Seven Suggestions

Anne C. Petersen, Ph.D. and Senior Vice President for Programs at W.K. Kellogg Foundation, game an inaugural address at the Foundation Lecture Series at UC Santa Barbara in January of 1997.  Titled “Looking A Gift Horse in the Mouth,” the talk provided seven excellent advice for successful proposals. Though the talk is now rather old, the suggestions are still well worth heeding. Following them will definitely put you ahead of the curve when competing for grants.

“Including these elements in your proposal will signal that we are heading in the same direction and that we can likely develop a successful relationship.”

– Dr. Anne Petersen of the Kellogg Foundation

  1. Your organization is doing the project with the people you will be helping, not to them. We want to know that the people who will benefit from the project have at least provided input and assisted with the design of the project. Participants or service recipients must regard the project as valuable and must be ready to work with the applicant. Programs that are designed in isolation from the populations they serve inevitably fail.
  2. Your organization must also invest in the project. One of the most precious resources of any nonprofit organization is, of course, its scarce funds. If such a nonprofit organization is willing to dedicate a portion of those discretionary funds to the proposed project, this signals a legitimate priority, rather than just a scheme for chasing grant dollars.
  3. Your organization must be willing to have an impartial evaluator assess your work. The lessons learned from a project are equally important to the grantee and to the foundation. We each become better by learning from both our successes and our failures. Organizations that embrace honest assessment and realistic learning improve over time.
  4. Your organization must plan to continue the program after Kellogg Foundation funding ceases. If being a seed-money funder means anything at all, it means that we should plant our seeds and nurture them so that they can eventually survive without us. If projects only live as long as the foundation is willing to pump money into them, then it is highly unlikely that the project is even what the community wants or needs. But continuity does not just happen. Long range funding strategies must be planned from the start.
  5. Your organization’s proposed project needs the potential for broader impact. If a project can work only under very specific circumstances in a very limited area, then this idea is probably not a prime candidate for funding. Ideally, of course, the project would have the power to change public policy and transform major systems. Even if your vision is not this large, the project should still have the potential to work in more than one place, for more than a few people.
  6. To truly build effective partnerships that endure, grantseekers need to cultivate strong relationships with foundations. This means working together on an ongoing basis to share ideas and approaches to problems. The relationship requires mutual trust, honesty, and clarity.
  7. An effective proposal describes a program for change, not a list of wants. Your organization must have a detailed plan that describes exactly where you are going and exactly how you will get there. Be specific about broad goals, measurable objectives, and quantified outcomes.

Advice from Funders