Who do you go to when you need advice? Your mom? Your best friend? What about work advice? We know our peers are the best resource when we’re struggling with a work problem or question. That’s true everywhere and in every industry. So, we asked grantmakers, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” And they delivered. . .
1.You Can’t Please Everyone
One of the biggest human mistakes is trying to be everything to everyone. You can spend all the time and energy you have trying to people please, and there will almost always be someone who isn’t happy. So, you might as well spend that energy on your own efforts! At the end of the day, you must do what is best for your organization and, if you work hard to reach those goals, the rest will follow suit.
You can't be everything to everyone, be strategic with some of your funds and tie it to your business. ~Stacey Chiocchio, Hypertherm HOPE Foundation
My boss told me: there are things that are urgent (time-sensitive) but not important, things that are not urgent but important, things that are urgent and important, and things that are neither urgent nor important. If you can classify and plan your daily tasks this way, it helps! ~David Borocz-Johnson, Community Foundation of Lorain County
2. Practice Empathy
Grantmaking can be stressful and frustrating but it’s important to remember who is on the other side of the equation. For instance, grantseekers often use volunteer grant writers because of constrained resources. These people might not have the experience with the organization to tell their story in the same way as a staffed writer. Or, the person submitting applications may not have experience using your grant management software. There are many challenges that can hinder their work and affect the strength of their applications. Try to keep this in mind when you’re feeling frustrated with what looks to be lazy or sloppy work.
People are doing the best they can. It just might be they don't have all that they need to be more successful. ~Deb Callies, City of Loveland
Remembering that most grant writers are volunteers and have little experience applying for grants. This allows for more compassion and understanding on our end when we work with grant applicants. I would also say that, at least in Alaska, many of the communities that we are most trying to make grants in (rural communities and villages) experience issues with technology. My colleague and I try to be considerate of this when we run grant processes. ~Mariko Sarafin, The Alaska Community Foundation
3. Be Intentional
Every question on your application should have a specific purpose. What information do you need to make the best funding decision? Grantseekers are usually applying for multiple grants at the same time. By only asking necessary questions, you’ll not only save valuable time for them, but it will allow you to identify the best match for your organization in a faster and more efficient process.
Never ASSUME anything on a grant application. Either judge only what is written or be willing to ask more questions. ~Amy Nossaman, Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation
Only ask questions for which you intend to use/do something with the responses. Before asking a charity for a piece of information, critically evaluate ‘how will this information be used to enhance the decision-making process.’ ~Frances Wilson, Acts of Grace Foundation
4. Take a Risk
Don’t be afraid to take risks. There may be new ways to create efficiencies in your process or different ways to reach the same goal with less time or resources. You’ll never know if you don’t try. And, if your risk turns out to not be so successful, remember to ask yourself, “but what did we learn?” And then take that information and use it!
There are very few rules and requirements around the "how of grantmaking" from a legal standpoint. That means that we don't have to always do things the same old way and can get creative in our practices. It may take time and some generative discussion for board members to feel comfortable, but I can work towards doing things in a different way. ~Amy Hyfield, O.P. & W.E. Edwards Foundation
I tend to be a perfectionist and don't like to take risks for fear of failure. But not succeeding is not the same as failure. There is so much we can learn from failure; and there is so much confidence and courage we get from just taking a risk once in a while. ~Catherine Luce, Maine Health Access Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org
It's all about the journey, not the destination. ~John Amoroso, The David and Lura Lovell Foundation
5. Your Grantees are Your Partners
We’re all in this together, right? Adopting the partner mindset when working with your grantees can help adjust your perspective and possibly theirs as well. The next time you review a grant application or do an on-site visit with one of your grantees, keep this partnership in mind.
Nonprofits run the marathon, foundations hold the water cup. Which I have interpreted to mean that a grantmaker’s job is to help non-profits further their mission. It is not a grantmaker’s job to create their own projects - but to fund the projects of the nonprofits they support. ~Gretchen Schackel, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation
To treat agencies as partners. I think that has helped me build strong relationships with agencies and it has made my job much more enjoyable. ~Melissa Endres, Jefferson Foundation
6. Practice Transparency
Let your grantees know if their grant won’t be funded early-on in the evaluation process. Better yet, make sure grantees understand that if they do not fit within your funding guidelines, they will not be considered for the grant. By being transparent from the start, you’ll save time and resources for both you and your grantees.
Providing step one, step two, step three... instruction helps applicants through the process with limited frustration and hand-holding. ~Cindy Wang, Idaho Humanities Council
In our process, we tell grantees that the program outcomes section is probably the most important section they should be spending time and energy on. Decisions are often made based on how effective we think a program can be. Staff may see a particularly weak grant application and suggest to the applicant that they revise their outcomes to be stronger for committee consideration. The applicant can then choose to do so (or to not do so). ~Elyse Byrnes, York County Community Foundation
How about you? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Join the conversation on Twitter @Foundant #FoundantKnowledge or reach out to Foundant’s Content Manager, Kristin Laird at email@example.com today!
*This piece is part of a special project Foundant embarked on in June of 2017. To learn more and see other articles from this project, check out our blog – The Foundant Knowledge Project: A Philanthropy Story Sharing Experience.