Application Intake

Process for handling applications, after the deadline but before sending them for review.


Following the application deadline, a multi-step process is undertaken to gain a comprehensive understanding of all of the proposals that were received and determine which will move forward for review. The decisionmaking process is typically 4-6 weeks and includes processing, screening for eligibility, full committee review, a decisionmaking meeting, and announcement of the funding recommendations.

The fundamental actions taken during the decisionmaking process are the responsibility of the program manager and supporting staff. They are responsible for ensuring that all of the required materials are received and that proposals are eligible for review before sending them to the review committee. They are also responsible for all communication with applicants and committee members, overseeing any additional due diligence that is required to make decisions.

Thinking Questions

  • How will you be gathering information from applicants?
  • What level of summarization is needed before sharing the applications with reviewers?
  • How many applications are you expecting compared to how many you are able to fund?
  • How much time has been scheduled for decisionmaking?
  • How many applications do you need to move forward with the review?

Step-by-Step Process

Confirm Receipt

Once the application is received, a notification should be sent to the applicant that it has been received but not yet accepted for review. The application and any associated attachments are then saved as a single PDF to the funding round folder with the filename in the following format: Project Name (Applicant) - Original App. The email is also saved in order to keep a paper trail of all incoming applications.

Sample Application Received Notification

Thank you for submitting your catalytic funding application to Program Name at Organization! The information that we received is shown at the bottom of this message.

This automated email confirms the receipt of this application. After preliminary review by our staff, we will send a separate message to Applicant Name at Applicant Email Address that confirms the acceptance of this application.

If you notice any minor errors in your application submission, please do not resubmit it; instead, please contact us at with an email that contains the required edits.

We appreciate your interest and look forward to reviewing your application.

<< insert original application content >>

All received applications are then added to the grantmaking database or spreadsheet and assigned an Application ID, which is carried over as their Grant ID if recommended for funding. The database is additionally used to track the status of the application.

Typical Application Statuses
Application Phase Review Phase Grantmaking Phase
Application received Funding denied by Advisory Committee Invited to submit new or revised Project Plan
Application accepted for review Funding denied, please resubmit Project Plan approved
Application determined “Ineligible” Funding denied by staff Formal Request for Proposal sent to Grantee
Application screened prior to review Funding recommended by Advisory Committee Letter of Request and Tax Forms received
Application withdrawn by applicant Funding recommended by staff Authorization pending from Board
Application sent for review Funding declined by applicant Congratulations! Grant approved by Board

Each status can then be associated to a mail merge email message, helping to streamline correspondence throughout the review process.

Check Eligibility

Eligibility criteria should be clearly stated in the funding prospectus, and reiterated during applicant outreach to help ensure that the applications received are eligible to be reviewed. As applications are received, program staff should make eligibility assessments, which are often based on the application’s timing, budget size, and target audience or other relevant factors to the program, such as geographic location.

Example Eligibility Criteria

Organizational Status

We accept applications from non-profit organizations, coalitions of organizations, community groups, and individuals. Independent project managers can engage an existing non-profit organization with similar goals as a fiscal sponsor.

We are not a small business lender or a venture capital fund. We do not offer loans or funding to start a business and cannot provide operating support to for-profit entities.


We recommend that applicants allow 2-3 months from the application due date to the beginning of the project to allow us adequate time to assist applicants in implementing their project. Applications must be submitted a minimum of 6 weeks before the proposed project’s first activity begins. Our funding may not be used for projects or events that have already taken place, or for gap funding at the conclusion of a fundraising campaign.


Our funding should be predominantly used in ways that will directly serve the programmatic ends of supported projects. Administrative and other non-programmatic expenses can be supported, however, this support should not make up a significant portion of the overall funding request. In particular, the use of our funding for indirect costs, also termed fees or administrative overhead, cannot exceed X% of the direct project or activity costs.

Our funding may not be used for benefit events or projects planned primarily for fundraising, activities with a primary purpose that is religious or political in nature, or for reimbursement of expenses incurred prior to the decision announcement. Generally, overall program budgets that exceed $50,000 are not eligible to request our catalytic funding.

Other Sources of Funding

We support projects that also receive funding from other sources. However, our support should provide catalytic funding for a project. This is to ensure that our support has a maximum impact in advancing new and innovative small projects. Additionally, our catalytic funding is not to be requested in support of projects that are eligible for, or have already received, sizeable grants from traditional philanthropic sources.

Because most applicants work actively with program staff prior to submission, typically very few ineligible applications are received. Occasionally proposals are received that are very preliminary, not well developed, or extremely unclear. Such proposals often come from applicants that had no contact with program staff prior to submitting their applications. When the timing of the proposal permits it, Sprout may advise the applicant to withdraw their application from current consideration, work with staff on revisions and additional drafts, and resubmit a new application in the next round. Alternatively, if not enough high quality proposals came in prior to the deadline, the deadline may be extended, allowing more people to apply and those that came in to make updates to strengthen their proposals.

Notification emails are sent to the lead applicants for all received applications. Eligible applicants are told that their projects are being considered for funding and when the decision announcement date will be for that round. Ineligible applicants receive notice that their projects are not eligible for funding and an outline of the reasons for the determination of ineligibility.

