Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity


minibarA few weeks ago, a fellow Executive Director of color and a friend of mine, “Maria,” was nearly in tears after failing for a second time to get a small grant. She doesn’t drink, or else I would have offered access to the personal minibar that I keep in my office. A shot of Wild Turkey and a brisk walk always cheer me up after a grant rejection.

“I’m so tired,” Maria said over the phone, “I can’t continue putting in my own money to keep this afloat. Maybe nonprofit is just not for me. It’s too hard.” She had spent over 40 hours on these two grants, and I had spent over 12 hours facilitating part of a board retreat, helping develop the logic model, revising the budgets, editing the narratives, and providing moral support.

The grant was a one-time award for less than 10K, and she had been told repeatedly, by different people at this foundation, that her work was important and much needed.

The purpose of this story is not to call out a particular foundation, but to highlight the fact that the standard grant application process needs a deep overhaul because it is leaving behind too many communities.

This past year, my organization assumes more and more the role of a quasi-funder. Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), was formed to build the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits while simultaneously developing leaders of color. We do this by selecting host sites and then sending emerging leaders of color that we train (and whose wages we pay) to these organizations, where they work full-time for one or more years to build these organizations’ capacity. The ethnic CBOs increase their capacity and effectiveness and ability to be involved at the systems level, and the field has a slew of awesome future nonprofit leaders of color that I will personally help to train to be kick-ass nonprofit warriors. Our inaugural cohort of ten leaders starts this September.

Because small nonprofits have to apply to be partners and host sites in our program, we have started being viewed as somewhat of a funder. (We have the best of both worlds: The joy of having to reject great organizations, and the fundraising-associated night terrors of being a nonprofit). I noticed the shift in dynamics when I was visiting these organizations as part of the review process, and some people seemed visibly nervous. As I mentioned earlier, program officers are instantly 27% more attractive than civilians. Suddenly, my wrinkles were marks of experience, my twitching left eye now charming, and this weird gap between my front two teeth a distinguishing feature. Not only that, but apparently my jokes on those site visits were 100% funnier too!

All of that is to say that I’ve been more sympathetic to the challenges that we brilliant, dashing funders are facing, as well as more cognizant of the elements that have been helping or hindering marginalized communities. (PS: I know the term “marginalized communities” can be controversial, and a future post may focus on this, but for now, let’s continue with this term).

For the past few years, everyone has been talking about Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency. This is good. But when these things do not actually holi-594333_640come with profound changes in systems and processes, they can actually cause more harm. Equity, in particular, has been a shiny new concept adopted by many funders. A basic tenet of equity in our line of work is that the communities that are most affected by societal problems are leading the efforts to address these challenges. And yet, many foundations’ application process is deeply inequitable, leaving behind the people and communities who are most affected by the injustices we as a sector are trying to address.

Eight signs that your foundations may be inadvertently perpetuating inequity:

Your application takes more than 10 to 15 hours to complete:  Some grants are ridiculously, hair-tearingly, wall-punchingly time-consuming. An ED friend, who is white, told me her team spent over 70 hours on a single grant once due to the dozens of pages of narrative, a complex budget template, and various attachments. 70 hours. This is a relatively large nonprofit with several staff who are all fluent in English. They didn’t get the grant and were very frustrated. Besides the fact that none of us have 70 hours to waste when there are so many community needs to address, if this grant is difficult for a team that’s fluent in English and in grantwriting, imagine how much harder it will be for an organization led by marginalized communities, who may not be fluent in English, or who may not have writing experience or outside support. If your application is basically a Ph. D. dissertation, you’re perpetuating inequity.

Your LOI is a mini application: An LOI is the first step for many grant applications. Its purpose is for the funder to quickly discern if an organization is a potential good match for its priorities, kind of like samples of naturally fermented sauerkraut at the farmer’s market. It is usually just a two-page letter. But some funders seem to think that this should be an entire grant application and ask for budget attachments, logic models, workplans, resumes, board chair signature, etc. This totally misses the point of the LOI, and an insidious effect is that it creates an extra barrier for grassroots organizations led by communities that are of color, LGBTQ, rural, disabled, etc.

