A step-by-step look at the process of partnering with us.
See below for details, documents and a timeline.

  • Start a Conversation
  • Preproposals

  • Staff Review
  • Projects Committee Decisions

  • Full Proposal Invitation
  • Full Proposal

  • Expert and Staff Review
  • Revise Proposal

  • Staff Review
  • Board Decision
  • Signed Grant Agreement and Intellectual Property Policy
Initial conversations not included, the process can take 6-8 months.

Start a Conversation

We strongly encourage you to contact our program staff to discuss an idea, whether fully formed or not, to begin the application process.

Our goal with these contacts is to begin to build something—together. You have an idea and a strategy in mind and we have a basin-wide perspective and experience launching new initiatives.

Please visit our funding guidelines and also consider the following questions before you pick up the phone or send us an email:

  • How is your work action-oriented and how will it lead to meaningful benefits for the ecosystem as a whole?
  • How does the team you are pulling together incorporate members from a range of sectors and with a diversity of perspectives, skills and expertise?
  • How will your work create novel partnerships, synergies, and/or tools?
  • How will the impact from your work be on a path to scale-up regionally before Fund support lapses?

Even if you don’t have concrete answers to all of these questions, we encourage you to contact our program staff to discuss your project idea.

This is one of several iterative points in our process. When an idea fits our funding niche and the opportunity seems ripe, we will work with you to build a regional strategy and develop the dynamics of your team to round out a project that will have tangible improvements for the ecosystem.

We invest in this earliest phase of project development to set a big idea on a trajectory towards game-changing outcomes.

Steve Cole, Vice President of Programs
847-425-8194 or scole(at)glpf(dot)org

Submit a Preproposal

As a matter of course, we accept preproposals at any time. Please visit our funding guidelines for the characteristics of our funded projects. Preproposals should include the following information. No other attachments are permitted.

1) Applicant Cover Sheet (PDF)

2) Project Narrative (three-page limit)

Environmental Outcomes
Describe, as specifically as possible, the expected environmental result of the project. The expected result may be presented as a working hypothesis. Explain why the outcome sought is a priority for the Great Lakes and identify the likely impact on the basin ecosystem.

Proposed Work
Outline the work to be carried out. Include a project timeline that indicates when the environmental outcomes will be realized, when the project work will be complete and major interim milestones. Describe your theory of change. Show how the work will lead to the expected outcomes identified above and how project success will be measured. Explain what must happen beyond the work proposed, if anything, to ensure that the entire Great Lakes ecosystem will benefit. Describe the target audience(s) for the project and identify their role(s) in the project, as well as a strategy to further engage them, even if projected environmental outcomes are not achieved.

Key Personnel
Identify the members of the project team, indicating roles and responsibilities. Briefly discuss qualifications. Describe planned collaboration activities.

Budget and Funding Plan
Present the estimated costs of the proposed work in summary categories: personnel, equipment and supplies, travel, consultants/sub-contractors, overhead, etc.

The Fund will support overhead/indirect/G&A cost at a maximum of 15% of direct project costs.

Identify how funds will be raised to support the proposed work. Indicate the portion of the budget to be supported by the Fund, and identify the type of support (grant, loan or other mechanism) desired. Detail additional sources of funding by organization and amount if known. Matching funds are not required.

As a point of reference, the average level of Fund support is $460,000, but past awards have ranged from $20,000 to $1.6 million.

3) Project Manager Resume (two-page limit)

Please submit your preproposal coversheet, project narrative and project manager’s resume (as one pdf document) to preproposal@glpf.org. We will acknowledge your submittal and give you our best estimate on when you will hear back from us, including the date your preproposal will go before the Projects and Grant Making Committee. 

Evaluation Criteria

The Fund’s review will consider the following when evaluating preproposals:

Ecological Benefits
Your project should have clear, ambitious and plausible ecological benefits to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Potential for Disruptive Innovation
The Fund seeks to support projects that create new categories of action, open up new markets, and generate systemic changes that benefit the Great Lakes ecosystem. We encourage you to approach problems in fundamentally new ways and create scalable, systems-changing solutions.

Capacity to Deliver Results
You must demonstrate the ability to execute a complex project, adapt to what is learned during the course of the work, effectively engage stakeholders, generate short-term impact, and place their project on a path to scale by the time that Fund support ends. This is achievable through a combination of clear outcomes, a strong project team, a thoughtful theory of change, and a committed and experienced team leader.

Collaborative Project Team
Your team must represent a mix of disciplinary expertise and perspectives, involve entities that will be affected by the work (including participation by interim and end-users), and be led by an effective team leader. While the Fund does not necessarily expect teams to be fully formed at the preproposal stage, those that are typically develop the most successful work plans. Teams must become fully-formed during the (invitation only) proposal development stage.

Good Fit in Portfolio of Work
The Fund builds portfolios of projects that have synergy in outcomes and undertake complementary approaches to their work. Synergy in outcomes means that, if successful, project results magnify each other’s impact. Complementary approaches are those that rely on different inputs, strategies and external circumstances. As a result, you should be clear about your products, your theory of change, and what factors create success or failure.

Eligibility and Award Information

The Great Lakes Protection Fund can support a wide variety of applicants based in the United States or internationally.

  • non-profit organizations
  • universities
  • governmental agencies
  • individuals
  • for-profit businesses

The applicant does not need to be located within the Great Lakes region to be eligible. However, the proposed project concept must identify positive environmental impact to the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

Government agencies must show that Fund support is not being used to replace or duplicate public funds.

The Fund cannot provide support for the following types of activities:

  • advocacy campaigns
  • litigation
  • enforcement
  • public works projects
  • compliance obligations
  • general operating support

The Fund is able to employ a variety of funding instruments including cash grants, convertible grants, debt, equity or some combination. Please indicate what type of funding you seek in your preproposal.

Supported teams enter a binding agreement with the Fund. Standard terms include: indemnifying the Fund from acts of the team, developing shared branding and communication products, recognizing that payments are contingent on team progress, adhering to the Fund’s Intellectual Property Policy, and giving the Fund open access to project data, records and information.

What Happens Next?

When your preproposal is received, Fund staff will start the review process. Often times this is an iterative point in the process and we will contact you with further inquiries if necessary.


As a matter of course, the Projects and Grant Making Committee meets quarterly to evaluate preproposals.

Final funding decisions are made by the full board at its March, June, September and December meetings.

Typically conversations about a project idea begin two months before a preproposal is submitted. If successful, you can receive an award within six to eight months after submitting a preproposal.

Below are sample timeframes for you to gauge the pace of our process. These timeframes can vary for opportunities that will benefit from expedited funding or that require additional time to prepare.

If you submit a preproposal by: You will receive a response (invite or decline) in: If invited, you will receive a final funding decision in:
End of January February June
End of April May September
End of July August December
End of October November March

Full Proposal

At the invitation of the Projects and Grant Making Committee, the next step in our process is to submit a more detailed full proposal. You will receive feedback from the evaluation of your preproposal as well as guidance for the content of your full proposal which often is customized based on the nature of the proposed work.

Fund staff and a panel of outside technical reviewers with relevant expertise review all full proposals. You will receive additional guidance based on those reviews and will be asked to revise your original submittal.

The Projects and Grant Making Committee reviews the compiled information and presents a funding recommendation to be acted upon by the full board.