Seven Tips for Getting Grants

A wordle.net creation

A wordle.net creation

Sometimes grants seem to be the perfect solution to every need at nonprofits. I learned early on to be careful what you wish for when you apply for grant monies. Here are a few guidelines when thinking about going for grants.

 

  • When someone from a foundation or family trust offers money to your organization for their pet project, go slowly and be sure what they wish to support is something you would be doing if they were not helping at all. Be strategic even if it means turning down a large sum of money that is assured or risk drifting away from your mission.
  • Be sure you have the skill to manage a grant before you land it. Applying for funds with an exaggeration of your skills and abilities as a staff and board can backfire. If you get the grant and the granting organization is not happy with the level of competency at which you perform, your credibility with them will suffer.
  • Use grants to start new projects, especially those that create earned income, but do not expect to sustain the projects with grant funds. Most foundation executives will warn you in person or in their grant guidelines that they do not wish to provide ongoing operational support of your work. They want to help you become more self-sufficient or achieve important dreams. They worry and withdraw support when they see an applicant attempting to bridge the gap in operations year after year with operating grants.
  • Be sure you have the ability internally or with hired accounting services to carefully track grant funds. Most granting organizations will audit your work at some level and finding you did not spend their money as promised can result in damage to personal careers and the organization’s reputation.
  • Thoroughly research potential grant sources before applying. They publish guidelines that give you a clear idea of their priorities and you will not change their strategic directions even if your need is very compelling. Most foundations also have specific geographic regions within which they fund.
  • People give to people so personal relationships and thoughtful communication matters. Invite grant givers to your site to see what you do whenever they are in your area. I once asked our Congressman to invite statewide foundation representatives to our community, a region that few foundations had visited or supported. Each of them began giving in the community after seeing our local non-profit organizations in action. The congressman was the perfect host because he served on the Joint Congressional Budget Committee and they would not consider turning down his specific invitation.
  • Write a logic model for your project or program that identifies the impact, outcome and output objectives clearly. Many funders require them but most will appreciate knowing the measurable results you expect. A logic model that is well written clearly identifies how the results will be evaluated, another common requirement of grants.

 

Charitable foundations, government agencies and even corporations assist nonprofits greatly through grants, but dependence on them can be a problem. Their ability to help your group grow will decline in a recession economy. It’s important to balance grants with earned income, individual philanthropy and other sources. Remember that grants are not gifts – they require thoughtful shepherding throughout their life cycle, from initial research to final reports.

 

–Tim Merriman

Thematic Events

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Last weekend we attended the 11th Annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditional foods. Almost everything at the event supported the theme. They made a point of focusing on the original 27 “canoe plants” known to have come with the early Polynesian immigrants to the islands. The first Hawaiians chose those plants carefully for the great value each provided as food, oil for light and fiber for clothing. This thematic event landed particularly well because the coordinators so carefully keep the booths and activities closely aligned with “grow Hawaiian.”

 

Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

One booth invited visitors to make poi from kalo (taro) or ulu (breadfruit) by pounding it on a papa kui ai (wooden board with a trough shape) using a pohaku kui ai (stone pounder). People of all ages were trying the traditional Hawaiian method of preparation to make a smooth starch poi and each one could take home the resulting creation in ziplock bags. The gardens show the kalo growing so visitors make the connection between the food and the plant.

 

The lunch served at the event was a traditional plate lunch with Kalua pork and cabbage or lomilomi salmon along with macaroni salad, poi or rice and a tomato salad for $10, including the beverage. It was delicious, cooked and served by local families.

 

Parents captured their child's lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

Parents captured their child’s lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

I watched many parents of children using a cell phone to take a video of their child learning hands-on lessons on lauhala (pandanus fiber) weaving or making poi. The focus of the event is learning by doing and selling items is not permitted until the event has concluded at 2:30 PM. This well-planned and attended event will bring us back year after year.

 

The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of festivals year-round. The climate, scenery, culture and tourism make it profitable and useful to create outdoor events that tell a story, but some tell their story better than others. We have written about the Chocolate Festival and Coffee Festival in the past because they exemplify the power of thematic events to tell community stories.

 

The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

We have also attended recent agricultural festivals where the thematic identity was present in name only. The many artisan booths could have been set up at any marketplace to sell their wares. They are festivals in name only and do nothing for the community or branding of the host site.

 

Non-thematic events are not bad. They simply lack the personality that a thematic identity brings to the table. They are not very engaging for the community or the attendees except as economic events. Themes deliver a message, a reason to connect with the idea behind the festival.

 

Thematic events that match your natural and cultural history help in branding your organization and community. Think about your events and whether they help create your sense of place.

 

– Tim Merriman