How Funders Miss the Mark

I helped write my very first grant in 2010. As if it wasn’t daunting enough, this was a public grant (County funding) meaning there was a lot of narrative required, a slew of forms and budget information, and very specific requirement surrounding, font, font size, margins, etc. Since then, I have seen it all. 10+ years into my nonprofit grant writing experience and I continue to feel disheartened that some funders are continuing, time and time again, to miss the mark with their application process.

I think my hair is finally starting to grow back after pulling it out while completing an agonizing grant application in early February. This was a Foundation grant, but under a MAJOR corporation. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say kudos to this corporation because they are in fact doing good work, giving out some big dollars, and supporting the nonprofit community. Here’s where I struggle: the application itself was *insert stomping* impossible. Nonprofits are busy enough juggling multiple hats, fundraising, supporting their community, dealing with a pandemic – the list goes on; they don’t want to then deal with completing unrealistic grant applications. This specific grant application had questions requesting a ton of information and maxed out the response at an incredibly short character count. Here’s an example of an actual question pulled from this particular grant application: “Statement of Need: Please explain the specific emerging or ongoing issue your organization is working to resolve through this program. How does your organization want to solve this problem? What does your organization need to learn to solve this problem?” 650 CHARACTERS… wait, it gets better… THAT’S WITH SPACES INCLUDED. Let me put this into perspective… scroll back up and take a look at my first paragraph – that rings in at 462 characters with spaces. If that were my response to this question, I’d have give or take 2 to 3 more sentences to work with.

Maybe you’re thinking: WELL, DON’T APPLY THEN! Wrong. At the end of the day the most truthful response I can give to that is we’re doing hard work, we’re changing the community, and WE.NEED.MONEY. Maybe this funder is thinking “well I know they have so much going on, let me make the application short and sweet.” Wrong again. Writing less takes more work, not less. If you’re asking a powerful question such as need, solutions, and learning opportunities, it’s more difficult for a grant writer to tell the organization’s impact in just a few sentences. I’m all for short and sweet and I have learned that is a requirement in grant writing, but this type of cap is unrealistic.

What’s the solution? My dream is that funders – especially corporate funders – engage in conversations with nonprofits and long-standing foundations. Learn more about what nonprofits do, and how they tell the story of that. Get creative in your application process and maybe it’s time to ditch the standard application questions in general and allow the applicant to share what’s important to their agency and why they’re a good fit.

One last note… I still am hopeful that this was some sort of technical issue and this funder meant to cap responses at XX words and not characters, but I’ve seen this time and time again so I won’t hold my breath!

Be good. Do good.

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