You require more than five attachments: It takes little effort to require something—“Hey, we should ask them to submit three previous years’ budget-to-actuals reports and next year’s budget projections, so we can see how they’ve been growing”— but the repercussions for many communities are significant. For instance, it takes you all of 30 seconds to ask for and look at a Logic Model, but Maria and her team had to spend 10 hours to develop this, since they had never heard of it before. Yes, it was good for them to have it, but the same information could have been obtained by asking “Please tell us about your activities and how they will lead to short-term and long-term results for your clients and community.” The more attachments you require, the more inequitable your process is, because marginalized communities have less time and resources to create the various documents you require.

You require organizations to translate their budget into your format: Yes, there are organizations with crappy budget formats. But a part of the problem may be that funders each require their own budget formats to be used, leading to all sorts of confusion. Most of us in the field would love one standardized budget template that all foundations use. But that is not what’s happening; for every grant application, no matter how big or small, we have to take hours to recombine and move numbers around in order to conform to varying templates. And again, organizations led by communities of color and other marginalized communities will be disproportionately affected, since they have less time. Not every organization has a CFO, one trained in using arcane Excel voodoo magic to get numbers to align perfectly in order to increase their final application score. 

You overly rely on a scorecard to determine funding decisions: Score cards are a quick and simple way to distill complex information: 40 points possible for the narrative, 15 points for the budget, 10 points for the Theory of Change, etc. However, there are critical elements of an organization’s work that cannot be quantified: The value of the organization to its clients, historical traumas the communities it serves have faced, cultural elements of leadership, etc. These things are complex and messy, so we prefer not to deal with them at all. The score card gives us an illusion of objectivity, but it is an illusion, as well as a crutch. Use the score card as a tool for discussion, not as the primary means to make funding decisions. Equity requires us to take the harder path and deal with the messy stuff. 

Your grant is invitation-only: I know some funders are well-meaning, trying to reduce admin costs of processing endless requests so that more funding can go to the community, and trying to save potential grantees’ time. However, organizations led by communities of color, for example, will rarely have the same relationship with you, or run in your circles to eventually build a relationship with you, or have a big enough marketing budget to get noticed by you. The relationship-based funding model is inequitable because marginalized communities in general have fewer relationships with those who have power and resources. Unless you are specifically focused on finding and supporting these communities, your invitation-only process is likely leaving them behind, and you may not know it, because you are invitation-only.

You are rigid in the percentage of an organization’s budget you will fund: Some foundations will fund no more than 15% of an organization’s budget; some only 20%, or whatever. But organizations led by marginalized communities will tend to have smaller budgets, so they will likely get less funding in general. If an organization led by communities of color has a budget of 100K, and you only fund 10% of any budget, then they cannot hope to get over 10K, whereas an organization with a budget of 1 million will be able to get 100K. Applying a rigid fixed percentage means organizations and communities that most need funding will get the least funding. 

Your application takes more than six months to process: I know grant processes that take nine months to a year before applicants hear anything. Usually this is because the funders want to do a really thorough job considering every application. That’s commendable, but a lot can happen in nine months: Strategies change, cashflow dwindle, staff get laid off, babies are born, critical programs fold. The bigger, stronger organizations may be able to weather these various tumultuous changes, but many smaller organizations led by communities most affected by inequity, they in general have less buffer. The longer you take to make a decision, the less accessible and helpful you are to communities that are most affected by inequity.

Making the grant application process more equitable

In many ways, our grant application process is very similar to our hiring process, but it seems to be even more complicated: “We have a job opening available. To apply, please submit your cover, resume, credit history, personal budget, diploma, copy of driver’s license, professional development plan, three writing samples, work plan for your first 12 months on the job, your family tree, and five letters of recommendations.” We have archaic and inequitable hiring practices, and we wonder why we don’t have enough people of color in the field. We have archaic and inequitable grant processes, and we wonder why we don’t have enough organizations led by marginalized communities at various tables.

