a look at their Form 990-PFs to gain insight into the organizations they fund, how and when to apply, who to contact, the size of grants made, and what programs they prefer to fund. 990s are forms filed with the IRS by tax-exempt organizations, and a 990-PF is specific to private foundations. You can find a foundation’s 990-PFs on their Guidestar profile. Guidestar automatically lists all 501(c) organizations, so most foundations should have a profile. You can also search on the Internal Revenue Service’s tax exempt organization search page. Keep in mind that there has been some delay in posting updated Form 990s as a function of the Covid pandemic, so you might not always have access to the most up-to-date information. 

    For foundations without a website, their 990-PF will likely be the best source of information for you to find out their giving interests and how to apply for funding. Looking at a 990-PF for the first time can be very overwhelming because they can be large documents. For grant research purposes, you only need to familiarize yourself with a few relevant sections to get the information you need. We’ll offer you visual references and explanations below!

    The first section of Form 990-PF contains basic contact information for the organization in question in the header. See how the foundation refers to themself and be sure to refer to them in the same way in your correspondence and application materials. Line 25 will show the total grants paid from the past year.

    This is a picture of the first page of IRS Form 990-PF, which is the Return of a Private Foundation. This is dated 2022. The relevant portions discussed are the top portion, which calls for:
The name of foundation
Employer identification number
Telephone Number.

The second relevant section is towards the bottom of the page, and is labeled Line 25. This Line is where you would find all contributions, gifts, and grants paid by the foundation.
    Page 1 of the 2022 IRS Form 990-PF, showing Part I. Check out the header for basic information, and Line 25 for the total amount of grants that the organization has disbursed!

    Another important source of information on 990-PFs is Part VII. This Part lists the foundation’s officers, directors, trustees, foundation managers and staff members. See if you, your board members, volunteers, or any donors you have a close relationship with have a connection to anyone at the foundation and leverage that connection. You can also use this section to identify a point of contact if you can’t find a program officer. Look for the person who spends the most time on the foundation and address your materials to them.

    This is a portion of Part VII of IRS Form 990-PF dated after 2021. It is titled "Information About Officers, Directors, Trustees, Foundation Managers, Highly Paid Employees, and Contractors. 

There are five columns.

The first is for the name and address of the person in question.

The second is for their title, and the average hours per week devoted to their position.

The third is for their compensation. If they are not paid it should be filled in with a 0. 

The fourth is for their contributions to employee benefit plans and deferred compensation. 

The fifth is for their expense account and other allowances.
    A portion of Part VII of the 2022 IRS Form 990-PF, which lists the organization’s officers, directors, trustees, foundation managers, and key employees.

    Now let’s look at possibly one of the most important sections on the Form 990-PF for your research: the portion that gives you information on requesting funding. Please note that in 2021, the IRS changed Form 990-PF. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has also been a delay when it comes to the IRS posting the most recent returns of non-profit organizations on their site. As a result, it may be possible that the only Form 990-PFs that you will have access to in your research predates the change in the form. As a result, we’re going to go over where you can find this information on the Form 990-PF used prior to 2021, as well as where it can be found on the current Form 990-PF.

    On Form 990-PFs submitted prior to 2021, this information is found in Section XV, which is often around page 10. Take a look at line 2: if this checkbox is left blank, the foundation is open to receiving unsolicited requests for information and you can find relevant application information in the preceding boxes. If this box is checked, don’t give up! See if you have a direct connection to the foundation and utilize that. You can also write them a request asking for permission to submit a proposal. The best way to do this is through a letter of inquiry (LOI) which we will describe below. If you build a strong case in this letter as to why you are a great nonprofit to partner with for them to achieve their mission, you are more likely to be welcomed to submit a proposal.

    This is a portion of an IRS Form 990-PF that was dated prior to 2021. It is labelled Part XV and is titled "Supplementary Information (Complete this part only if the foundation had $5,000 or more in assets at any time during the year - see instructions) 

The relevant part of this section is Line 2, which reads "Information Regarding Contribution, Grant, Gift, Loan, Scholarship, etc., Programs:" Underneath this header, it has a check box and reads "Check here if the foundation only makes contributions to preselected charitable organizations and does not accept unsolicited requests for funds. If the foundation makes gifts, grants, etc. to individuals or organizations under other conditions, complete items 2a, b, c, and d. See instructions."

