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Monthly Archives: July 2012

As a consultant, determining whether a client should pursue a competitive grant is not always easy.

 

At times, all signs are that a client is ready to compete. The leadership’s go-ahead decision is unequivocal and has broad-based support. All of the organization’s assets necessary to prepare a proposal are committed to the task.

 

At other times, the signs are more uncertain. Some outspoken leaders or stakeholders may be anxious about subsequent commitments if a proposal is funded. Internal or external critics may question the wisdom of pursuing a particular grant. And the organization as a whole may be reluctant or unable to commit significant time and money to developing a proposal that may or may not yield funding.

 

The more list-items below that a client can mark as present the more likely it is ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity.

 

Strategic Readiness:

An applicant is probably ready to seek a grant if the specific grant opportunity fits:

  • Its organizational history and strengths
  • Its strategic plan
  • Its mission and vision statements
  • Its short-term and long-term organizational goals
  • Its internal understanding of a significant and resolvable problem or need
  • Its capacity to disburse, manage, and account for grant funds
  • Its capacity to track, measure, and report evaluation outcomes

 

Proposal Development Readiness:

An applicant is probably ready to apply for a grant if it can furnish its proposal developers:

  • Enough lead-time to complete a competitive proposal
  • Consistent internal support and accessibility from leadership
  • Access to meeting space and other necessary physical resources
  • Access to necessary internal subject area experts and decision-makers
  • Access to necessary statistical data and research literature

 

This post has focused on strategic and development readiness. An earlier post discussed organizational and leadership readiness.

 

As a consultant, determining whether a client should pursue a competitive grant is not always easy.

 

At times, all signs are that a client is ready to compete. The leadership’s go-ahead decision is unequivocal and has broad-based support. All of the organization’s assets necessary to prepare a proposal are committed to the task.

 

At other times, the signs are more uncertain. Some outspoken leaders or stakeholders may be anxious about subsequent commitments if a proposal is funded. Internal or external critics may question the wisdom of pursuing a particular grant. And the organization as a whole may be reluctant or unable to commit significant time and money to developing a proposal that may or may not yield funding.

 

The more of the list-items below that a client can mark as present, the more likely it is to be ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity.

 

Organizational Readiness:

As an applicant organization, a client is probably ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity if it can:

  • Supply adequate proofs of its legal status and eligibility
  • Provide sufficient data to substantiate need
  • Propose creative and innovative yet realistic and practical solutions to problems
  • Anchor its choice of key strategies in the scientific research literature
  • Identify and describe appropriately qualified key personnel
  • Bring other agencies on board in a partnership, if required
  • Track and report on its funding and expenditures
  • Adopt and execute a sufficiently rigorous evaluation design
  • Measure and report on interim and final outputs and outcomes
  • Commit enough matching funds or other cost sharing
  • Monitor and protect confidentiality and privacy, as needed
  • Enact and enforce human subjects research protocols, if needed
  • Commit to continuing its initiative after initial funding ends

 

Leadership Readiness:

As an applicant, a client is probably ready to seek a grant if its leadership has:

  • Completed its process of selecting priority grant opportunities
  • Validated a specific grant opportunity as a viable option
  • Firmly decided to pursue a particular grant opportunity
  • Adopted a proposal submission approval process
  • A shared awareness of the commitments that a funded proposal will entail
  • Sufficient human and financial resources to dedicate to developing a proposal
  • Policies in place for ensuring fiscal and programmatic accountability
  • Sufficient technologies available to create and submit an application

 

This post has focused on organizational and leadership readiness. A later post will address strategic and development readiness.

Finding good leads for grant funding (or doing prospect research) can be one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of grant seeking. A very helpful step in this search – in the American context at least – is to look up a grant maker’s recent filings of Form 990-PF or Form 990. Such forms, and others like them, are the detailed yearly information returns grant makers submit to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

 

This post discusses where grant seekers can find and view these returns. An earlier post discussed how to extract useful information from a Form 990-PF.

 

Grant Maker Information Returns:

Each year, private foundations in the United States of America must file a Form 990-PF with the IRS. The 990-PF is a public document that provides the filer’s address and contact information, identifies the filer’s executive officers, board of directors, and trustees, and presents financial data about the filer. It also describes the filer’s grant application procedures and deadlines and presents a complete list of grants awarded in the reporting period. Most such filings are available in Portable Document Format (PDF) and may be viewed using Adobe Reader, which is free software downloadable on the Internet.

 

In the United States, only private foundations must file Form 990-PF. Community foundations and grant-making public charities must file Form 990. Direct corporate giving programs are not required to file any annual information returns with the IRS.

 

Foundation Center Finder Tools:

The Foundation Center is an invaluable resource for researching grant makers’ filings of Forms 990 and 990-PF. They are accessible on its website via the 990 Finder, a free searchable database of 990-PFs and 990s filed by American private foundations and charities. In addition, researchers may look up private grant makers in the United States using the Foundation Finder. This free tool provides basic information as well as access to 990-PFs and 990s.

 

Other Options:

Researchers have other options than the Foundation Center. Registered users of GuideStar may use a free feature to examine or retrieve 990-PFs in its searchable database. They may also subscribe to more extensive and specialized premium services that provide access to information on Forms 990 and 990-PF. In addition, the Economic Research Institute has an extensive database of Form 990s, which is searchable for free and without pre-registration.

