Catalyst, Leadership, Past Grants, Philanthropy

Stronger Together 2012 – Lessons Learned

Last Friday the granting partners for Stronger Together released the successful grants for this year. I know there were a number of organizations that were either very pleased or quite disappointed with the news. For me it marked the culmination of a significant process that consumed a large portion of my attention for the first half of this year. As in past years, it has been an excellent experience; and, as in past years, I’ve learned a few things I’m going to pass on here. 1. Fundraising is ultimately relational. Each year there are surprises, organizations we’ve never heard of that are so impressive in their application and through due diligence that we are amazed and eager to support them; but that is the exception. In the majority of cases it is very helpful to have someone around the table who has some knowledge of the applicant and can speak from that point of insight. Yes charity leaders: Donors talk about you just as much as you talk about us. There are advantages to having built sincere relationships with donors over time. 2. History counts. I was particularly pleased to see applicants who had been turned down in the past receive funding for the first time this year. Others who had performed well with previously received grants were easier to rate highly again. Being able to see trends over time is one of the valuable aspects of this collaboration. In most cases this worked to the applicant’s advantage. 3. Honesty wins. Most organizations have had some hard times. Many have made significant mistakes in one way or another at some point, (or several). It is a strong sign of integrity when applicants acknowledge their weaknesses or failures and demonstrate how they have learned from them. Choosing to withdraw an application when it became clear that they would be unable to fulfill the project properly shows the kind of organizational character I will want to support next time around. 4. Clarity, clarity, clarity. The simple truth is that we had far more applicants than we could hope to fund. We made a real effort to make the criteria as explicit as possible. If I was uncertain about the mission of the organization, the specifics of the project, or the anticipated impact of our support I could easily find other organizations to consider. Site visits did provide additional insight, but some potentially worthy projects didn’t reach that stage because their original application was confusing in some way. 5. Follow up. This isn’t only for those who are receiving funds and need to be diligent in their reporting. Organizations who were not funded have been invited to contact the Stronger Together office for feedback on what may have been deemed to be weaknesses in their application. I’ve had a couple conversations directly with unsuccessful applicants as well. We’re all in learning mode all the time (I hope), take advantage of the opportunity to hear what potential funders were thinking. 6. Attitude leaves a lasting impression. Being turned down for funding is difficult. I understand that every applicant is sincere in their belief that what they are doing is of great importance and is deserving of support. Passion is expected and commendable. That said, demonstrating humility is always far better than taking rejection as some kind of affront. The truth is, we don’t get every grant “right”. There is a great deal of analysis, prayer, and discussion involved in our process, but it isn’t perfect. You may be turned down because of our failure, but it may also have more to do with something about you or your application. I welcome constructive criticism, but those rare occasions of people responding to a turn down with a bad attitude are all too memorable. 7. Joy! It is very exciting to get a glimpse of what is being done in Jesus’ name across the country and around the world. There is so much worth celebrating! I really do feel very spoiled to have the opportunity to help so many meaningful organizations move forward.