2a asks for "the name, address, and telephone number or email address of the person to whom applications should be addressed." 

2b asks for "the form in which applications should be submitted and information and materials they should include." 

2c asks for "any submission deadlines." 

2d asks for "any restrictions or limitations on awards, such as by geographical areas, charitable fields, kinds of institutions, or other factors."
    Form 990-PF Prior To 2021. Part XV, Line 2 indicates whether or not the foundation is open to receiving unsolicited requests for funds. On this Form, the foundation has indicated that they do NOT give contributions to unsolicited applicants.

    After the application information, in Section XV, Line 3 you will find a list of the funding recipients for that year, accompanied by what the grant was for and the grant size. If the foundation has a long list of recipients, this may be documented in an additional data table later in the 990-PF. This is where you will want to spend a majority of your time. Look to see the types of nonprofits they fund, if they fund other animal organizations, what the missions of those nonprofits are and where they are located, what types of projects and programs are funded, and the grant sizes. Look for patterns, average gift size, and smallest and largest gift sizes.

    This is a section of IRS Form 990-PF dated prior to 2021. It is Labeled Part XV Line 3. It is titled "Grants and contributions paid during the year or approved for future payment." 

Underneath is a chart with five columns. 

The first column is for recipient information, including name and address.

The second column asks "If the recipient is an individual, show any relationship to any foundation manager or substantial contributor." 

The third column asks for the foundation status of the recipient.

The fourth column asks for the purpose of grant or contribution.

The final column asks for the amount of the grant or contribution.
    Form 990-PF Prior To 2021. Part XV, Line 3 lists the foundation’s funding recipients for that year, accompanied by what the grant was for and the grant size.

    If you’re looking at a Form 990-PF that is dated 2021 or later, you will have to look in a different spot to find this information. If you’re looking to find out if a foundation is accepting unsolicited grant applications, you will look at Part XIV, Line 2. If the box is checked, the foundation is not currently accepting unsolicited requests, but again, don’t give up hope and follow our advice above!

    This is a section of IRS Form 990-PF dated after 2021. It is labelled Part XIV and is titled "Supplementary Information." 

The relevant portion is line 2, which is titled "Information Regarding Contribution, Grant, Gift, Loan, Scholarship, etc., Programs. It has a check box, and says "Check here if the foundation only makes contributions to preselected charitable organizations and does not accept unsolicited requests for funds. If the foundation makes gifts, grants, etc., to individuals or organizations under other conditions, complete items 2a, b, c, and d. 

2a requires "the name, address, and telephone number or email address of the person to whom applications should be addressed." 

2b asks for the form in which applications should be submitted and information and materials they should include.

2c asks for any submission deadlines.

2d asks for any restrictions or limitations on awards, such as by geographical areas, charitable fields, kinds of institutions, or other factors.
    Form 990-PF After 2021. Part XIV, Line 2 indicates whether or not the foundation is open to receiving unsolicited requests for funds.

    If you are looking on a 990-PF dated 2021 or later and seeking the list of funding recipients for that year, you will find it in Part VIX. Just remember that if there is a long list of recipients, it may be in a data table later in the 990-PF.

    This is a portion of IRS Form 990-PF labeled Part XIV from after 2021, and titled "Supplementary Information." 

This is line 3 of this section, which lists "Grants and contributions paid during the year or approved for future payment." 

It has a table with five columns. 

The first is labeled "recipient," and asks for the name and address of each recipient. 

The second column asks "if the recipient is an individual, show any relationship to any foundation manager or substantial contributor." 

The third column asks for the foundation status of the recipient. 

The fourth column asks for the purpose of the grant or contribution. 

The final column asks for the amount of the contribution.
    Form 990-PF after 2021. Part XIV, Line 3 lists the foundation’s funding recipients for that year, accompanied by what the grant was for and the grant size.

    Staying Organized With A Grants Database

    Tracking your research effectively in a database can make all the difference in organization of your grants program. Not only will it keep you on track, but it will allow for seamless transition if you add more people to your grants team.

    Some customer relationship management platforms (“CRMs”) have fields for grant tracking, or you can create custom fields to track the above information. Another simple way to track is in a spreadsheet, which may be easiest if you have volunteers outside of your organization helping you with your research and applications.

