Supporting Capacity: 6 Tips to Elevate Your Grant Funded Partners

My background in philanthropy is actually as a Program Officer. I went in the nontraditional order by starting my career in philanthropy as a Program Officer for a statewide public foundation first. I then moved later on into a role as an employee of a nonprofit organization as the Foundation and Grants Coordinator. I’ve never been one for following the normal path, and in this case, the slightly nontraditional path gave me the opportunity to take advantage of being able to approach grantseeking with my grantmaker hat on.

While serving as a grantmaker gives wonderful perspective and insight for when sitting on the grantseeking side of the table, it also gives me unique perspective and ideas on ways grantmakers could better support the capacity of their grant-funded partners.

6 Tips for Grantmakers

1. Provide technical assistance sessions to all new/returning grant applicants to clarify your application. This can be a webinar, a conference call, an in-person session, an FAQ session, etc.

A creative example of this is the New York State Council of the Arts and their use of Instagram as a way to share technical assistance tips with their potential grantees.









2. Provide feedback on an application when requested (whether denied or funded!) this helps bring stronger proposals forward from that organization in future rounds

3. Avoid unwritten preferences re: eligible and ineligible expenses. If your organization doesn’t want to fund direct support of individuals (i.e. - respite scholarship, gift card incentive for participation), say so. If you organization won’t fund overhead expenses, say so.

An example of this being clearly conveyed by a grantmaker is the Entertainment Software Association Foundation.

Q: What are indirect costs and are they allowed?
A: No. Indirect costs are expenses that are not readily identified with a particular project or program but are for general operation and the conduct of proposed activities imposed by a larger entity under which the project is housed. In a few select circumstances, ESA Foundation will consider a reasonable percentage of indirect costs. Note: fees charged by fiscal agents are never an eligible expense.
Q: Does the ESA Foundation have a policy that specifically states that indirect costs are not eligible or that they must be limited to a specific percentage?
A: Yes. Indirect costs are not allowed unless a waiver is requested and granted prior to the award stage. A waiver would only be granted in the event that an organization has an established, written policy that states it will not accept grant funds without allocating a portion to indirect costs. Even in this case, a waiver is unlikely, and the total amount allowed would be capped at 10% of the total project/program budget.

4. If you have a preference for communication pre-award by potential grantees, such as no phone calls, only email, or which staff person to contact, state that on your website or in your materials. If your capacity and/or preference is such that you are not able to answer individual questions, state that as well.

For example, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has a preference for pre-award communication as they state on their website.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is always looking for effective program and project ideas that can improve life in southeast Michigan, specifically in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw, St. Clair, and Livingston counties.

Our grants support a wide range of projects and organizations. As our potential partner, you simply need to read these guidelines and then, if you think there is a potential fit, please call and talk to us. We value your time and do not want you to spend unnecessary hours and resources preparing a proposal unless there is a clear possibility of working together.

And on the other hand, the James H. Cummings Foundation has a preference not to have pre-award communication as they also clearly state on their website.

What is the best way to arrange a meeting with a representative of Cummings Foundation?
Although members of Grant Selection Committees sometimes make unannounced site visits, Cummings Foundation has a policy that staff members do not conduct pre-arranged site visits or hold informational, relationship-building meetings. Since this policy is applied uniformly, organizations will not be disadvantaged by it in any way.

The clarity provided by both grantmakers to their potential grantees enables the grantee to focus appropriately on their relationship building efforts in the pre-award phase of their work.

5. Participate in local/regional/web-based funder forums as capacity allows. This ensures your message is consistently delivered to numerous interested organizations at the same time. This also addresses any capacity issues for staff/volunteers from #4.

6. Provide capacity-building opportunities uniformly to all grantees. If a tool, training, or material is what you believe would be of value to all of your partner agencies, offer it to all, but do not require mandatory participation/acceptance of the offer for future funding success. This can include participation in a fundraising training, a year subscription to a publication, or a license to grant management software like GrantHub.

There are numerous other ways grantmakers can support the capacity-building of their grant funded partners, the least of which is to fund general operating support for the organizations they work with. But, while that philosophical debate plays out in the individual preferences of each board room for each grant maker, the six tips above are all concrete ways that grantmakers can support and enhance the capacity of their grant funded partners.


About the Author

Diane H Leonard

Diane H. Leonard, GPC is an experienced and respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. Clients she serves include health care providers, advocacy organizations, social services agencies, elementary and secondary schools, and municipal corporations.

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