 

Beyond these large searchable databases, many individual grant makers now post their three most recent filings of Form 990s or Form 990-PFs on their websites.

In examining a 990-PF filing, if grant seekers know what to look for and how to interpret what they see, they may improve the results of their prospect research.

 

This post covers several useful aspects of 990-PF filings, such as but not limited to contact information, application procedures, and grants awarded.

 

Reporting Period:

On Page 1, near its top, are blanks for the period a Form 990-PF filing is to cover. By definition, a calendar year starts January 1 and ends December 31. Many foundations use it as their fiscal year. If a foundation’s fiscal year is not a calendar year, the blanks will state different start and end dates. The fiscal year governs the timing of a foundation’s grant-making activities and thus may affect the timing of an applicant’s proposals.

 

Contact Information:

Page 1 asks for the foundation’s current name and address (Section G), and its telephone number (if it has one) (Section B). Potential applicants should crosscheck the specifics with the foundation’s website, if any, since the information may not be up to the moment.

 

Foundation Assets:

On Page 1, Section I states the fair market value of the foundation’s assets as of year-end. This figure is one indicator of the foundation’s size. In general, each year, by rule, foundations must expend 5% or more of their assets in making qualified contributions, gifts, and grants. Consequently, at a bare minimum a foundation’s assets should be at least 20 times greater in value than the applicant’s possible grant request.

 

Foundation Staff:

In Part I, Lines 14-15, reports employee salaries, wages, and benefits. Sums significantly larger than zero imply that the foundation has at least part-time staff (one or more) to handle applicant queries.

 

Grants Awarded:

In Part I, Line 25, Column D gives the total contributions, gifts, and grants the foundation paid during the year of filing. This amount reflects the foundation’s recent actual grant-making activity. It should be several multiples larger than the applicant’s possible grant request.

 

Foundation Management:

In Part VIII, Section 1 names the officers, directors, trustees, and foundation managers, among others. The list represents who manages the foundation and who makes decisions about grant proposals. Researching their biographies may reveal possible connections between the applicant’s Board or staff and the foundation’s Board or staff; it may also disclose possible leads for initial contact and/or proposal selling points.

 

Charitable Activities:

Part IX-A lists the foundation’s four largest direct charitable activities during the tax year. The list is one source of possible insights into the foundation’s priority beneficiaries and program areas. Review of the foundation’s website and publications, if any, may verify whether these priorities remain in effect after the reporting period ended.

 

Application Procedures:

In Part XV, Section 2 summarizes the foundation’s application submission procedures: to whom to address the application (Line A), what type and content of application are required (Line B), submission deadlines (Line C), and restrictions and limitations (Line D). A checkbox, if left blank, will indicate that a foundation accepts unsolicited requests for funds. Again, applicants should crosscheck the particulars by reviewing a foundation’s website, if any.

 

 

Grant-Making History:

In Part XV, Section 3 lists recipients – and amounts awarded – of grants and contributions made during the year or approved for future payments. The more that the details (e.g., type of recipient, location of recipient, amount awarded) match those describing the applicant and its contemplated grant proposal, the stronger the foundation should be as a lead for future funding.

Private foundations tend to award capacity-building grants to small or large organizations that have already-proven staying power. Such grants are not intended to rescue failing enterprises, nor are they intended to support delivery of direct program services.

 

Sometimes a pre-existing relationship with a specific funder is a prerequisite for being an eligible applicant; other times, it is not. Potential applicants should review each potential funder’s preconditions and verify that they satisfy them before they decide to apply to it for funding.

 

Purposes of Capacity Building:

Ultimately, capacity building proposals focus on an organization’s internal needs, particularly, on improving its ability to achieve and fulfill its mission and to deliver services. Proving a record of accomplishment in this area is essential. Other aims are to increase an organization’s long-term sustainability and effectiveness. Consequently, seeking a capacity building grant often follows upon an organizational self-assessment by board and key staff.

 

Uses of Funds Related to Grant Seeking:

As always, allowable uses of funds depend upon the purposes and priorities of each specific grant maker. Among the many potential uses an applicant may propose for a capacity building grant are:

  • Fund development planning
  • Revenue diversification
  • Fundraising (e.g., developing grant proposals, donor recruitment campaigns)

 

Other Potential Uses of Funds:

Beyond or in lieu of resource development, foundations also may favor:

  • Organizational assessment or self-assessment
  • Evaluation of overall organizational effectiveness
  • Strategic planning
  • Improving governance and management
  • Board/staff development (e.g., workshops or conferences)
  • Leadership development
  • Leadership succession planning
  • Marketing/community outreach
  • Volunteer management
  • Membership development (e.g., recruitment and retention)
  • External communications (e.g., website improvements)
  • Computer skills development (e.g., using donor databases)
  • Organizational mergers or restructuring
  • Financial management
  • Media relations
  • Technology integration (e.g., hardware or software upgrades)

 

This post is one of a series on Grant Writing as a Career. Earlier posts have discussed various business expenses and fees as well as arrangements for paying for grant-writing services.

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