    Here are some things that will be helpful to track when doing your grants research:

    • The name of the foundation.
    • The foundation location. Are they located near you? If not, do they fund organizations that are not in their geographic area? Do they fund any other out-of-state sanctuaries?
    • The program officer contact information.
    • The foundation’s total assets.
    • The largest, smallest, and average grant amount. If they fund other animal organizations, what amounts do they give? What size are the other animal organizations they fund?
    • The average first-time grant amount.
    • The foundation mission statement. Does it align in any way with your sanctuary’s mission?
    • The foundation’s funding areas of interest. Do they fund similar projects or programs that you are interested in getting funding for?
    • The other nonprofits that they fund. Do they fund other sanctuaries or animal organizations?
    • The foundation’s website.
    • Whether the foundation accepts unsolicited requests for funds.
    • Funding application deadlines and other notable dates.
    • Your history with the foundation, including application dates, requested and awarded amounts.

    In addition to tracking deadlines in your grants database, you may find it helpful to create a calendar to track key dates like: 

    • Initial contact; 
    • Letter of inquiry submissions; 
    • Application deadlines; 
    • Grant award dates; 
    • Report submissions;
    • And stewardship touchpoints. 

    You can create a calendar in a spreadsheet and have it as part of your grants database, add dates to your CRM, and/or add them to your work calendar. Adding these dates to a calendar will help you stay on track in your applications, keep up with deadlines, and ensure that you are making progress in developing a relationship with foundations.

    Considering Project Alignment

    When applying for a grant, make sure you are asking for funding for a project or program that aligns with the foundation’s mission. While some foundations fund general operating expenses, it’s often helpful to have a specific program or project for them to fund. Take a look at their 990-PFs and see what types of projects they’ve funded for other organizations. Some ideas for funding areas include:

    • Animal care. This could be for all of your residents or a specific subset, like elderly animal care, disabled residents, or care for a specific species. You can include items like food, medication, care staff, enrichment, etc.
    • Humane education. This can include things like signage, staff, website & resource development, etc.
    • Rescue equipment. You can include a rescue vehicle, PPE, quarantine materials, etc.
    • Specific rescue needs. If the foundation has an affinity for cows, you can ask for funding for a recent cow rescue and include the costs for emergency care for those individuals, as well as for their vet bills, food, medication, etc.
    • Advocacy campaigns. For example, if your sanctuary does work like advocating against hatching projects, or promoting vegan diets in your community, these kinds of campaigns may be attractive to certain foundations. 
    • New infrastructure. If you’re embarking on a project like building a barn, a new coop, or fencing a new pasture, this kind of specific project might be appealing to certain donors.
    • Enrichment. Enrichment is a necessary aspect of daily care for sanctuary residents, and it is an area which can be particularly appealing for donors wishing to see funding impacts that might resonate with larger audiences. 

    You can get really creative with projects! Take a look at your budget to get more ideas. Whatever you end up requesting funding for, ensure it aligns with the foundation’s mission and run it by the foundation’s program officer to maximize your chances of receiving funding.

    When considering how much to ask from a foundation, think about the amount in relation to your budget. If your sanctuary budget is around $100,000, a foundation may not want to give you a gift of $250,000 because they may not trust that you have the capacity to implement what you are proposing. The foundation’s program officer can help you in determining an appropriate amount to ask for.

    What’s A Letter Of Inquiry And How Do I Write One?

    The next step in seeking funding is often approaching a foundation with a letter of inquiry (“LOI.”) Unless stated otherwise, a LOI is often the first touchpoint between a nonprofit and a foundation. A LOI is a one to two page letter that a nonprofit submits to a foundation to introduce themself and formally request leave to apply for a grant. It’s like a mini proposal that, if successful, will earn you the opportunity to submit a full grant proposal.

    Writing an LOI can often be challenging because there is so much to share about your amazing sanctuary, yet you have to keep your letter short so the program officer will read it. Keep in mind that program officers are approached frequently with requests, so brevity and efficiency in your initial ask are deeply appreciated!

    Your LOI should create a narrative and make a compelling case as to why the foundation should consider you for funding. You want to show the foundation you know what you’re doing, that their money will make an impact, why it’s important that you receive funding, and how you align with their mission. By this point, you have done your due diligence on the foundation, so weave into your LOI how their mission relates to your sanctuary. Personalizing it will show that you’ve done your research.

