September 17, 2018

Grant proposal answers if nonprofits were brutally honest: Part II

We have all had to fill never-ending grant proposals, and we have all wanted to answer them with complete honesty. Well, here is a taste of what that would look like.

4 min read

A few months ago, we published a piece on what it would be like to give brutally honest answers on grant proposals. Today, we bring you Part II.

Thank you to nonprofit colleagues, who will remain nameless, for helping inspire these questions and responses. 

1. What is the mission of your organization? Susan, can we talk? This is a renewal grant. It’s the third year you have supported us. You know what our mission is, along with our programs, outcomes, challenges, etc., because we’ve been in constant communication. Instead of writing an entire proposal again as if you’ve never heard of us, how about I just tell you what’s new since last year? That will save us both a lot of time. What’s new is that Jason got a standing desk that he made out of cardboard boxes and Gorilla tape because you and other funders want overhead to be low. He says hi. Also, demand for our services has doubled. Please send double the amount of money you normally send.

2. What needs are you addressing? We are addressing the failure of our government and capitalism to provide for people who are suffering from systemic injustice caused by government and capitalism. Please send money or convince corporations and the rest of society to pay more taxes and take care of people better and put us nonprofit professionals out of business so that some of us can pursue our dreams of acting and/or wedding photography.

3. What are the outcomes of your program? Seniors come into our hot-meal program hungry; they leave full, and the world is a slightly better place. Please send money.

4. Please explain how you align with the foundation’s priorities: Robert, can we talk? You told me the foundation’s priorities are set by its trustees. They’re very nice and smart people, but they are not exactly from the communities they’re trying to serve. So are they really the right people to determine what’s best for low-income communities of color? How about you send money so we can continue our work and I won’t bring this up for a while?

5. Please provide a narrative about your budget: OK, here’s the thing: The budget looks balanced, but we are all freaking out about it. We reduced expenses as much as we can, including not giving staff any pay raises this year and cutting professional development allocations to $44 per person per year, but if several sources of funding do not miraculously come through, we’re going to have to lay off staff and shrink or close some programs that serve thousands of people. Your grant is one of these sources of funding. Don’t worry, we’re used to operating under these conditions, like our ED has learned to live with that involuntary twitch of their left eye, but seriously, we’re on edge while we wait for your decision, so please send money soon or we and our clients are SOL.

6. How have you engaged constituents in the design of this project? We have known our kids for years, so we were like “Hey, Jose’s got an idea for an after-school photography and writing program, what do y’all think?” and the kids were like “Yeah that’s awesome!” None of them wanted to join the advisory committee, though, but we bribed them with pizza. Please send money so we can buy more pizza.

7. What is your plan for growth? How will you scale this program? We have no intentions of scaling this program. In fact, we don’t even know what scaling actually means. Like a lot of buzzwords, we just say it when you’re around to sound intelligent. Watch: “We are exploring increasing systemic impact and organizational sustainability through national and possibly global scaling.” The program is effective precisely because it is small and geographically contained to a community that we are deeply rooted in. Please send money so we can keep this small, effective program going.

8. How will you recognize the Foundation for this grant? We will recognize the foundation’s generosity on our website that has daily hits of upwards of 12 views. We will also tweet it out to our 63 followers. If you think those numbers are low, they are, because no one wants to fund communication staff. Our social media this year is being handled by Ronnie, our board chair’s nephew, because he got into some legal trouble and was court-mandated to volunteer with us. Please send money.

9. What does success look like? Shawn, can we talk? We have already answered this question when you asked about our vision. We also answered it when you asked about outcomes. Also, in attachment P, the Theory of Change. And again in Attachment Q, our logic model. And also, possibly, in attachment R, the blood type of every staff and board member. We tried to make it sound different each time, but it’s the same answer. Please review those sections while I spend some self-care time slumped in the supply closet pulling at my hair and silently screaming at the futility of existence.

10. How is this program evidence-based? We spent an entire year reviewing literature on best practice, conducting one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and a community-wide survey that yielded 4,000 responses, which were then analyzed by a team of data experts from the community. Ha ha, just kidding. No one would pay for that and our community members are sick of being researched on. All of us read this one article once. Please send money.

11. How will you leverage this grant to obtain additional funding and how much do you anticipate? Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense for you to do the leveraging? I mean, we can try to do the leveraging, but we have programs to run, and you know the other funders way better. Funders listen to funders, so after you send us money, would you mind hitting up your colleagues and saying you’re funding us so they should too? Thanks so much! Let me know how much you leverage so we can adjust our budget.

12. What challenges are you anticipating with this project? There is a moderate chance that this program will fail completely due to underfunding, understaffing, burnout, increasing rent, political turmoil, low attendance, and maybe mice. In addition, there is a turf war brewing with another organization that threatens the fragile balance in the ecosystem of senior hot-meal programs. We will likely prevail in this turf war, but there will be casualties, and none of us will ever be the same.

13. What else would you like the foundation to know? Multi-Year General Operating Dollars (MYGOD!)

I hope that these brutally honest answers will spur us nonprofits and foundations to be more truthful and transparent with one another—(read part I if you haven’t)—so that one day, our children’s children can write grant proposals without having to craft as much BS as we currently do. Only then can we achieve world peace.

Read the original post from NonprofitAF here.

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Vu Le Profile
Vu Le

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and Executive Director, Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of colour, strengthening organisations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities. Check out his other posts at Nonprofit AF.