So, what should you do? Here are some suggestions, gathered with help from some of my hair-pulling, rapidly-aging, occasionally wall-punching colleagues:

Require most attachments AFTER you’ve decided to fund an organization. Once we organizations know we have a high likelihood of getting funded, we will clock-474128_640gladly polish the logic model, create a theory of change diagram, compile 12 years of budget reports, make a shoebox diorama of our relationships to other orgs, write and perform a puppet play explaining our evaluation model, or whatever else you need. This will save everyone’s time and sanity and will greatly help organizations led by marginalized communities, since they don’t have much time to spare.

Provide technical assistance throughout the process: Help organizations make their case. Give feedback and provide support, especially for stuff you require. You might be thinking, “But, that’s not fair to organizations that don’t get the feedback and support.” I would say that fairness often gets in the way of equity. If we want to support communities of color, and LGBTQ, disabled, and rural communities, we must focus more attention and resources on them.

Segment your grant into two or more tracks, one for larger organizations, one for smaller organizations: It is inequitable and ineffective to expect small organizations who have few staff and likely no grantwriters to compete with established organizations who have dedicated grantwriting support. They will always be left in the dust. Have the big orgs compete with one another, and the small orgs compete with one another. (Note: Do not give less to the applicants in the smaller-orgs track; if anything, give more.)

Fund a larger percentage of smaller orgs’ budgets: Nonprofits founded and led by marginalized communities tend to have smaller budgets, so the funding they receive is critical. Dispense with the whole “we only fund 10% of your budget” thing. If an organization led by marginalized communities does important work, if it’s fulfilling a need that no one else is addressing, why not fund 30% or 50% or even 100% of its work? This support, especially in the beginning, is critical to ensuring these organizations gain their bearing, create infrastructure, develop a track record, and survive long enough to get other funding. 

Create a simple renewal process: You already have a relationship with a grantee. Why make them jump through the same hoops and waste time when they should be focused on delivering services.

Ask applicants how much time they spent working on your grant:  Maybe ask this instead of the irritating sustainability question. Analyze to see if there’s a pattern between organizations led by marginalized communities and those that are not. Or run through your own application process by creating a fictional nonprofit and actually writing a grant. I’m willing to bet that most foundations have never had to experience what it’s like to apply to their own grants. 

And of course, stop being invitation-only. And give general operating funds, and give significant amounts that can help organizations grow. (Check out last’s weeks list of 12 awesome things funders are doing as they all help increase equity)

Less paternalism, more partnership

Overall, our grant application process needs to change. As much as we say that individual donors provide the largest chunk of funds for nonprofits, the reality is that this does not always apply to grassroots organizations led by communities that are of color, LGBTQ, disabled, rural, etc. These organizations usually have a stronger reliance on foundation support until they can establish a strong base of individual donors, which may take several years.

After I hung up with Maria, I chugged a small bottle of Wild Turkey from my mini bar and called up the program officer, who has been a great advocate for communities and leaders of color. The review team didn’t find some of the things she wrote to align with the grant’s priorities, I was told. That’s fine, I said, but why make a small grant so hard? Well, she replied, this is usually one of the first grants that small orgs seek out, and we want to make sure they develop some grantwriting skills; trial by fire, etc.

After venting to a colleague about how exhausting another grant was, I was told that the foundation designed this process to be challenging on purpose, in order to “help” nonprofits gain experience with difficult grants.

In each of the above scenarios, funders are well-meaning. But honestly, you’re just creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you perpetuate a difficult system and get others to navigate it, instead of questioning why it needs to be so difficult in the first place. If your foundation prides itself on a tough application process, it is priding itself for perpetuating inequity. You are proud of inadvertently leaving the communities most affected by injustice behind. If your process causes good people to want to quit nonprofit, something is wrong. And if these good people also happen to rank among the few leaders from marginalized communities doing this type of work, something is seriously wrong.

To achieve equity, we must focus on both content as well as process. The content in philanthropy has started shifting more and more toward equity, diversity, inclusion, etc. This is really great. But if the process doesn’t simultaneously shift, we’re not going to get anywhere. We must dispense with the belief that all organizations and communities have the same amount of time, and a full-time finance person, and a professional grantwriter. We must start to treat nonprofits, especially the ones led by leaders from marginalized communities, as partners, and support them to grow. The well-meaning paternalism of many grant application processes needs to stop.

