Bold = Gold: Grant Requests That Demand Investment
In today’s philanthropic climate, an important key to unlocking the grantmaker’s door is to become bold in your thinking. Encouraging leadership to embrace new ways to fulfill your organization’s mission is a major step in that direction. It requires a hefty dose of courage to analyze your organization’s current situation, agree to take a hard look at how to truly fulfill your mission and then generate a clear path toward that far-reaching vision.
Keep in mind that goals are long-term and visionary, whereas objectives are short-term and measurable. It is an important difference. Many people get these terms confused, but in order to have productive conversations about moving your organization forward, it is critical that everyone involved in the discussions agrees on these definitions. It is even smart to share these definitions by posting them on the wall before you begin this discussion.
This board discussion needs to challenge present assumptions about your organization. Of course that means you must first identify your current assumptions!
Let’s say your organization works with U.S. veterans suffering from mental and physical health issues. One current assumption might be:
There will always be an increase in demand for our services.
Once you have clarified a number of assumptions, step back and challenge each one. In this case, what if you came up with a bold goal for your organization that would flip this entire assumption? For example, you might consider how your organization can decrease the demand for your services.
If you can identify a goal—something visionary—this will then guide every step your organization takes. And every grant request will mirror those steps. This goal should be exciting for both your staff and your board, but it does have to be achievable, even if we’re talking five or 10 years in the future.
Bold thinking can open the door to funders who, before now, may not have shown an interest in your work. All of a sudden, they sit up and take notice. They are eager to discuss how your new vision might come to fruition. Many of these grantmakers may even want to be in on the planning to make this happen.
You are now the nonprofit willing to step outside the norm; your staff and leadership are considered both courageous and innovative. It is an exciting move, which captures the attention of grantmakers. Their excitement is contagious and will likely bring other grantmakers to the table, particularly if they feel it is a well-conceived strong idea that merits real investment. Some of these funders may be willing to make substantial commitments to help move you toward your goal. When you think big like this, funders understand the need to secure multi-year commitments.
It’s a good idea to invite a few funders to the table early in your discussions, possibly even before you settle on the goal. Grantmakers aren’t constrained by constantly thinking about how the project will get financed, so their contributions to this type of discussion can be very valuable.
One of the most powerful steps you can take is to change the conversation you have with funders. The normal conversation is about who you are and what program or project needs funding. It is fairly one-sided. You’re the salesperson; they’re the buyer. But the funder’s staff often has a depth of knowledge that can enhance and expand your thinking, and this is the direction you want the conversation to go. Solving any complex social or environmental problem is going to require long-term, flexible funding, and opening up the conversation is key to engaging grantmakers at a level that will help you gain this type of support.
Let me sum this up by saying, “Don’t be shy about engaging a potential grantmaker in conversation.” Be aware they may not fund you—and that is okay. You can even be clear that you do not expect their financial support, but you do need their expertise in the topic area to flesh out a unique and powerful long-term, visionary goal. That said, their participation may result in a grant; if not from them, possibly from others they bring into the discussion.
Be brave! Be bold in your thinking. And let me know if you go through this exercise and what the outcomes are. I am always looking for interesting examples of this approach and hopefully you will be one!
If your nonprofit is looking to find new funder opportunities, build strong grant programs, write powerful proposals and win awards to fund your mission, from now until Aug. 15, you can sign up for a one-year GrantStation Membership subscription for $169.
For more information, watch this virtual tour of GrantStation.
Cynthia Adams has been dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations identify and secure the funding they need to do their good work for well over 40 years.
Cynthia founded GrantStation because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field.
Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating opportunities for all nonprofit organizations, regardless of size or geographic location, to secure grant support.
Cynthia is founder and CEO of GrantStation.