Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Are Grant Donors Looking For & Funding, Today?

In order to raise a grant, today, a nonprofit must demonstrate the following to each potential grant donor that it applies to, because (even without the difficult economy and perhaps fewer nonprofits attempting to raise grants) donors, today, expect a review of project results, transparency in accounting and reporting, project viability, and relevance of the programs or projects that they fund (or seriously consider funding). Why? If a nonprofit can't both demonstrate the need, potential, and expected outcome of the project that it is asking for grant money for - then grant donors can turn to another nonprofit's more planned and viable project because it is potentially more likely to be successful and what donor (who thinks, really more like an investor, today) doesn't want to put their money where it's most likely to provide real positive results for the community? Why, if they do not feel confident in their investment, should they invest their donations (grants) in your organization's proposed project? In order to raise grants, today, a proposed project in any grant application should have:

__ Forethought - Research, and Planning: are other organizations (or entities - for/nonprofit or local government, etc.) already doing what your agency is going to propose to do? If so, why should another organization do it? Also, if your agency is proposing brand new work or a new program - research must be conducted to learn what the population your agency works to benefit truly needs, right now, and what would really solve the issue.

__ The Dream Team: All the best meaning people can be a part of a new project's team, but if there are no successful experts with prior relevant and strong experience on the team (especially if there are no 'big names' or 'rock stars' in the professional field that your agency works in) why would a donor (investor) feel confident in the project's viability? Research who would be ideal to have on the team, actively recruit them, and be sure to have in place human resources benefits and a professional culture that will retain them.

__ A Proof of Concept: Innovation is really popular, today. Once a nonprofit has listened and heard what it's beneficiary population truly needs, right now (that is not being met, yet) and has come up with a viable, new, and possible way to remedy the issue - it must either prove through others' (credible) research that the new concept is worthy of an attempt (and donations) or it must do it a few times to demonstrate the project's realistic potential to solve the issue, the project's viability, and how it can be done efficiently with real positive outcomes.

__ A Model Project - Or An Easily Replicated/Duplicated Innovation That Can Be Used Elsewhere By Other Organizations: Innovation, as I said above, is attractive to donors, but if a project is proven to work and can also be replicated by other nonprofits doing similar work, elsewhere, then the innovative project can be deemed a 'best practice' or 'tried and true' and hopefully a better way to remedy a standing issue. If a donor sees that their donation launched a solution for your organization's constituents but potentially other agencies' clientele or beneficiaries, too - it is easy to invest as the potential is greater.

__ Viability - The Project Should Be Viable Today and In the Future: If a nonprofit proposes the ultimate potential project but the organization that is proposing it has not planned out the project or how it would be funded fully - year to year, into the future, growing it; and worked to that end then there remains, in potential grant donors' minds, a fear that while your organization can provide the project or services it can not sustain it, or does not know how to raise the money to provide the project beyond their grant. Their investment, then, would be wasted.

__ Buy In - If Your Organization's Leadership Aren't Investing In It and If Your Organization's Community Isn't Investing In It Then Why Should A Major Donor (such as a grant donor)?: One of the most compelling line items in any proposed project's grant application budget is 'Board Contributions of $x' listed there, under 'Income'. If an organization's leadership has not allocated a portion of the total funds that they (as leaders in the organization) are going to either raise or give, themselves, for this proposed project - then why should a donor give? Also, if other organizations (local major donors, local businesses, other grant donors) have seen the proposal but not given - why would others? Buy in is an excellent way to make potential grant donors more comfortable giving. If you send a grant proposal to a potential grant donor and already have a few donors committed for part of the whole cost then be sure to include that as line item(s) in your grant proposal's budget. Having buy-in is very compelling to potential donors (including grant donors).

__ Collaboration With Other Relevant and Expert Organizations In the Community: No one wants to donate to a nonprofit that is either reinventing the wheel (and doing what other nonprofits have already tried or are already doing); and no donor wants to give to a nonprofit that is not being as efficient (with talent, money, and time) as it possibly could. Often, when a nonprofit works with another organization to provide a project it is not just a collaboration for fundraising's sake. It is a melding of talent pools, a more efficient mechanism as the organizations will mutually pay for expenses, and the outcome for the community is the same (or greater). To many grant donors, collaborations lead to a strengthened community, the outcomes that we all hope for, but less overhead costs, less reinventing the wheel, more applied talent and experience, and shared expenses. It's a good deal.

__ A Project Goal, The Expected Outcomes, and Evaluation Methods Built Into the Project Design: If a nonprofit does not have a (clear) expected goal of its proposed project, no expected outcomes, and no evaluation method to check for both successes but also to learn where improvements are needed in the project - then how would a donor (investor) know what to expect, know that the proposed project is really going to be a viable solution for the community, and whether the proposed project will wind up being fruitful (either as a solution or as part solution and part learning experience to better the next time the project is conducted)?

__ Transparency: Honesty is important for any nonprofit's credibility and relationship-building in its community (for not just fundraising but also to be considered capable of delivering its programs); but it is critical in reporting (e.g. in annual reports to current donors, in tax returns to governments, and to potential donors in proposal budgets). If a nonprofit is open and honest in its reporting, a donor will be further compelled to give because the donor will feel confident and trust the organization and that goes a long way in any type of fundraising. Anything less in any kind of accounting or reporting is a red flag and will negate chances to raise grants.

__ Organizational Responsibility and Accountability to the Beneficiary Population of Its Work: If a nonprofit has an innovative, compelling, viable proposed project underway but doesn't see the merit in evaluating its project after its initial run, or if it evaluates its project but doesn't follow through to review and listen to the results; then it is not going to either learn from its mistakes to improve the project. Ultimately, this demonstrates that the organization is not so concerned about whether their project will really solve some of the issues it is attempting to (how will it, in any quantifiable or demonstrable way, know if it has or not)? More importantly how will it tell others that it is successful in its mission statement work?

__ Enough Time for The Project to Realistically Succeed: Part of the expense of any project is the cost of start up and initially running it. Often it takes at least two years for a new project to take hold and get to where it can really do some good and this expense (of start up) requires planning (including: a project design, staffing, a goal, expected outcomes, an evaluation, an anticipated time line, action items, assignments and expected deadlines, proper budgeting).

Any nonprofit that takes the time to really create a strong project to propose to potential donors (including grant donors) it has put itself ahead in the pool to really potentially raise grants.

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