Resources for Grantseekers

Planning to apply for a CFNIL grant? This page includes guides, resources, and tips to assist you with each step of the application process. While many of the resources refer specifically to the CFNIL Community Grants program, the guidance is useful for most of CFNIL's competitive grant programs.

Wondering if your organization is eligible to apply for a CFNIL Community Grant

View 2024 Community Grant Program Guidelines 

2024 Community Grants Meetings, Workshops, and Work Sessions

Thinking about applying for a 2024 Community Grant? A first-time applicant or looking for guidance? In addition to the ever-available option to just drop us an email or give us a call, there are three "official" opportunities to work with CFNIL staff this Community Grants season:

  1. Grantseekers Meetings: learn more about the Community Grants process and answer all your burning questions! Two identical sessions will be held: 
  • An in-person session will be held at 3:30pm on Tuesday, June 25th, at The Nordlof Center (118 N Main Street, Rockford). 
  • A virtual session will be held at 9:00am on Wednesday, June 26th

Learn More and RSVP for a Grantseekers Meeting

  1. Evaluation Plan and Budgeting Workshops: Join us for a practical workshop that will provide guidance on the Evaluation Plan and Budgeting aspects of CFNIL's Community Grants Program application. Three identical sessions will be held:
  • Wednesday, July 24th at 9 am
  • Thursday, July 30th at 3 pm
  • Tuesday, July 31st  at 3 pm

Learn More and RSVP for an Evaluation Plan & Budgeting Workshop

  1. Community Grants Application Work Session: Looking for even more hands-on, one-on-one assistance? Sign up for a one-hour time slot, bring your laptop, and work directly with CFNIL grant staff:
  • Thursday, August 1st, 9-10am, 10-11am, or 11am-12pm
  • Tuesday, August 6th, 9-10am, 10-11am, or 11am-12pm

Learn More and RSVP for a Community Grants Application Work Session

Using CFNIL's Online Grant Portal

With the exception of In Youth We Trust youth grants, all CFNIL's grant programs utilize an online application portal. The video below provides an overview tutorial for how to create an account, apply for open grants, and navigate the Applicant Dashboard. 

Prefer to get instructions in writing? Use this written tutorial!

Introducing the CFNIL Grantmaking Philosophies

As the Grants Team at the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, we are pleased to share our Grantmaking Philosophies, seven principles for effective grantmaking that guide our review processes. This video provides an introduction to the philosophies and an overview of the seven principles. View a PDF of the philosophies.

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How does your online grants application process work?

With the exception of In Youth We Trust youth grants, grant applicants create an account in the online grants application portal, and then log on to that account to access the list of available grants and start a new grant application. Your application can be saved as a draft, and when you log on again it’s easy to return to that draft, make edits, and submit the application.

Each account maintains a record of the application history that you can access at any time.

Once a grant is awarded, the online grants portal allows grantees an easy way to see the status of their grant, check due dates, and submit electronic grant reports right from their account.

We recommend that you carefully read the instructions and reference materials found on this page before registering and starting your first application.   

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How do I create a grant portal account?

All applicants are required to create an account. We suggest creating your account well in advance of the grant deadline to avoid any last minute issues.

Only one user per organization should create an initial account. That initial user will be able to add additional users once they have started an application, using the Collaborator tool. The first person to register enters the organization’s information, which creates the organization profile. It’s important to enter this information accurately at registration, because after this point the organization profile can only be edited by Community Foundation staff. If you are unsure whether your organization already has an account or if you need to be added to an existing account, please contact us.

At the time of registration you are required to enter the following information:

  • A username that is an email address
  • Your contact information
  • Your organization’s information, including the EIN/Tax ID number (required)
  • Contact information for the organization’s Executive Officer

Need additional help?

View a step-by-step video tutorial!

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How do I manage my account or the account for my organization?

View a video tutorial to learn about navigating your Applicant Dashboard

Managing your online account – for organizations

Only one user per organization should create an initial account. That initial user will be able to add additional users once they have started an application, using the Collaborator tool. The first person to register enters the organization’s information, which creates the organization profile. It’s important to enter this information accurately at registration, because after this point the organization profile can only be edited by Community Foundation staff. If you are unsure whether your organization already has an account or if you need to be added to an existing account, please contact us.

