Numbers Tell the Story - If They’re the Right Numbers

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Good proposals show that there’s a need for the program being proposed. One way to do this is by presenting statistics that give an accurate picture of the situation. Your organization’s credibility rests in part on demonstrating that you understand the problem you’re addressing. And numbers can tell the story, if they’re the right numbers.


Avoid a common mistake: presenting only big national numbers when your program is locally-focused. If that happens, it suggests that you might not know the score in your community.


As an example, consider a request for support that addresses homelessness. It’s undeniably a major challenge; the National Alliance to End Homelessness says there were more than 200,000 people out on the streets on a given night. But if an organization concentrates its services on a city, county or other defined region, the big national number is not what matters most. What matters most is how well the nonprofit can define, describe and measure the problem in its own back yard.


No one argues with the value of recognizing the national (or international) scope of a social problem; the big picture drives public policy and holds up a comprehensive opportunity for major investments in systemic reform.


For many years, nonprofits trying to make an impact on unwanted teen pregnancy often quoted the Guttmacher Institute and its (then-accurate) estimate of nearly one million pregnancies among women 15-19. Many of those organizations went right on to the “now what” section, telling a prospective funder what they would do about it in their town. I remember reviewing such a proposal from an agency in a town of about 150,000 people, so we agreed that maybe we needed a sharper focus on the local circumstances.


There’s another way that numbers can hurt credibility. When a prospective funder goes to your website to see what you’re about and you present a perfectly designed statistical summary from three years ago, it can be a problem. Someone on the foundation staff probably has more current information and your 2018 stats raise a question about whether or not you’re keeping up.


Specific, current and relevant numbers linked to your actual target and scope are an important part of your organization’s story. They inspire confidence that you know what you’re doing and that your organization will be a good investment.



Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center

and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.



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