Funders’ tips for effective grantwriting

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

Kumella Aiu, program officer at the Anschutz Family Foundation and Art Rimando, former director of youth success at Mile High United Way share their insider tips with nonprofit participants at JVA’s August funder panel.

On Wednesday, August 15, JVA Consulting was joined by funding experts Art Rimando, former director of youth success at Mile High United Way and Kumella Aiu, program officer at the Anschutz Family Foundation. During an informative and engaging 90-minute session, Rimando and Aiu shared their insights on the grantwriting process and how nonprofits can position themselves for financial success. Here we have compiled a list of some of the funders’ tips for effective grantwriting.

Be cordial to EVERYONE, ALL the time

If funders reach out to you with questions or stop by your office for a site visit, the best thing you can do is be friendly and cooperative. Funders admit that, when interacting with staff and volunteers, they try to put themselves in the client’s shoes. If members of the organization are not polite and helpful with program officers, funders imagine clients will be treated the same way. However, program officers and other foundation staff are also human and understand that you may be having an “off day;” while this is no excuse to be rude, you can explain that you are out of town/busy/fill in the blank and you would be happy to schedule another time to chat when you have more time to devote to them.

Funding is all about “building relationships”

Rimando joked that there was no typical day in his former position at United Way, so it was difficult to answer his kids when they asked what he did at work. Rimando chuckled and said that he told his kids, “I’m building relationships.” Both panelists expressed an appreciation for clients who are persistent in their attempts to better their grantwriting skills and their applications. Applicants who call between grant cycles are more likely to get in-depth and personalized feedback from funders who accept calls. Aiu sincerely encouraged participants to call Anschutz Family Foundation because, as she explained, funding is “a partnership.” Foundations are required by IRS standards to give away at least five percent of assets each year. Because foundations are required to give away money, they are as dependent on nonprofits as nonprofits are on them. Call the foundation so you can help each other through the process of determining if your organization and their foundation are a good match.

Add notes to your financials

It is very important that any oddities in your financials be accounted for and explained. If you have an usually large reserve because you are preparing to launch a capital campaign, let the funder know that. If your reserves are low, explain that as well. Aiu is noticing an “increase in the number of nonprofits dipping into their reserves, not because they are financially irresponsible, but because they need to spend that money on direct services,” for which demand has increased. Whatever the unusual circumstance, don’t leave the funder with questions about your financial documents because it is very hard to follow up with every applicant to gain clarity.

Take the time to review your grants

“You don’t want to be funded in spite of yourself—you want to be funded because you wrote a great grant,” says Rimando. Both panelists stressed the importance of reviewing your grant for content and eliminating typos. If you are too close to the grant after writing, ask a colleague to review it. A well-written grant is always appreciated by funders and can help strengthen the message about what your nonprofit is doing.

Lose the jargon

Don’t take a chance by assuming grant reviewers will know what acronyms stand for and what industry-specific jargon means. State your message simply and succinctly, avoiding buzzwords like “self-sufficiency,” Aiu advises. Be specific about the work you do and how it helps your clients, and explain what phrases like self-sufficiency mean in the context of your organization.

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