What If It’s Actually Good To Be Grant Dependent?

You’ve always heard that it’s bad to be grant dependent. What if being grant dependent was a healthy stage of nonprofit development? Like learning to crawl? Organic Rice Field With Dew DropsOr, eat with a spoon?

Consider that:

  • Grants help nonprofits plan. The application asks: Who else provides similar services? Please provide a project budget. How does your proposal fulfill your mission?
  • Grants help nonprofits to put ideas into concise words. At a community event, I met a women starting a new nonprofit. In the room was a foundation leader. I introduced her. Afterwards, she thanked me. “Thank you so much! I found out I must be much clearer when I describe our goals.”
  • Grants help nonprofits to consider the future. After I hear grant concepts I like, I often state “Great request, ” and ask, “What happens after the first year?” Too often the response is silence. Grants stimulate planning.
  • Grants help nonprofits to learn about rejection and competition. “Thank you for your submission. We regret to inform you that we did not have adequate funds for all of the worthy requests we received.” If you are learning each time you apply, your collection of these letters like this are your merit badges.
  • Grants help nonprofits to understand that growing income is about finding people who want the change you want. Telephone calls, applications, and sites visits require nonprofits to step outside their own worldview into the heads of potential donors. Grants are a structured preview of other nonprofit income opportunities—that are less predictable.

Of course, being grant dependent forever is not good. For almost all nonprofits, it’s also impossible. But instead of condemning grants-funded organizations, what if we accept grant dependence as a developmental stage? By considering grant dependency a stage, we can affirm and support growth to date. Then, we can support their next steps to sustainability.

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