Prepare Cover Sheets

Beginning with the acceptance of eligible applications, program staff begin Project Journals for each proposal to create a record of applicant/proposal details and due diligence findings during the review period. At the start of the review process, the Cover Sheets are completed and contain information gathered from a summary of the application, including project details, budget notes, applicant organizational background, and tax status. While cover sheets vary by program, standard components include:

  • Header: Project Name, Applying Organization, and Amount Requested
  • Project Description: 100-150 word summary of the project idea. Most content for this is available on the cover sheet under “Project Description”.
  • Budget Notes: 1-2 sentence budget summary that addresses the cost categories intended to be covered by the requested grant. Include bulleted list of major line item expenses taken from provided budget spreadsheet. Include bulleted list of major line item expenses taken from the budget spreadsheet and grant narrative.
  • Applicant Background and Program Context: 100-200 word summary of organizations and individuals leading the project. If appropriate, include summaries of partnering organizations. Each significant organization or project manager should have their own paragraph, usually 2-3 sentences each.
  • Staff Assessment: An assessment of the project by program staff – what would be a positive way of looking at support for this project OR why the project should be screened.

If a funding round review needs to happen in a very short amount of time, a Divider Sheet is often used in place of a Cover Sheet. This allows staff to quickly merge information that is already in the Application Database or spreadsheet (such as project name, applicant organization, and applicant name) and insert the page between applications in the PDF Review Packet.

Conduct Initial Screening

During the first two weeks of the decisionmaking process, a screening review is conducted in order to narrow the field of eligible proposals. Screening dismisses less competitive proposals on the basis of predetermined criteria and advances finalists for review by the full Advisory Committee. The target number of applications to review will depend on how many proposals are able to be funded. Sprout typically sends 2-5 times the number of proposals that will be funded, with programs with large numbers of funded projects sending only twice as many applications as spots (eg: 50 applications for 25 spots) and programs with smaller numbers of funded projects sending 4-5 times as many applications as spots (12-15 applications for 4 spots).

When possible, Sprout utilizes a subset of Advisory Committee members to help make screening decisions. This “screen/send” process assures that high quality applications of similar caliber are evaluated and scored by the full Advisory Committee. Applications are not unnecessarily withheld, with screened applications typically exhibiting at least 2–3 of the screen criteria.

Example Screening Criteria
  • Poor timing of request in relation to decision date or event
  • Poor or inappropriate budget or beyond the scope of our funding
  • Has received significant other support from major regional funder(s)
  • Does not adhere to program goals
  • Project will happen with or without our funding
  • Limited outreach/audience impact
  • Implementation plan not well developed
  • Request not compelling or catalytic
  • Lacks community engagement component
  • Unclear proposal request
  • Better suited to other opportunities

Screened applicants are notified of Sprout’s decision within one week, giving them the opportunity to receive feedback in a timely fashion and adjust their future planning accordingly. This early notice also may enable them to submit a more compelling proposal in a future round, or seek resources elsewhere. All applications that are not screened (the “sends”) are transmitted to the Advisory Committee as finalists for full review.


Methods We Love

:heart: Objective Cover Sheets. Cover Sheets contain information gathered from a summary of the application, including project details, budget notes, and applicant organizational background along with relevant context that should be shared with reviewers. They are helpful while reviewing applications and in decisionmaking meetings for recalling pertinent, high-level information about the proposal. They are also helpful after funding decisions have been made during project meetings and applicant feedback conversations.

:heart: Screen/Send process. This shows that you respect the time of reviewers and applicants by only sending the highest priority applications for full committee review. An initial screening review narrows the field of eligible proposals by dismissing less competitive proposals on the basis of predetermined criteria. This not only ensures that a manageable number of applications are sent for review to the full committee but it also enables screened applicants to be notified earlier in the process, giving them the opportunity to resubmit a more compelling proposal in a future round for ongoing funding programs or seek resources elsewhere.

:heart: Google forms that automatically populate a spreadsheet. This is an inexpensive solution that enables the process to be somewhat automated, allowing for information to be easily exported as a spreadsheet, eliminating the need for a robust grants management system.

:heart: Using mail merges for correspondence with applicants. While one-on-one correspondence is important throughout the process, mail merges are more efficient for standard messages throughout the review process, allows program staff to merge in applicant information quickly from a database or spreadsheet.

Alternative Approaches

:bulb: Grants management software. By using an online platform where applicants complete the application on the front end and staff/reviewers can do intake and review via the same platform from the back end, you can not only streamline the process but also make it much more automated. This software tends to be expensive so it typically makes the most sense if you have several funding programs that can also utilize the software and can import data that has already been collected from past programs or outreach.

Cautionary Tales

:warning: Inadequate time to do intake. The review will go much more smoothly if you can schedule 1-2 weeks to do application intake. This allows program staff to thoroughly read and summarize applications, screening for eligibility and completeness. It also allows a sub-committee to participate in an additional screening process, if necessary, ensuring that only the most competitive proposals will be sent to the full committee for review. While it is able to be accomplished on a much faster timeline, this often means not screening applications and not providing summarized and/or additional context through cover sheets, making it much more difficult for reviewers to fully consider the most competitive applications.

Templates & Downloads