    Your LOI should be in letter form with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction of your letter should specifically state that you are requesting leave to apply for a grant from the foundation, including the amount and what the funds will be for. The body of the letter should include an introduction to your sanctuary, including your mission and vision, the problem you are addressing and why you exist, when you were founded, where you reside, what types of animals reside with you, the project or program you are requesting funding for, and the anticipated impact of your sanctuary and the project. You can also include specific details that make your sanctuary or the project look more impressive. In your conclusion, extend gratitude, include your contact information and a request for them to call or email you, as well as a reminder of the impact they will be making and how it aligns with their mission.

    When sending your LOI, address it to the program officer and either mail or email it. If you are mailing your LOI, include a few materials that they can take a look at, including brochures, annual reports, and resident photos.

    Developing A Relationship With A Foundation

    Once you’ve sent your LOI, start developing a relationship with the foundation’s main point of contact, likely a program officer. This might also be a philanthropy officer or trustee. For this article, we will refer to the main point of contact as a program officer. Generally speaking, this will be the person who reads proposals and makes recommendations to the board of the foundation for who to give funding to. In some instances, this person will be solely responsible for the decision of who to give funding to. Because this person has significant influence over funding, it can be extremely advantageous to develop a relationship with them. Unless directly stated otherwise, you should be in contact with the program officer and develop a relationship with the foundation prior to submitting your proposal. The most important part of fundraising is relationship building, and this is no different when it comes to grants.

    Again, make sure you have done your due diligence before speaking with the program officer – look at their 990-PFs, their website (if they have one), and do online research. In your conversations, you want to come across as knowledgeable and that you are serious about working with them, not just cold calling a list of foundations.

    Communication with a program officer can also greatly help you in your application process, giving you insight into what is important to the foundation, what projects they might fund, and if your sanctuary is a good fit. Running your ideas by the program officer can save you countless hours of work on a proposal. It also benefits them to talk to you first! They don’t want to be wasting their time reading through proposals that are not aligned. Talking with them and aligning first will save you both time and effort.

    Unless stated otherwise, start your relationship with an LOI, as mentioned above. Starting with a written note will give them time to understand your sanctuary, digest your note, and think about your request before responding. After you’ve reached out via mail, email, or both, it can be appropriate to follow up with a phone call asking to discuss your note.

    A phone call is an excellent opportunity to 1) demonstrate that you’ve done your research and are serious about partnering with them and 2) ask questions you can’t find the answers to online and run your ideas by them. Here are some questions to ask:

    • Might they be interested in funding your sanctuary? If so, describe the project or program you’d like for them to fund, mentioning how it aligns with the foundation, and asking how that project sounds or if something else might align better. For example, a foundation might not be interested in funding humane education or geriatric care but would love to fund a rescue vehicle or rescue supplies.
    • How much should a first time grantee request? You can let them know you’ve done your research by mentioning the size of grants that you’ve seen them give previously.
    • Have they had a chance to look over your letter and do they need any clarification on any part of your sanctuary?
    • Do they see any reason as to why you may not get funded?
    • What shortcomings do they typically see in proposals?
    • Is there anything you should include in your proposal to get ahead of any questions the foundation might have?
    • Are there any costs that the foundation might not cover?

    If they ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t fret! Let them know that you are in the early stages and don’t have all of the details yet, or that you need to consult with your executive director/operations manager/shelter team/etc. because you want to convey accurate information. The program officer isn’t trying to grill you, they are simply trying to do exactly what you are doing, see if you two are a good fit for each other. Their questions can give great insight into what is important to the foundation and allow you to be more efficient in your request. They are here to help!

    Throughout the entire process, think about how you can continue building the relationship with the foundation. Keep in mind that they are doing important work too and have limited time, so keep your communications intentional, concise, and respectful of their time and boundaries.

    Developing A Grant Proposal

    Once you’ve developed a relationship with the program officer and have discussed that you will be applying for a grant, you’re ready to move on to your proposal. The proposal is what most people think about when they think of grants. And for good reason! Proposals require lots of time, energy, planning, and coordination.

