Requests for grant should spell out need, ending point


Participating in a panel discussion recently with Tim Armbruster and Wally Pinkard brought to the table some key issues that I feel would be worthwhile exploring here.

Armbruster is the director of the Baltimore Community Foundation, while Pinkard, a local real estate company principal, is also on the board of two Baltimore private foundations. Each is a respected individual within the Baltimore-area grant-making community.

Catholic Charities sponsored the daylong event, geared to help their agencies gain knowledge and skills in carrying out their missions.

Pinkard pulled no punches in helping participants better understand what philanthropies, such as the Jacob and Anita France Foundation, look for in making awards. His instructive comments were in keeping with current practices among midsized foundations.

Naturally, Pinkard's comments assumed that the requesting charity met all the grantmaker's guidelines, an assumption that all too often isn't warranted. Years ago, as a novice proposal reviewer for foundations and corporations, I remember being stunned the first few times by the requests that had no relation to the grantmaker's goals and objectives. Now, I'm immune to these misplaced requests. Any pity I may have felt for the people who wasted hours of writing effort is now balanced by my belief that they are probably broadcasting that proposal indiscriminately to other grantmakers.

According to Pinkard and the rest of his board, who sit squarely on the other side of the funding equation, the first consideration in making a grant is whether their money will truly make a #F difference. In other words, do the odds favor the money becoming a major element for change?

Again, in too many nonprofits, requests for funding are ill-conceived. Without adequate systems in place, money ends up going down a black hole. Then, after two or three years of funding, the grantmaker looks back and sees little accomplished. Worse yet, there is an agency that becomes overly dependent on the grantmaker's limited funding, a sure recipe for disaster. Solid funding requests develop adequate systems and safeguards to help funders believe their gift will make a difference.

Next, Pinkard told attendees that his foundations look for projects in which they can be a catalyst, not a continuing funding source. In other words, grant seekers must have a clear exit strategy in place for the funder.

This latter point is one of the more contentious in fund raising, I have found. Many grant seekers do not adequately appreciate the role of foundations and corporations in the fund-raising mix. Nationally, foundations give out approximately 7 percent of total charitable dollars raised, while corporations give out some 6 percent. That's a small piece of the revenue pie, and should be a clear message to nonprofits as to what they should expect from these sources.

The implication for grant seekers is that foundations avoid projects that have no clear end point for their limited role. Having been burned too many times, they seek projects that they can help ignite, but for which they are not the sole fuel.

That, in turn, brings up another yardstick by which many foundations judge proposals. They look for ways in which they can leverage their gifts, so that every dollar they give will bring in added dollars for the recipient. If the goal is to solve some community problem, then the more resources that are brought to bear on the issue, the better it will be for the foundation, the requesting agency and the community as a whole.

Nonprofits need to bring to funders innovative ways to attract additional resources by virtue of their gift. Funders know that recipients will end up far stronger when the project is over if they have reached out and diversified their resources. If funding adds to the volunteer base, if it brings in new funding sources, if it adds to the agency the credibility or capacity needed to land a state contract, all of these help strengthen the organization's case.

Next week, I'll examine other areas that funders look for in making awards.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 783-5100

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