When your organization receives a grant from a foundation, chances are you’ve entered into something much like a clinical trial. That’s if the foundation is strategic about its grantmaking…and most are these days. As a society, we are faced with problems for which solutions have yet to be identified. Lasting systemic social change is elusive. From my own experience, I’ve been active in women’s issues for more than 25 years and we’re still not earning an equal wage or able to walk safely down the street at night. We need a vaccine, a cure, a panacea. But, we haven’t found it yet.
How are you positioning your organization in the landscape of social change? Are you writing grant proposals that describe bandaids or real progress in the search for a cure?
Foundation funding represents only a small portion of the dollars contributed to the nonprofit sector every year and yet so much of what we do as nonprofits is driven by their guidelines and priorities. Why? Because they are a catalyst for us to be a “learning sector.” Foundations measure their own effectiveness by measuring the social impact of the programs they fund. The leading-edge foundations are constantly assessing what works, and what doesn’t, in making a real impact on pressing social issues. They do not see their grantmaking as “charity,” but as a solutions-oriented approach to social change.
I think this is great. But, the only way it works is if nonprofits genuinely commit to program planning and evaluation. Not just because foundations insist we do so, but because we are functioning with our eyes wide open. There are tools to help us frame our work as learning organizations. The “logic model” has been around for a while, but continues to be an essential resource for program planners and fundraisers. The W.K.Kellogg Foundation has lots of resources on this and other evaluation metrics.
If you don’t already, I suggest you position your organization as an active participant in the ongoing search for “the cure” for your issue area — willing to try new things, abandon them if they don’t work, and adopt them if they do. In an increasingly competitive funding environment, ‘business as usual’ simply will not do.
Two upcoming Front Range Source workshops can help you strengthen your foundation and corporate fundraising program: “Partners for Good: A Conversation with Corporate and Foundation Funders” on May 11, and “The Heart of Your Grant Proposal: How to Develop Goals and Objectives” on June 8. Click here for more information.