    When writing your proposal, frame your program through the lens of the foundation’s priorities. You want to show them that your sanctuary aligns with their mission. If part of their mission is to help end animal suffering on factory farms, tell stories of your residents who come from factory farms and some of the long term health effects they deal with. If they are a vegan foundation focused on advocacy, talk more about your humane education program and tell stories about how visitors have gone vegan. The foundation should feel confident that by funding you, they are carrying out their mission. Either way, learn how to tell the story of your sanctuary for a more impactful proposal.

    Your proposal should be easy to follow and understand. Utilize formatting like bulleted lists and bolding, underlining, or italicizing fonts. Throughout your proposal, think about any questions or objections that the foundation might have regarding your sanctuary or project and aim to address those. You may even consider having an FAQ or anticipated questions section to get ahead of their questions. Check out this list of questions that foundations often aim to address.

    The Key Elements Of A Proposal

    Every proposal is different. Not only does each foundation have their own requirements, but since you’ll be closely aligning your proposal with the foundation’s mission and interests, it will be highly customized for each foundation. Never submit the same exact proposal twice! Funders do talk amongst themselves, and it would be quite embarrassing for you if two foundations realized they were submitted the same proposal! 

    Your application will look different with every foundation you apply to, from the method of application (online form, email, snail mail), length, the program you are requesting funding for, to the impacts you highlight, the amount you are requesting, and the attachments you include. What you include in your proposal should be informed by the foundation’s application instructions, mission, and your conversations with their program officer. 

    Despite all of these possible divergences between proposals, there are certain fundamental elements of a grant proposal that remain fairly constant, so there is a way you can do some internal work to prepare your organization for a grant application, known as identifying your S.M.A.R.T. goals

    What Are S.M.A.R.T. Goals? 
    S.M.A.R.T. stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Defining what these parameters look like for your organization relative to the goal you are trying to attain is a form of mini-strategic planning, and will help you ensure that your objectives are attainable within a set time-frame.

    In a sanctuary context, an example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal statement might look like this: Our goal is to create an enrichment program for our goat residents by end of year. Our small ruminant caregiving team will accomplish this goal by identifying appropriate and safe categories of enrichment for the goats, and implementing an enrichment calendar. Accomplishing this goal will result in a significant increased quality of life for our goat residents!

    Once you have written your S.M.A.R.T. goal statement, you will be better prepared to embark on writing your grant proposal. We’ll break down the fundamental elements of a grant proposal here. The key elements of a grant proposal include:

    • An executive summary/abstract. An executive summary is perhaps the most important part of your proposal. In this brief, one-page overview, you should summarize the key points that are to be detailed in the rest of the application. Despite being first in your application, the executive summary is often best written last when you can highlight the key points from your full proposal. The executive summary can also be written in letter form, addressed to the program officer and signed by your submitting team member. This can look similar to your LOI.
    • A statement of need. This is the space to describe why you do what you do and why your project is worth funding. Who are you serving and why? What difference does your sanctuary make for farmed animals? You can use this section to include factual information about the problem as well as tell stories about where your residents came from, the problem their species faces, and how you are positioned to help. A mix of statistics and storytelling can be a powerful way to communicate the problem you are addressing. Storytelling has proven to be more effective than rattling off statistics. However, for a foundation who is trying to make an impact, including statistics can also be powerful to show the magnitude of the problem.

    In this section you can talk about the plight that farmed animals face. Depending on the foundation, you may want to tailor this section. If it’s not a strictly vegan foundation, you may want to focus more on the problems of factory farms rather than farmed animal rights and veganism. Tailor this section to align yourself with the mission of the foundation while staying true to your mission and vision.

    • An organization description. After your executive summary, the organization description gives the foundation a deeper insight into your sanctuary. State your mission and vision here. You can use this space to talk about your sanctuary and its history, programs, accomplishments, impact, values, resident stories, and anything else that makes your sanctuary stand out.

    Addressing your organization’s sustainability can also be a way to show foundations that you aren’t going anywhere and that you will be around in the long term. Diverse income sources both through donations and revenue generating programs, emergency funds, development staff, a planned giving program, a strategic plan, and a solid volunteer program can indicate sustainability and show foundations that you have a plan for the future. If you don’t have all of these, don’t worry! It’s normal for newer and smaller organizations to not yet have sustainability measures in place. You can talk about what you do have in order to be sustainable, or how you are thinking about the future and implementing sustainability practices.