These are all tall orders, and I am learning it the hard way, as my organization figures out our own process (we decided to accept handwritten applications, for example, and actually got an applicant who hand-wrote the application!). But I am positive we can do it. After all, we funders and quasi-funders are good-looking and smart, we can figure this out.

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  • Jeane Goforth

    I am the only full-time staff at a small nonprofit that teaches orchestral instruments to low income children. I wear so many hats, I feel like the man in the children’s book ‘Caps for Sale’. I get head tilts from other nonprofit leaders when I tell them I no longer apply to the local community foundation. They require attendance at a half-day workshop, an LOI, then if you make the cut, a full-blown application, then if you make that cut, an interview with a committee in their office. Eight months after starting the process, I am sure to get a rejection on my piddly little grant request. I could stand on the sidewalk with a cup and make more for my time. One of their retired grant reviewers took a shine to the organization and consulted on fundraising strategies. She flat out agreed with me.
    Similar experience with the state arts council, which doesn’t matter now because they have had their budget cut to the bone.

  • Ellie

    Thank you for this post! I just spent five months working on an application for a grant that is for less than $20,000. Funder called to tell us we had to re-write the entire application (again) to be considered. This is a funder that knows us, and values our work. We are a small organization with limited staff capacity. We are struggling now with how to meet their new deadline with all the new requirements, which is taking our time away from more meaningful work. Thank you again for writing this post – it’s such an important message!

  • Wow–thank you! This isn’t just about equity, it’s good advice across the board. As Jeane (below), I’m a one-person Development Office and I spend a lot of time on grants. A LOT. Fortunately, in Minnesota, we do have a common grant application that most funding organizations use, but certainly not all. It does make it easier. Still–why a grant application for $2,000 requires the same amount of time and effort as a grant application for $20,000…I’ll never know.

    So how do I share this with my funders 🙂

  • feralkat

    Love this. I have an urge to send it to my local community foundation…but they’d probably put my organization on the ‘no’ pile 🙁

    • Heidi Venture

      There are ways to send anonymous emails. I’d do it.

  • Kelly Fearnothing

    #PREACH!! Thank you so much for this! I’ve been running a direct service non-profit for 4 years now and grant writing has not gotten easier. I try to hire part time grant writers when I am able, but even though they are sweet, knowledgeable and take this dreaded task off of my plate, they are not wizards either!

    When I ask most of our existing funders what is the best way to get my foot in the door with new, potential funders, they say: “Build a relationship with them”! But how can I build a relationship when I don’t know who or where “They” are?

    Thank you so much for this! It shines a light on MANY of the things I haven’t been able to articulate to the people that need to hear it!!

    • Midwest Grantwriter

      Kelly – is your board helpful and empowered? They are often the best ‘feet’ to get in a door…ask your board or development chair to dig in and find out who these potential funders are and invite them to your office/event/program. Your Board should be taking the lead in initiating these relationships because YOU’RE BUSY RUNNING THE PLACE! My 2 cents.

  • Diana Burrell

    Well said! Thanks for another great post. Now, I need to go spend 10 hours on a $2,500 grant proposal….
    Thanks, Vu!

  • LKitsch

    You raise very good points about the challenges of the foundation grant application process and how it — along with many other institutions and processes in our society — perpetuates inequality. No argument there. But at the risk of being harsh on this woman, I have advice for her and others: stop wasting your time and work smarter, not harder. Spending 52 hours (according to her information) on a $10,000 grant is frankly stupid and a very poor use of one’s limited resources and time. It is not smart fundraising.

    We have all heard this before — foundation funding is about 15% of total philanthropy in America. About one-third is public, meaning that well over half of philanthropy in the US comes from individual donors. Nonprofit executives often have program backgrounds, so writing detailed applications and program descriptions they can hide behind come easy to them. But they need to get out of their comfort zones and cultivate and nurture long term relationships with individual donors. That requires patience, strong interpersonal skills, small p political savvy, the ability to read people, an engaged board, and the courage to ask people for money and put yourself personally on the line. As hard as it is at first, it is the BEST form of viable sustained financial stability for any charity.

