Figuring Out How Much To Ask For

Asking how much to ask for is the $64,000 question – or sometimes a 6 million dollar question.

If you’ve asked program officers I’m sure that you’ve received the same non-committal answer as me “Just ask for what you need.” Well, that’s not much help is it?

So, this is the approach that I take.

Figure Out What they Give

This is the easy step. First, take a look at the average grant size. For foundations, look at their 990’s for the last three years.  For federal agencies, look at the Federal Register notice, RFP or agency website. For state agencies, if the information isn’t available in the RFP or on their web site contact the program officer and ask.

After doing this you should know that the average grant size is $10-20,000 or $1-1.5 million.

Rough Out Your Budget

Next, do a rough budget and see if you can achieve reasonable results within the grant range.

If not, move on and look for another opportunity. Life’s too short to spend time squeezing a square peg in a round hole.

If you can achieve results with the money on the table move ahead.

Figure Out How they Make Cut-Off Decisions

Ask the program officer or past grantees how the final cut is made when making awards.

Some agencies routinely cut across the board – others do not.

Imagine that a funding agency has $100 million to distribute and they have 15 applications for $10 million each that were rated 95 or above. In that situation, a funder could

  • Fund the top 10 at $10 million each.
  • Fund all 15 fifteen at $6.6 million – an option that involves a hefty cut that will mean that many of the original objectives will need to be revised creating a significant risk that the funding program objectives will not be met. Clearly, this is not a great option.
  • Fund 11 at $9 million.

Now, imagine that you are a small organization or unit of government and you submitted a $7 million application to run a smaller scale project that scored 93.

Think how enticing that would be to the folks making the funding decisions right now. It would be mean that they could fund 12 projects – 10 at $8.4 million and yours.

Understanding the decision-making process will let you know whether you should put together;

  • a) a generous budget knowing that you may be cut back,
  • b) a realistic budget knowing that the proposal will either be accepted or rejected with no middle ground, or,
  • c) a really tight budget hoping that it might slip in under the funding cut off.


Of course, there are some things that I would really advise you NOT to do.

  • Don’t put in a tight budget if it means that you will struggle to achieve your objectives. Failing to meet the program objectives is simply going to harm your organization in the long run.
  • Don’t pad your budget so that it just doesn’t look realistic and turns off the reviewers.
  • Don’t create a project that is so small that it just doesn’t seem interesting or substantial enough to a reviewer.

Find this article interesting? Got other questions? Email me at with your questions and queries.

All the best to you and your cause,

DATA DIGGING: Federal Social and Economic Trend Data

If you are looking for quick comparisons of national trends take a look at

White House Social Statistics Briefing Room


White House Economic Statistics Briefing Room

These sites provide quick and easy links to social and economic trend data collected by federal agencies.

On the Social Statistics site the data are broken up into four categories; Crime, Demography, Education, and Health. Each category then lists comparative data. For example, education includes data on International Comparisons in Science and Math, and Trends in Reading and Math: 1971-2004. The Crime site provides links to data on Arrests for Drug Abuse Violations from 1970 to 2005.

The Economic Statistics Briefing Room data are broken up into; Employment, Income, International, Money, Output, Prices, Production, and Transportation.

These sites are not as comprehensive as FedStats but they are super user friendly. If you are looking for a quick, big picture piece of data it is a good place to start.

Happy Data Digging!

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