    Throughout this section, establish credibility by stressing your organizational commitment to accuracy and transparency, and why you will be a responsible steward of the foundation’s generous funds. They want to know that you have the capacity to make a difference with their funds.

    • A project objective and description. This section is where you will describe your project or program in detail and answer any questions the foundation might have. Your project title can be as simple as “Animal Care Program” or something more specific like “[FOUNDATION NAME] Medical Center”. Some foundations like public recognition and naming a vehicle, barn, program, or pasture after them will increase chances of funding and will also make you more memorable. This is also the section to get into the nitty gritty details on your project or program and how you will carry it out. Aim to answer the following questions:
    • What is your project and what are its goals?
    • What does your project aim to address and what are the details, including timeline and resources needed? If you are requesting funding for a specific project, like an advocacy campaign or a humane education program, outline S.M.A.R.T. goals like how many people you plan to reach and by what timeline. A program like animal care might have more intangible goals like an increase of quality of life or life expectancy. For something like a medical center, you can talk about how you’ve incurred increased costs by spending more time at the vet and with a medical center, it will save more costs in the long term.
    • Who will be involved? What are their experience levels and credentials? If you have experienced staff, talk about why they are the best person for the job.
    • How does the project fit into the context of your overall mission and long term vision, and how does it address your needs statement? Show that their funding will make an impact in the long term and that it is essential for carrying out your mission effectively, and in turn carrying out their mission as well.
    • How will you measure success? You can list specific milestones and timeframes by which you plan on achieving certain goals, in order to show the foundation that you have a plan to effectively implement your program.
    • A budget. Your project budget is a part of your proposal that will be looked at in great detail. You need to clearly indicate where all of the funds will be going for this project. Your budget can include things like staff salaries and benefits, staff training, medication, rescue materials, supplies, equipment, signage, etc. Anything that relates to the project or program in any way should be included.

      You will likely need to coordinate with other team members to develop this budget. Get input from your shelter team, humane educators, or whoever is relevant in the project. Your budget should be inclusive of the project as a whole. Take this opportunity to show the total project cost and reiterate the amount you are requesting from the foundation. If you are not requesting funding for the entire project, indicate where you plan to receive additional funding from. This will address any questions as to how you plan to carry out the project. This can look like a list of other foundations you plan to get funding from, a percentage of your annual fund, major gifts, etc. This section should also include a budget narrative that describes what each item will be used for and why it is needed. For example, If you list 50% of your shelter director’s salary in the budget, explain why you believe they will be spending 50% of their time on this project. If you include a line item for a specific piece of equipment, explain why it is needed for the overall project.
    • An appendix. Having an appendix allows you to provide additional requested materials from the foundation, as well as other supporting materials that make your sanctuary a stronger candidate for funding. Some items to consider including, if you have them, are:
      • Your leadership team’s biographies;
      • A list of your board of directors and their biographies;
      • Your strategic plan;
      • Your organizational budget;
      • Your financial review;
      • Your determination letter from the IRS granting your organization 501(c)(3) status;
      • Your project budget justification, including quotes, receipts, links, mockups, etc.;
      • Your financial statements
      • Your tax returns;
      • Your annual reports;
      • Your newsletters;
      • Photos of residents or photos related to your project;
      • Brochures;
      • And testimonials.

    When your proposal is complete, an easy way to make it look professional is to put it all neatly in a folder or binder (unless the foundation states otherwise). This will help you come across as professional and thoughtful. If you are emailing your proposal, save your document as a PDF before sending it over. Word documents are less professional and if anything in your proposal triggers spell check, like your sanctuary’s name or team members’ names, the program officer will see that.

    Before submitting your proposal, triple check that you have met all of the foundation’s requirements. It can also be a good idea to have multiple people read it over. If you are requesting funding for animal care, ask whoever heads your shelter team to read over the proposal. If you are a one-person team, see if a friend is willing to read it over and can easily understand it.
    Once you’ve mailed or emailed your proposal, send the program officer a quick note letting them know that you’ve submitted your proposal. You should know the foundation’s timeline from your research, so at a time that feels appropriate, follow up with the program officer to see if the foundation has any questions or would like further clarification on anything in your proposal.