    Foundations are fickle and often require relationship building as much as individual donors. My advice to executive directors is to start your donor program tomorrow and be prepared to spend two years on it before you see results. Learn how to market your organization and its mission to inspire donor loyalty. Your new individual donors will stick with you and be sources of financial support for years to come. If that woman had spent 52 hours building the beginning of a donor program, and then invested as much time in it as she likely will do writing more dumb grant applications, she will have a much greater return on her investment.

    I see way too much wasted “ink” on navigating the foundation gauntlet, and not enough time on the art and science of cultivating individual donations. But look around at America’s most successful charities and you will see that they do not rely disproportionately on foundation funding. Get off the foundation fix now and get yourself on the road to recovery with a planned and sustained donor program.

    • verucaamish

      This would be great if that could happen but I’ve worked in both the LGBTQ nonprofit scene and the Southeast Asian one that Vu comes from. There isn’t a culture of individual giving to grassroots nonprofits in either of those communities. When the needs are completely urgent, we don’t have two years to build a donor base. What do you say to queer trans kid who is homeless? Sorry, we’re building our donor base so that support you need can’t happen? And these things to happen by a complex network of volunteers when the money isn’t there but to say ‘go after individual donors” without knowing the context is deeply problematic.

    • One of the reasons organizations run by people of color tend to be more grant reliant is because we don’t already have many of the “relationships” that you are supposed to develop for both individual giving and grant fundraising. Grants are, in some ways, more equitable, because some grant makers have an open process and it is possible to begin the process of developing relationships through LOIs. Hard, but possible. By contrast, individual donor work is completely dependent upon the quantity and quality of the relationships. Fundraising for organizations run by and for communities of color is inherently inequitable because we have historically been excluded from access to funding decisions. So, yes, we can encourage organizations to invest in individual giving over grants strategies, but those foundations who do care about equity really should learn more about how their own systems and processes may perpetuate inequitable access to funding relationships. For that point, I applaud Vu’s post wholeheartedly.

    • LKitsch

      I get that the problem is a lack of a culture of philanthrophy, or more accurately, one that has not yet been nurtured and cultivated. There is an old expression: “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

      Yes, you should chase foundation grants (only if worth the effort — Vu’s illustration of 52 hours on a $10K grant is not) and seek public funding, too. But at the same time, put some resources, even if only limited, into developing and nurturing a donor base — yes, you have to build or encourage the culture of philanthropy in communities of color, but don’t say it’s too hard and walk away from the challenge.

      One reason this is so important, in addition to the obvious one of building up our finances, is that it also empowers these communities, and demonstrates that they can, indeed, help sustain their causes themselves. Kim says “Fundraising for organizations run by and for communities of color is
      inherently inequitable because we have historically been excluded from
      access to funding decisions.” That is partly because our organizations are going as supplicants to funders controlled by other communities. What better way to demonstrate empowerment than to be somewhat self-supporting?

      Also, I do not agree that individual donor work is completely dependent upon the quantity and quality of the relationships. Yes, it is heavily dependent on relationships, but you have to start out appealing to people with a compelling mission and worthy cause, and an organization that effectively delivers what it promises to deliver. Donors can be as demanding as foundations and will want to see measurable results. The truly successful take their fates into their own hands.

    • KelD

      I agree with ‘smarter not harder’ and the need to build an individual donor program as the main target for sustainability. But way easier said than done, especially as you point out, it takes two years to see results. Finding that time and capacity to build something while still needing to pursue resources to keep the organization going is a sweet spot that many small grassroots, community-based organizations haven’t found yet. Then there’s the other issue of needing a strong board with connections to build an individual donor base. Quite often the board is all community leaders without the capacity or the network to begin.

    • Sondard1

      I’m so happy you said this and I didnt have to…my thoughts exactly. Grant reliance is the number one killer of small nonprofits. Practice safe funding – build a pipeline of reliable and valued prospects for individual philanthropy. The excuse that “No one wll fund us” is am indictment on your programs purpose, value and need, and not on the donors interests. We find with clients, regularly, their grant process consumes the resources that could be spent to building a strong philanthropy program. Addiciton to grants is a nasty thing.

