An Insiders Look at Grants

I started my career in fundraising by working with institutional funders. I truly enjoy working with foundations and corporations. It’s a great balance of articulating the organization’s work through a proposal and building effective relationships with program officers.

I want to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years raising funds from institutional funders:

Keep a database of funders
Over the years, I have collected information on dozens of funders, documenting giving priorities, average gift size, deadlines, and websites. This helps me to quickly identify funders for certain projects.

Pro tip: Funders will sometimes change giving priorities so it’s important to occasionally update the spreadsheet. 

Understand the root cause you’re trying to address
I have seen so many programs that are supposed to be solving a problem/filling a need, but in actuality, it doesn’t come close because the organization understand the root cause.

Conduct a root cause analysis. Start with a problem statement. Then ask WHY five times. At this point, you are getting to the root cause. You then can identify the implications for practice and how your solution (aka program) addresses the root cause.

There’s a difference between outputs and outcomes
As a grant funder for a short period, this was one of my biggest pet peeves with applicants. They didn’t know the difference between outputs and outcomes. Let’s be clear about this. Outputs are “what we do.” For example, your organization produced 5 theatre productions that reached 5,000 people. Those are outputs (think numbers). Outcomes are “what difference we made.” In the example, an outcome could be the participants’ increase knowledge of Shakespeare. Outcomes are the changes in behavior, knowledge, and attitudes. Outcomes is where it’s at. I don’t care if you reach 100,000 annually if they don’t come away with anything because of your services.

Pro tip: Do you have difficulty identifying outcomes? Check out the Outcomes Indicator Project by the Urban Institute.

It’s all about impact
Funders are approaching their donations as investments. Just like we want to see a return on investment (ROI) in the stock market, funders want to see a return on philanthropic investment (ROPI). So what is your organization’s impact? How are you moving the needle? Why should those funders continue investing in your organization? Take some time and answer these questions. You will certainly need to address it in grant proposals.

Do you need help with finding, cultivating, and securing grants? I can help! Send me an e-mail to discuss your fundraising goals.


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Sarah Cortell Vandersypen

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