    Free Download: The Open Sanctuary Project’s Grant Proposal Template

    We’ve put together a template for grant proposals that you can use as a launching point, and customize both to your animal organization, and the requirements of the foundation to whom you are applying! Enter either your organization’s name or your name and email below to download the Grant Proposal Template! We promise not to use your email for any marketing purposes!

    Want to access this download in a different way? Contact Us Here!

    When You Get Funded: Grant Acknowledgement And Stewardship

    Congratulations on receiving funding! This is no small feat – take some time to celebrate and honor the work you’ve put in. When a foundation funds your request, extend genuine gratitude multiple times in multiple ways. Provide them with a personalized acknowledgement letter stating your gratitude, how their funding will make a difference, and reminding them how the funding will help further the mission of the foundation.

    Reaching out to the program officer with a thank you phone call can also help strengthen the relationship and be an authentic way to express gratitude. You can also ask the program officer if it would be okay for you to thank the foundation directors directly. Depending on the foundation, a call to one or all of the directors may also be appropriate, but check with the program officer first.

    A handwritten thank you note signed by your staff or volunteers can also be a meaningful way to thank the foundation. Consider including photos of residents. Other stewardship options include texts, videos, small gifts like sanctuary merch or vegan chocolate, a plaque at your sanctuary, or thank you notes from your team as to why they are personally grateful for the gift.

    What If You Receive A No?

    It’s not uncommon for first-time requests to be declined. If you have a long list of foundations that you’re applying to, you may find that most of your proposals are declined. Don’t be discouraged! This is normal. Know that a no doesn’t always mean a forever no. They may be interested in funding a different program or seeing different kinds of results. A brief phone call or email with the program director can save you a great deal of time and effort in increasing your chances for funding next year. Follow up and ask for clarity on why you were not funded, if you can apply again in the future, how to align better with their mission, and how you could make the proposal better next time. Is there a way to move from a no to a yes? 

    Ongoing Reporting To Your Donor

    The work doesn’t end when you’ve received your funds and properly thanked your funder. Most foundations require periodic reports of project/program progress. Grant reports are a way that foundations measure progress and see the impact that you are making with their funds. In addition, and more importantly for you, grant reports can actually be a form of stewardship and relationship development. If you clearly show the foundation that you are following through on what you outlined in the proposal and you are indeed furthering their mission, you will build trust and rapport, increasing your chances of receiving further funding.

    Grant reports are formal updates to the foundation and much more than a casual, one paragraph email. If it is not clearly stated on the foundation’s website or your acceptance letter, ask the program officer how you should be reporting back to the foundation. Add all reporting deadlines to your grants calendar!

    The best way to determine how to write your grant report is to simply ask the foundation what they look for in a grant report, how it will be used, and what format they prefer you use. That way, you can give them exactly what they are looking for. Foundations may use grant reports in numerous ways, including determining if their relationship with you should continue, sharing impact with their team members and community, to ensure you are using the funds as indicated, and a myriad of other ways.

    Every grant report should start with a thank you (even though they won’t list that in their requirements). Then think about how you can tell the funder about your project or program in the form of a story. Again, storytelling is an effective way to win over donors. If you have a marketing and communications team, they may be able to help with this and already have materials that would be great for a grant report. Include anyone else from your team who benefited from the grant in contributing to the report. If it was mainly your care team who benefited, ask them for stories. They may be able to tell a much better story than the person who wrote the proposal!

    If the foundation doesn’t give any guidelines on how to do grant reporting, you can follow this format:

    • An introduction and expression of gratitude;
    • A project/program activities and update;
    • A financial update;
    • A list of goals, outcomes, and impacts;
    • A list of challenges, how you are overcoming them, and what you are learning;
    • Your next steps;
    • And a closing and additional expression of gratitude.

    Consider including photos or videos so the foundation can see more tangibly their impact. If you don’t have photos or videos of the project, share photos of your residents and let the foundation know how they are helping them! If they are funding you, it’s likely that they would love to see your residents.


    A grants program is no small feat, but your efforts will be well worth it. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get funded right away, this is normal and it can take time to develop a relationship with a foundation and master the art of proposal writing. To develop your proposal writing skills even further, consider taking Candid’s free Introduction to Proposal Writing course or listen to their free audiobook on proposal writing. They also have more free trainings as well as advanced courses you can take to become even more experienced in fundraising with grants.


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