Managing your online account – for users

Once your account is set up, your account dashboard is displayed on screen every time you log in. From the dashboard, you can do the following:

  • Edit your contact information
  • Begin the application process 
  • Access application drafts and submitted applications
  • View details and complete the report process for grant awards

A user account can only be connected to one organization at a time. If you work on behalf of multiple organizations (i.e. contract grantwriter, community volunteer, etc.), please contact us to add additional organizations to your account.

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I've created an account. Now what?

Look for open grant opportunities, and start your application! The person who should be the primary contact for a specific grant proposal should be the person who starts the application. This user will be able to add additional collaborators using the Collaborator tool.

View a video to learn how to apply

View a tutorial to learn about the Collaborator tool

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Can I use email or fax to submit my application?

With the exception of In Youth We Trust YOUTH grants, all applications must be submitted via CFNIL's online grants portal

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Can I work on the application without internet access?

The CFNIL online grants portal requires internet access for you to login, view, and work on your application. However, you may choose to work on questions offline in Word or another word processing application without internet access, and copy/paste them into the online application when you are back online. 

Each grant program has a unique application. Find a PDF version of the application you wish to complete on the specific grant program webpage.

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Do I have to complete my application all at once?

No. At the bottom of the application is a “Save as Draft” button. We recommend you save your application often and before logging out. You can log in at a later time to continue working on your application. We recommend that you cut and paste your application answers after each question into a Word document to save as backup and to assist with spelling and grammar.

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How do the character limits work?

There are limits on the amount of text you can submit. You will see a character counter displayed below the entry field. This will actively tell you how many characters you have entered and will let you know when you are approaching the limit. You will not be able to save a draft of your application if you exceed the character limit. You are not required, or even encouraged, to reach the character limit!

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Will CFNIL follow up with me if my application needs clarification or if something is missing?

It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure their proposal is complete. In rare cases, CFNIL staff will contact an applicant for clarification, but this is not typical.

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When is the application due?

Each grant program has unique open/close dates. Applications must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on the close date for the cycle to which you are applying.

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Help! Why did I lose my edits?

There are a few common reasons why this can happen:

  • If you stay on one page for an extended period of time without saving, your account may “time out” without warning.
  • A weak internet connection may momentarily disconnect your computer while you are working on the application.

As a safeguard, we recommend that you:

  • Save your application often
  • Cut and paste your application answers after each question into a Word document to save as backup.

To restore your edits, try:

  • Re-loading your internet page, as sometimes the browser will cache an older version of your page.
  • Logging out, wait a few minutes, and then log back in and re-open your application.

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What file formats should I use for attachments?

Occasionally one of CFNIL’s grant applications will request that you upload an external document (i.e. a quote for a budget item or a relevant report). These items should be uploaded as PDFs and have file size limits. The limits will be noted next to the Upload button. Our application also limits the number of PDFs you can upload, which means you may need to combine multiple PDFs into one document. 

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Why am I having trouble uploading files?

Typically, this is due to the file size being too large. Need help? Contact us.

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How do I print a copy of my application for my records?

If you would like a paper copy of your application for your own records, login to the application portal and choose the "Application Packet" link. This will create a PDF of your application. You can print or save this document. You will always have access to your application by logging back into the application portal, even after you submit it.

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Budget Form Instructions:

  • The budget should include only the revenue and expenses for this proposal, not your entire organization.
  • Revenue should equal or exceed expenses.
  • Expense items may be combined into one line if there aren’t enough rows for all expenses. Take care to group like items as much as possible and use the budget narrative to indicate the amounts for the component expenses.
  • For "Status" choose "Received" for all income currently under your organization's control. Choose "Pledged" for sources that have been promised to your organization, but not yet received. Choose "Requested" for all income sources for which your organization has applied or asked that have not been received or pledged. Choose "Estimated" for all income that you are projecting to earn from services provided or event admissions.
  • CFNIL encourages you to add up to 15% of the project costs for indirect costs. For example, if you need $10,000 from CFNIL, multiply $10,000 by 15%. $10,000 x .15 = $1500. $1,500 is the indirect cost amount that would be entered on the Budget Revenue and Budget Expense tables, and your total Request Amount will increase to $11,500

For your convenience, CFNIL has provided a sample proposal budget and sample proposal narrative.