  • Matt A

    This is a big problem… for every grant not awarded, it depletes resources. A simple LOI that asks for simple, “ready to go” information will be most effective and mutually beneficial… for the funder, it will attract more applicants worth their investment, but only takes minimal resources of staff to apply. I wonder if there is a way for a large network of grant funders across the country to abide by a streamlined LOI/Application process?

  • ellen

    Fabulous article, thanks much. I’m not a non-profit employee nor a funder, (but I am on two boards), and I am ALWAYS sharing your tips where I best can. Everyone has everything to gain. Thanks for your passion and readable style. It makes reading tips and advice suck way less. 😉

  • Cynthia

    My organization once applied to a foundation with a grant process that took, no kidding, 18 months! We had to pick a program that we were sure would still function as we described it in a year and a half. The application wanted a budget for the year in which the grant would be awarded, which for us, was the year after next. We didn’t at the time have a finalized budget for the coming fiscal year, much less the one after that. And by the time the foundation Board considered our proposal, the program officer who had encouraged us to apply was long gone. Needless to say, we didn’t get the grant.

  • this is so right on mark. I have a small nonprofit that everyone loves but noone funds. too small, too something. I think we are closing because we just can’t spend the time on grants we don’t get. It feels better to do the programs with our limited time not being paid, than do the grants with our limited time not being paid. Im sure we’ll hear ‘too bad, it was such a great program” but we just can’t do it anymore without support. The most ironic was the grant to expand capacity from an organization that had funded us before–we were told we didnt have the capacity to get the grant. chicken and egg. makes me crazy

  • contronymble

    This is a great post; thank you! As a former program officer with a grantmaking organization, I’ve seen every sin you mention being perpetuated and have tried (mostly fruitlessly) to reverse that course..

    Your nonprofit training leadership program sounds like a brilliant idea. Have you considered or tried to partner with local universities who are offering graduate degrees in related areas, like nonprofit management?

  • Colin Jones

    I love the comparison to hiring. We’ll hire someone for a $50k/yr job based on 3 standardized sheets of paper (cover letter, resume, writing sample) and 5 hours of interviews. But for a $25k one-time grant (a muuuuuch smaller commitment with way less risk), we often require 10-20 pages of documentation and anywhere between 0-8 hours of site visits and interviews. Seems like we could strive for these processes being closer to each other. Maybe something like ~1hr work for each $1k?

  • Patty Shreve

    Thank you for using your skills, time and energy to be a voice for our community. I’m always inspired by your posts!

  • Meredith Phillips Almeida

    Another way funders do this: requiring proof of guaranteed matching funds for the next three years (I’m lookin at you, Feds). I mean, really? Who knows what funders they will have three years from now?

  • jahphotogal

    Funders that have been committees are the worst – county agencies, local united ways. Everyone throws in their own ideas for what should be required and they just mushroom.

  • Chris Miller

    One of the best grant writing experiences I’ve ever had was with the Rosalyn Carter Foundation (Caregiving). There was an LOI process to replicate one of their programs. For that you were required to address your capacity to implement the program in general. From that a number of grantees were invited to participate in the full grant process. Every few weeks there would be a webinar followed by an assignment related to making sure you understood the program and were developing your ability to implement what would be required. Those assignments were evaluated and each time a smaller group was invited to submit their assignments, but even if you weren’t invited to continue as a potential grantee you could still listen in. The activities had you develop your HR function for hiring the right kind of people, your therapeutic relationships needed for the program, developing your outreach plan. Obviously you couldn’t go into this without having some idea of these things but getting to hear from them, then submit a portion of the grant, then get feedback was an amazing experience. We made it to the last round but didn’t get funded but I was okay because we gained so much.

  • Ann Tydeman-Solomon

    Yes, yes, yes!! Thanks so much. A recommendation similar to yours … for heaven’s sakes, funders, please, please accept attachments like our Board of Directors list in any format. Yes, it only takes half an hour to retype all our Board info into your spreadsheet, but is half an hour small groups – or larger groups with a one-person development shop – simply don’t have.

