4 grantwriting taboos

Posted on November 1, 2012

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4 grantwriting taboos

Even philanthropy has a dark side. Certain topics feel too risky to discuss, like these 4:

1) The relationship is inherently unequal.

There are many similarities between grantwriters and funders. But those of us in the industry know it’s not exactly equal.

When I left a nonprofit and started working for a foundation, I noticed a few changes

a) my phone calls were returned a lot faster.
b) my jokes were suddenly funnier.
c) my insights became invaluable.

The new job prompted people to respond to me differently.

A funder may be open and understanding, and grantwriters can be effective and assertive. But final decisions rest with the funder. It’s a power imbalance.

Funders should be sensitive and work to minimize the effect it has on relationships.

2) The funder is biased.

Some call it bias, others call it opinion. No matter what you call it, we all have bias to some extent. Including funders. I’d argue it’s a good thing.

Think about what we want in our board members. They should be connected. Passionate about the cause. Decisive, proactive leaders.

Unless we have a board full of robots and jellyfish, directors are going to act on their convictions. They will make decisions based on their opinions.

Funders should use facts to construct their opinions and have an open mind.

3) Measurements are often shallow and unreliable.

I like quantifiable data as much as the next girl. Good solid statistics can build a case for support or show results.

But good data is tricky. Especially in the day-to-day grind. On a nonprofit’s shoestring budget, measurements can cost too much time and money. They’re often manual processes prone to mistakes.

That number of unduplicated client visits — how certain are you about those numbers? And what does that mean — really?

Don’t abandon measurement, but keep it simple and meaningful.

4) Grants fail.

Neither side wants to admit it when it happens. The nonprofit doesn’t want to lose face. Neither does the funder.

But innovation takes guts. And the risk of failure. As long as there is a good faith effort to succeed, we need to accept that it’s not a perfect process.

Sometimes both sides would rather gloss over mistakes than learn from them. That’s perhaps the biggest failure of all.


There. I said it. Lightning hasn’t struck (yet). And maybe by bringing some of these topics to light, it will help us build better relationships.

What would you add to the list?

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