This blog is the first in a three part series that will focus on the tools you need in order to build a comprehensive grants seeking program. Today’s post will focus on how to create a Grant Decision Matrix.

When your organization needs funding for a project, how do you approach the grants seeking process? Do you begin planning before the need for funding arises? Do you have procedures in place to help guide your research? If you answered no to either of these questions, then you might need to rethink your grant seeking program.

Fortunately, this post will offer tools and resources that can help your organization adopt a consistent and thoughtful process that will keep your grants pipeline full. However, this is just one method. You should use this information to develop your own process and come up with procedures that work for you and your organization.

The first step in building a comprehensive grants seeking program is to develop your Grant Decision Matrix. This will serve as an analytical tool that will help you make quick decisions about which grant opportunities to pursue. The matrix can be applied to requests for proposals and grant application guidelines.

How to Build a Grant Decision Matrix

  1. Start by designing the matrix components. Each component can be as simple or complex as you feel is necessary. It is a good idea to develop one matrix for government grant opportunities and another for private funding because the processes and importance of different criteria varies depending on the type of grant maker.
  2. Develop a set of decision criteria. Break these into subjective (e.g. relationship to the grant maker) and objective (e.g. matching funds are required).

Once you’ve established a set of criteria, make sure to have it approved by leadership (director, fundraising committee, board of directors, etc.). This will not only allow you to make quick decisions when new opportunities present themselves, but it will also allow you to step away from a particular opportunity that may not be a right fit for your organization.

  1. Assign a weight to each criteria based on its importance in the final decision of whether to give the request a green light or red light.
  2. Decide what total score will give you the green light to move forward with the grant proposal. Decide what each score (or range of scores) means and how it should be applied (e.g. do not pursue, requires leadership approval, needs further consideration, or do pursue).

After you develop a draft matrix, run a few test cases against it. You’re going to find this particularly helpful in shaping the criteria and weights that you give to each of your criteria.

This tool will result in a thumbs up or thumbs down almost all the time. However, if the score falls in the “needs further consideration” zone, you may need to step back and reanalyze the opportunity before you move forward.

Create a project description worksheet for each program that requires grant support. Include as many details as possible, so you can use this worksheet to guide your grants research. Find an effective way to share the worksheets with your team.

What do you include in your project description worksheet?

  • Project name which will serve as your working title
  • Lead contact person or team overseeing the project
  • Proposed project in short, narrative format
  • Needs to be addressed or problems to be solved in narrative format
  • Relationship to larger projects or past projects
  • Project budget in summary form
  • Keywords for research: geographic focus; areas of interest; target population; and types of support

This worksheet doesn’t have to be well written, especially if you’re only using it to guide your research. But the more time and effort you put into polishing the worksheet, the better your results will be when doing your research.

Make sure to read part 2 of the series to learn an effective 6 step process to doing grants research.


Cynthia Adams has been a dedicated to helping nonprofits identify and secure the funding they need to do their good work for well over 40 years. Much of her early work centered on raising funds to help set-aside public lands in Alaska.

In the early 80’s she introduced the idea of building sustainable communities throughout the state, serving as the Executive Director of the Interior Alaska Economic Development Council. In 1990 she opened her first business, the Alaska Funding Exchange, which served as the testing ground for a larger, national business: GrantStation, which opened it’s internet doors in the fall of 2001.

Cynthia built this business because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating opportunities for all nonprofit organizations, regardless of size or geographic location, to secure grant support.

Ms. Adams lives part time in New York City, and part time in Baja, Mexico. But her heart and soul are still in Alaska, where she and her husband keep a small 5-acre parcel and dry cabin in the Taiga forest 12 miles north of Fairbanks.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!