  • Bill Ritchie

    Do you have to drink Wild Turkey to get equity? and have balls? Is that what the sticker outside the bar means, “Drink smart?” I wonder when the next micro distillery will come out with a label, “Smart.” ha ha. (No Pile in Seattle)

  • nancoise

    It’s been ages since I had to write grant proposals for non-profit classical music organisations, but I remember so clearly spending enormous amounts of time doing exactly the things enumerated in this article, often for fairly paltry amounts of money. The thing was, if we managed to get funding from the state arts and humanities fund or some other big shiny fund, we could use their logo on our materials. Those logos were reassuring to other donors, so sometimes the thirty hours spent creating an application for $3,000 was worth it in terms of adding lustre and authority to our public profile.

    • S NV Nonprofit Info Ctr

      Shiny Big Fund… Is that the mother or the father of “Shiny Big Object”? 🙂

  • Patrick Taylor

    Great article. I wanted to point out that Project Streamline, an initiative led by the Grants Managers Network (of which I am a board member, full disclosure) echoes many of your suggestions.

    It is something that is constantly in my mind whenever I look at the application and reporting process at my organization – how much time and effort is this going to take the grantee, and how much do we really need it? The challenge is that no grantee will ever tell you to your face that your process is onerous, and piling on requirements makes it look like you are being thorough and fiscally responsible.

  • Lorraine Thomas

    I wake up every day and thank God that our organization does not have to write grants. Just reading this article made me need a shot of Wild Turkey.

  • Pollination Project

    This is such a refreshing article- thank you for saying what needs to be said! Sounds like perhaps your friend should apply to The Pollination Project which makes daily small grants of $1000 to startup projects around the world. While we only are able to fund about 20-25% of projects, we really strive to do right by our applicants and live up to our “Applicants Bill of Rights” (here: Becoming an applicant-centric foundation was a game changer for us and the way we do our work. Reading this is making us consider asking question on our grant application or somewhere in our process about how long it took to apply- you are so right it needs to be as light and simple as possible, and at the very least, the application process should benefit the applicant in some way, even if they weren’t funded. Thanks again for this provocative and great analysis!

  • Kebo Drew

    I wish that I did drink. Far too often after a grant rejection I am reminded that queer women of color (cisgender and transgender), gender nonconforming and transgender women of color, are not wanted by the larger world or by funders. What they tell us is that they aren’t interested in the “strategy” but the truth is that the strategies we use are the ones that work the best for our communities, and we know because we led by our community. So they keep funding the same thing, with occasional forays into the new “hot” thing, which they don’t fund enough to really be successful, then they go back to the same thing. Then they wonder why issues are so hard for lgbtq people of color, who are also low-income, immigrant, disabled. I don’t do drugs either, and often I really wish that I did.

  • Laura

    Awesome article. Can someone send this to the Feds?

  • Meghan Randolph

    I’m in the library or else I’d be screaming “yes” kinda like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. This is so spot on and so true. I live in Wisconsin, where we have a measly 14 cents per capita allocated in our state arts budget. (Yay..we’re only better than Georgia and Kansas!) Our neighbors in Minnesota have $6.56 per capita. So funding here is spread VEEEERRRRY thin. I was recently turned down for a grant writing position because I didn’t have experience writing grants that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars. What they didn’t understand was that, relative to the AMOUNT of money that was available, I was doing damn well.

    It’s all part of a vicious “bigger is better” cycle. I’d add that for the love of God these places need to start funding operational grants!!! It drives me nuts that we are expected to work for free in order to create project after project and “break even” each time. So unrealistic and unfair.

  • Wayne Salazar

    Here’s a tip for translating your budget into their format: Don’t sweat it so hard. I’ve often done it quickly and generally correctly but not totally accurately, and no one ever knows the difference. Can’t make the numbers add up? Change one at random so they do. Not sure what percentage of one item to allocate to their category? Pick a number, any number. It really doesn’t matter. As long as you’re not claiming numbers that are way out of line, you’ll be fine. No one has ever asked me about that level of detail.

  • Dorothy Mae Abellard

    Thank you so much for this article! It renewed my will! I have co-founded a nonprofit and it has been an absolute nightmare trying to obtain funding. I am beyond frustrated. My resolve to power through these tough times is greater than my frustrations.