For all of you grantwriters who have ever done individual giving fundraising, you know there’s a whole bunch of science (database reports, donor segmentation, and suggested ask amounts – oh my!) and art that goes into crafting an effective plan.

David Dunlop, a development professional who spent most of his career at Cornell University, coined a framework to describe the steps a fundraiser takes to inspire engagement and charitable giving by donors: “moves management.”

While there’s been a lot written about how to effectively use the moves management framework in individual giving, this framework is seldom applied to grantwriting – but should be.

Five Steps to using Moves Management in your grantseeking

Here are the five steps of moves management and some ideas for how grantwriters can use this framework to enhance their grantseeking:


What foundations are good prospects for you? Whether you’re starting from scratch or broadening your reach to build out an existing plan, the first step is casting a wide net to identify any foundation who looks promising. The key here is to quickly generate a long list of “suspects” that you will do further research on later. Here are common tools folks use in this step:

  • Prospect research databases: There are many great databases out there that can help you with that first broad scoop of information. For a great comparison of popular resources like Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online and GrantStation visit Tech Soup’s Research Tools for Grants.
  • Free access to databases: Many community foundations and public libraries across the nation offer free access to Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online through the Funder’s Information Network. Find the location nearest you here.
  • “Cohort analysis”: Looking at the annual reports and websites of organizations similar to your own can give you an idea of who might be a good prospective funder for your work.


Now that we have our list of “suspects” we must determine whether they’re actually good “prospects” for us. How do you know they’re a good fit? Start by making sure your organization matches their focus areas. There are three main ways that Foundations focus their grantmaking:

  1. by geography
  2. by activity area (ie. environment), and/or
  3. by constituency served (ie. youth).

Once you have confirmed that your organization falls within their focus area, the next task will be to identify what type of case for support you should make and how much money you should ask for. Some additional questions you can ask during this stage are: While I’m technically in their giving priorities, have they actually funded comparable organizations to mine in terms of activity area, geography served, budget size? What types of cases and amounts of funding have they given? We learn can learn this information from a couple of different sources:

  • If we’re lucky, foundations publish information about their grantees on their websites.
  • We can also look up their grantee list included in their 990 form (available for free at GuideStar or the Economic Research Institute).
  • What about organizations who weren’t funded? We can from folks who weren’t successful by checking out reviews written on GrantAdvisor.


Once we have narrowed our “suspects” to a list of “prospects” and identified our case for funding and request amount, it is time to initiate contact. Not all foundations are alike, and many move in mysterious ways. Some foundations prefer a phone call to vet a case idea far in advance of the deadline, and some foundations are unstaffed private foundations that meet over the holidays to review written proposals. Unfortunately there’s no “one size fits all” cultivation approach for foundations, and it can be hard to intuit the best strategy, especially if you are making a new relationship.

Many folks have written about their experiences working with the top foundations on GrantAdvisor. As you’re building out your “cultivation” plan, check out what tips your colleagues have posted about the foundations on your prospect list. Helpful feedback includes:

“They’re really accessible on a personal level – reach out even informally to a grants officer to start a conversation. They were up-front and honest about what they’re interested in funding. In terms of their interest in projects, it helps to have an existing connection to the Blandin Foundation if you’re outside the Itasca County area. In our case, we have several cohorts of Blandin Community Leadership Program alumni actively working on engagement projects in our community.” – Review of the Blandin Foundation on

“They actually listen. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own agenda. But they really do believe that nonprofits know what they’re talking about, especially when it comes to their own organizations. So think carefully about what you really need because they will actually listen.” – Review of the Weingart Foundation on

“Not worth spending time on – it is a closed process that remains a mystery. We received funds out of the blue and were told not to reach out for more funds.” – Review of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation on 

For more feedback, visit the Funder Profiles page.


For us grantwriters, this step would be the actual written proposal. Make sure you submit by the deadline! Program officers often prefer receiving materials far in advance. Some even consider requests on a rolling basis, and so proposals received earlier in the grant cycle have an advantage over those who submit on the deadline day.


Whatever the funding decision is, be sure to say “thank you” for their thoughtful consideration of your request for funding. If you weren’t successful, ask for feedback. You may not get it, but if you do it’s amazing the type of information you can learn that isn’t posted anywhere on a website or included in a form 990. Some questions you can ask are: Is there a theme among the grantees who successfully received funding? Was our case aligned with your priorities and would it be worth applying again? Can you help me better understand why we were unsuccessful?

If you are successful, consider opportunities to keep them close to your work over the course of the grant period. Send a friendly email with an article that relates to your work: “I just saw this report released and thought you might be interested in it. Hope you are well!” Informal updates on how the work is progressing and inviting them to visit your organization can be a great way to bring your work to life. As always, if something goes not according to plan in the grant, make sure you communicate with the foundation before the final report. Advanced notice and direct honesty can go a long way in building trusting relationships.

Good luck on your grantseeking in 2019!

About the Author: Kari Aanestad is the Director of Advancement at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. In this role, Kari advances the mission and work of MCN and Minnesota’s nonprofit sector through strategic visioning, fundraising, relationship development, sector research, and education. She is also the Vice President of the Minnesota-Northstar Chapter of the Grant Professionals Association.