Sample Proposal Budget 

Sample Budget Narrative 

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Evaluation Plan: Measuring Results

While evaluating grants, CFNIL reviewers want to know who is applying, how they will put a plan into action, and what that plan will accomplish. In the Evaluation Plan section of the application (formerly called Outcomes), CFNIL reviewers need the clearest possible description of projected quantitative results in order to meaningfully evaluate your application.

The following is a list of key terms from the Evaluation Plan section of CFNIL’s application:

  • Result: The change or improvement that a charitable activity is intended to produce.
  • Indicators of Success: The data collected to show evidence of a change as a result of the proposed activity.
  • TargetsThis does not refer to your target population. Express the target as a number or percentage. it is the quantity of the data that you are tracking in the "Indicators of Success" listed above that you want to surpass to consider the Result met.
  • Methods for Measurement: How you will collect the data that shows evidence of change.
  • Benchmarks: A point of reference against which your results will be compared.

Examples of Single-Year Result Statements 

Examples of Multi-Year Result Statements 

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Final, Progress, and Interim Reports

All grant recipients are required to submit an online Final Report upon completion of the charitable activity for which the grant was made. Final Reports will include a detailed budget explaining how the funds were used and a description of the achieved outcomes of the charitable activity. Grant recipients will be asked to compare the actual results achieved with the anticipated results given in the original proposal. The Final Report may also include an oral presentation or other components as deemed necessary by CFNIL.

Final reports are due approximately 14 months after approval. The online Final Report form will be made available soon after your grant is awarded, and may be accessed via the Applicant Dashboard on CFNIL's online grant portal. If your organization has been awarded a multi-year grant, your organization will have to complete a Progress Report between funding years.

Interim Reports

Applicant organizations must submit an interim report for each in-progress grant from CFNIL’s Community Grants Program even if your new application is for a different program. Each new application must include an upload of all interim reports within the online application portal. If you need to submit reports for multiple open grants, combine the reports into one document to upload. PDF format required. Interim reports should include:

Interim reports should include:
1. Description of the charitable activity’s progress
2. Description of any changes to the charitable activity since approval
3. Reason that a Final Report is not being submitted

Please Note: If you are applying for the same charitable activity for which you are currently being funded, it's to your advantage to provide a more detailed interim report so that the reviewers can understand the current impact of your charitable activity.

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Working with a School District?

If you are working with or within a school district or providing services to school districts, such as field trips, you must submit a Pre-Authorization Form (found below). If working with or providing services for multiple school districts, you may provide executed “Pre-Authorization Forms” from the top three districts. The form asks for detailed information about the partnership between the applicant and the district, specifically the district’s role in designing the charitable activity and allocating resources toward its completion. 

This document is a fillable PDF. Please download it before attempting to fill it out.

Pre-Authorizaton Form for Working with a School District

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Proposal Review Guidelines

CFNIL is committed to a fair and objective proposal review process.

Volunteer advisors from the community review and recommend grant proposals for approval by the CFNIL Board of Trustees. CFNIL Trustees, volunteer advisors, and staff adhere to carefully considered conflict of interest and confidentiality policies throughout the review and approval process. Due to the volume of proposals considered, CFNIL cannot routinely meet with grant applicants as a part of the review process. CFNIL may meet with any applicant when a review committee has determined that a meeting or a site visit will facilitate the review process.

Grant award decisions are final. CFNIL Trustees, volunteer advisors, and staff are prohibited from discussing the details of committee deliberations with any grant applicant. 

Proposal Review Guidelines

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Questions? Issues with your application? Contact Lisa!

Lisa DeLang, Program and Administrative Associate, headshot
Lisa DeLang
Program and Administrative Associate
Phone: 779-210-8210
Email: Lisa DeLang