Gitcoin logo
Our Blog

Define - Laying the Foundation for Your Grants Program

Welcome to the first in our series of deep dives into the Grants Program Canvas! Today, we’re exploring the “Define” stage, the crucial first step in building a successful grants program. This stage sets the foundation for everything that follows, so let’s dive in and see what it entails.

What is the Define Stage?

The Define stage focuses on clearly establishing the foundational elements of your grants program. It involves forming your program’s mission, setting clear objectives, and determining the scope, grant selection approach, and budget constraints. You’ll learn how to align your grants program with your broader organizational vision, ensuring that your efforts have a meaningful and measurable impact. 

What is it For?

The Define stage is designed to provide clarity and direction. It ensures that your program has a strong foundation and that all team members are aligned with the program’s mission and objectives. This stage is also for clarifying the difference between objectives and your mission, the roadmap for your program’s financial journey, and the direction and focus areas of your grants program. 

How to Use the Define Stage

Forming the Mission: 

There is sometimes confusion between a grant program's mission and its objective. While your mission (your “what”) speaks to the essence of the program, your objective (your “how”) will get specific about how your grants program funds will be spent. By aligning the grants program’s mission with your org’s vision, resources are directed towards activities that contribute to the organization's desired future. 

  • Identify Your Mission: Start by asking what you want to achieve with your grants program. Are you looking to grow your ecosystem, support innovative projects, or address specific community needs?

Setting Objectives: 

Objectives are the specific, measurable outcomes you want to achieve. They should align with your mission and provide a roadmap for success. Objectives can include things like “Increase the number of active developers in our community” or “Fund 20 new projects by the end of the year.”

The first question to answer in setting an objective is: what do you want to fund? Clearly, you want to fund projects that grow your ecosystem, your network, your community, your impact. But let’s get more specific.

Do you want to fund:

  • Hackathons? 
  • Compatible dApps in your ecosystem?
  • Integrations with your protocol? 
  • Impactful projects tackling a cause-specific problem? 
  • Novel governance mechanisms?

Then ask yourself whether you want to award funding proactively or retroactively.

  • Proactive: best for funding early-stage ideas and ecosystems. 
  • Retroactive: best for ecosystems and projects with solid track records

Define the Scope of Your Program

Scoping is all about defining the direction and focus area(s) of your grants program. You can think of scoping like a spectrum: on one end, you have broad, and on the other you have narrow. 

  • Broad objectives cast a wide net and encourage diverse applications
  • Narrow objectives are more focused and target specific needs.

Budget Constraints: 

Budgets act as the roadmap for your program's financial journey, dictating the scope and reach of your objectives. Larger budgets allow for broader scopes and potentially looser eligibility criteria. A couple strategies to consider when trying to allocate budget to your objectives/outcomes:

  • Needs-Based Allocation: Allocate funds based on the specific resource needs of each objective.
  • Impact-Based Allocation: Distribute funds based on the potential impact of each objective. 

For the Objective Setting Worksheet, download the Grants Program Design Playbook


Measurement and objectives go hand-in-hand. Revisit your objectives and ask yourself: what are you trying to grow? Your ecosystem? Your community? Your development team? And then: what is the best way to measure this growth?

There are two key concepts that will help you to accomplish this: key results and leading indicators.

  • Key Results: Your key results should tell you how you’re bringing value back to your ecosystem through the grants program, reflecting the ultimate destination set by your objectives.
  • Leading Indicators: If your key results describe an outcome, then your leading indicators describe outputs. Outputs are factors that you can control — they’re predictable levers that you can pull on in order to achieve a desired result. E.g. improved governance tools

For a list of common measurements, dive into page 33 of the Grants Program Canvas.


Defining your audience is an important step of the grants program design process because it will help you set a foundation for your engagement plan. You can break your audience down into  two different, and important, sub-groups:

  • Community Being Served: stakeholders who have a vested interest in the success of your organization. This group could include anyone from token holders to board members to contributors. 
  • Grantee Prospects: There’s a good chance this is a subset of your existing community, but it might also encompass individuals that you want to bring into the community. 

*Funders: When using QF, there is one more audience to keep in mind when designing your grants program: funders.

Securing Funding: 

In the simplest situation, this will mainly be a question of how much money your organization is willing to commit to the program, and how you’re going to commit it. You may need to raise the funds that you will be distributing through your grants program. If this is the case, then you need to plan your fundraising activities. 

There have been a plethora of advancements in the blockchain space that have enabled novel ways of raising funds. For a list of mechanisms to consider, and to get your hands on a Funding Allocation Strategy Worksheet, download the Grants Program Design Playbook

Expected Outcomes

By the end of the Define stage, you should have:

  • A Clear Mission: A well-defined mission that guides your program and aligns with your organization’s goals.
  • Specific Objectives: Clear, measurable objectives that provide direction and focus for your program.
  • Measurement: Agreed-upon impact measurement through key results and leading indicators.
  • A Defined Audience: Community being served and grantee prospects.
  • Funding Source: A funding source to get the funds that will be distributed through your grants program.

With these elements in place, you’ll be well-prepared to move on to the next stage of the Grants Canvas: Design

Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we’ll explore how to design a high-impact grants program!

And if you haven’t gotten your hands on the Grants Program Canvas yet, get it now and use the downloadable templates, worksheets and step-by-step walk-thrus that it contains.

Download the Playbook

Download your free copy of the Grants Program Design playbook

Read more
Featured Posts

[BLANK] Canvas Details: Speaker Lineup & Schedule for Our EthCC Event

Gitcoin Grants 2024 Strategy & Updates

Where to Find Gitcoin @ EthCC 2024