It’s About More Than Money

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Writing proposals and winning grants are important elements in the ecosystem of philanthropy. It’s easy to see the world through that lens – find the money, ask for the money, get and spend the money, rinse and repeat – but it might be helpful to think about the process in a different, more holistic way.


What is a proposal, after all? It’s a nonprofit’s up-to-the-minute statement about what it does, why it does it, how it does it and what it costs. Unless you submit a proposal full of exaggerations and assumptions (probably not a good idea), a proposal ought to be a lively and literal report on what the organization cares about and what it is prepared to do to make things better.


Seen this way the development of a proposal is an opportunity to bring the organization together for an energetic discussion about what’s important and what needs support. It’s an invitation to all stakeholders of a nonprofit (board, staff, clients, volunteers) to speak their minds about the request. True, some nonprofits isolate the process and direct the grant proposal writer to go down the hall alone and crank out a narrative. This approach misses opportunities for organizational growth and development.


Savvy nonprofit leaders recognize that there is a lot to be learned from an unsuccessful proposal submission. OK, we got a letter from the foundation, “sorry we couldn’t make the grant you asked for.” Is it possible to ask the funder for some debriefing? Many won’t bother, some are very candid about why a proposal was rejected. But even the process of reviewing what you submitted, and now finding questions, is a useful exercise in collegial,  shared decision-making.


More and more foundations are encouraging joint and collaborative proposals from nonprofits that work together to solve a problem. The very act of making those partnerships is a good thing and can create lasting relationships even if the specific proposal isn’t funded.


“It’s about more than money” is only true if your nonprofit invests in candid, clear and contemporary interactions with its communities; if it values and seeks out the input of all levels and kinds of stakeholders; and if it wants to keep learning about how to make its work more effective and more beneficial to the clients it serves.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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