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You Can't Win if You Don't Play: How Grant Writing is like the Lottery

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

Everybody knows you have a zero chance of winning the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. The same sentiment is true in grant writing.

If you don't apply, you're not going to win the award. Plain and simple. Are there rare cases when a nonprofit receives a surprise grant out of nowhere? Sure. But you can't build a fundraising strategy on maybes and dream-world scenarios.

It's also true that the more lottery tickets you purchase, the higher your likelihood of winning the grand prize. Guess what? The more grant applications you submit, the more chances you have of winning an award. Makes sense. Sounds easy. But wait, there's more...

Anecdotally as someone who has been writing grants for a long time, I can tell you that second and third requests are funded more often than first requests. (If anyone can find an actual statistic on this online, I'll be your best friend if you share it with me. Email me at Otherwise, we'll start tracking this, so stay tuned!) I know it from experience. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense too.

If you've done your due diligence, by the time a foundation sees your first request, it might be the third or fourth time they've been aware of your existence. You wouldn't marry someone after the third or fourth date. Maybe you would, but most wouldn't. Keep building that relationship and the likelihood increases that it will become serious and might even result in some exchanges of promises and shared funds. No rings, though. That would just be weird.

Back to the lottery analogy. When you hear stories of people winning the lottery, it's not usually the first ticket they've ever purchased. They keep trying year after year, jackpot after jackpot. So expecting that you're going to win that huge, game-changing grant award the first time you ask might be a bit far-fetched.

So what can nonprofits do in the meantime?

- Build quality relationships with grant-makers just as you would major individual donors with the expectation that it may be a year or more before you submit a request.

- If you do plan to submit a request as one of the first points of contact with a foundation, ask for funding at the lower end of the foundation's grant amount range. Don't expect multi-year commitments or large-scale capital funding.

- Anticipate that your first request is your formal introduction to the foundation. The likelihood is that this request will be declined as foundations typically have minimum funds available to award to new nonprofits each year. However, with a second request, they may have anticipated their interest in awarding to your nonprofit and allocated additional funds to meet your needs.

Persistence is key in grant writing (and really anything in fundraising). Be strategic about the organizations with which you connect and build relationships and keep asking until they tell you to stop.


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