Lesson 2: Planning


Planning is the first step in the grant proposal process. This is where you will identify the purpose of the grant. Why are you looking for funding and how will you use it? Grantseeking is very competitive and preparation is essential when approaching funders. We will start by looking at things to consider whether applying as an individual or an organization. This will help you gather the information you need to create a funding plan.


You can apply for a grant as an individual if you are not directly affiliated with an organization. Many individual applicants are students, early- and mid-career researchers, and post-doctoral researchers. The grants individuals apply for could be used to support education, research, or other projects. In this section, we’ll explore some of the more common considerations when looking for grants as an individual.

Level of Study Completed

Funders vary as to what level of study they will support. Some funders will support undergraduate students, while others only support dissertators or early-career researchers. Still others will provide support for graduate students in general or those already established in their fields.

Demographic Characteristics and Citizenship / Residency

What makes you unique? Why should funders invest in you? Mapping out your demographic characteristics may be useful, not only in researching funders, but also in writing your proposal. Think about aspects of your identity, like race, ethnicity, gender, whether you are a returning student or single-parent, a student athlete, and other affiliations you may have. Do you or any family members belong to service organizations, labor unions, cultural centers, or professional affiliations? How about religious affiliations or military background? Reaching out to your affiliations will also help to increase your funding opportunities. As a student, this is also a great time to join a professional association in your field. Membership fees are much less as a student and you will join a network in your field.

Another aspect to consider is citizenship. Some funders will only give grants to U.S. citizens. However, there are grant search tools that allow searching by country of citizenship in order to locate grants for which you qualify.

Long-term Goals

How does your project or funding need fit into your long-term plans? For example, how does attending a conference to present a paper help advance your educational career? How does getting a degree fit in your overall plans? This is much like a personal essay for college applications. Not only will this help with proposal writing, it will also assist with identifying keyword terms when searching for funders.

Geographic Location

Where are you doing your work? Do you need to travel? Some funders are geographically-bound so location can make a difference. Some funders may fund travel for research or study abroad, while others are required to keep their funds domestic.

Type(s) of Funding Needed

What do you need funding for? Here are a few examples of things that tend to be funded for individuals:

  • Study, e.g. tuition
  • Research
  • Travel
  • Conference Attendance

Some of these types of funding overlap, but in this context study generally refers to tuition and room-and-board, while research generally refers to specific projects, such as a dissertation or capstone project. Travel funds could be used to attend a conference, conduct research, or study abroad. Conference attendance generally refers to registration fees and possibly accommodations.

Fiscal Sponsorship

Is fiscal sponsorship an option for you? We covered Fiscal Sponsorship in Lesson 1. If so, consider exploring these resources to learn more:

The Candid Learning website is for more general information, while Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP) is specific to the UW-Madison campus. Every department should have a contact in RSP. Connecting with an RSP contact could help identify existing projects that could grant funding. While RSP is specific to UW-Madison, note that there are similar offices at most large research institutions.

Next, we will explore aspects to consider if applying for a grant as an organization.


If applying as an organization, either through your own nonprofit or via a fiscal sponsor, there are some things that differ from applying as an individual. Instead of considering what makes you unique, you will be exploring facets of your organization.

Type of Organization

What kind of organization are you seeking funding for (e.g., laboratory, hospital, nonprofit)? This is mostly important for the research process, as some funders may not support specific types of organizations (e.g. hospitals or laboratories), and may tailor their funding to other types of nonprofit organizations. Therefore, it can be important to identify what type of organization you are supporting within grant search tools.

Population Served

Who benefits from the work of the organization? Many funders have their own mission and vision that define their support. For example, does the organization work to help support low-income populations? Find a match with a funder who also cares about supporting this population. Consider the characteristics of the people who benefit from the work of the organization, and how those might be represented in the search tools.

Geographic Location

Where are you doing your work? Where is your organization based? Does your organization focus on a population in a specific region? Some funders are geographically bound and may only fund organizations or projects in specific regions.

Type(s) of Funding Needed

Finally, consider how the money will be used. Here are a few examples of things that tend to be funded for organizations:

  • Research
  • Projects
  • Equipment
  • Curriculum or conference development
  • General operating support

Some of these funding types may overlap. For example, you may need to acquire equipment to conduct research or complete a project. Research tends to be ongoing, while projects tend to have an end-date. Knowing the type of funding needed can assist with tailoring the search for funders.

Ultimately, attempt to match both the mission and vision of the organization with that of potential funders. The closer the match, the higher the chance of receiving funding. Think of this as a mutually-beneficial partnership. How will helping you or your organization advance the funder’s goals and mission?

Project Specific Details

Whether applying as an individual or an organization, consider the specific details of the project. Think about who may be interested in your work. Specifically, consider your topic or subject, technology or technique, population groups you may work with or who will benefit from the work you do, future applications of your work, and immediate and long-term outcomes. Knowing this will help screen potential funding partners and ultimately help organize your proposal.


Whether applying as an individual or an organization, there are some important communication points in the planning step. As an individual, who will be writing letters of recommendation? Communicate with those individuals, especially your advisor, to ensure your project fits within their scope as well. Additionally, they may know of potential funders to contact. Always notify your academic department that you are looking for funding. As an organization, circulate your plan internally to ensure you have buy-in from other staff and volunteers. Establishing internal buy-in is an important first step which will help to keep funding within scope. You may need to run this by your organization’s board as well. Not only will this help with scope, but board members tend to be connected with funders and may know of potential leads. Funding is a networking game.

Sample Funding Plans

Here are a couple of sample funding plans to help you envision what this looks like in action.

Summary and Next Steps

Now that you have identified your funding needs, you may consider this the start of your funding plan. With this completed preliminary planning, you can begin to identify keywords to use while researching potential funders. In the next section, we will explore strategies for conducting this research.