I often have excited (or desperate) folks come to me to see if their project idea could be funded with a grant. Sometimes they are a slam dunk, sometimes I have to deliver the bad news that the project they’re wanting to fund is one that foundations and philanthropists are unlikely to consider. So, what makes the difference between the two?
When thinking about your project, consider that funders have a limited amount of money to give (as we all do), much less than is requested of them each grant period. So, they will want (as we all do) the most bang for their buck.
In other words, they want to invest in something that has the largest long-term benefits, to the greatest number of people. Let me give an example to help show what that might look like.
The I Wanna Help Foundation has $2000 to give, and gets two applications.
The first asks for $1300 to buy a computer and printer for their reception area that would allow their homeless clients access to the internet to apply for housing and jobs, as their current computer is so old it isn’t WiFi capable and they can no longer buy ink for their 1982 dot-matrix printer.
The second application is from a homeless organization as well, and asks for the full $2000 to develop a train-the-trainer program that will be used to develop volunteer workforce for homeless shelters around the state.
Both these requests are valid and serve an important purpose, so it isn’t a question of one being frivolous or outside their funding guidelines. But they still must make a decision. Here’s a thought process they might go through.
“A computer is good for about 5 years before it will need to be replaced with an upgrade, though hopefully a printer would last longer. But what happens when it breaks or becomes obsolete? Do they plan to apply to us again every time they need a new computer? On the other hand, the application says that last year they had 150 people come in for assistance with job search…that’s really good numbers. But, when I called for follow up questions about where the homeless were coming from, they said all were sleeping/ staying in the Eugene area. Even homeless from Springfield weren’t coming across the river to access the services because of transportation issues. Hum…doesn’t sound like this project is going to expand service, just keep on doing what they currently do but with more efficient equipment. Also, aren’t they right across the street from the public library which has 35 computers with internet access? Maybe they should develop a partnership there.”
“The train-the-trainer program asks for a one-time investment in developing the training materials and setting up formal agreements with Oregon’s homeless organizations. Once the curriculum is developed, and MOUs are in place, the project can run indefinitely within the existing framework of the organization. They will train trainers here at their Eugene office, then those trainers will go back to their own community homeless shelters around the state and train more trainers. The cost is minimal to these partner organizations because they aren’t hiring new people, or having to buy new training materials. The cost will just be photocopies if they print stuff, though the project does put all the material on line as OERs too. This project is more expensive, and doesn’t directly serve homeless people. But, in the long run, it is significantly cheaper, will serve thousands of homeless people all over the state, and has no finite end date.
If you were kicking in your own hard earned $2000, which would you choose?