November 12, 2013

You Can Get a Grant for That, But Should You?

A nonprofit has a playground for children with special needs. It needs replacing.  Should they ask their local friendly foundation for the grant to replace it? They haven’t approached them in several years. It’s likely to be a winner.

I recommended NOT doing it. Surprised?

Here’s the thinking:

  • Funding the playground will appeal to other donors including individuals, foundations, and corporations. The playground serves high need, cute children. It has longevity. It offers a naming opportunity. Imagine the PR value of the video clip: A little girl laughing in glee as she goes down the new slide. How might this opportunity be used? To entice a new donor, with the potential for multiple years of giving, to make a first gift.
  • The donors of the present playground haven’t been contacted by the nonprofit’s current leaders. How else might this opportunity be used with them? To reconnect and thank them for their valuable gift. If the ensuring relationship warranted it, they might be offered the right-of-first-refusal to fund the new play area.
  • Within five years, the organization anticipates a capital campaign. The playground’s wear and tear exemplifies, in part, why the capital campaign is needed. How else might this opportunity be used? To meet with all of the complexes’ original donors. At meetings, cumulative results and preliminary ideas about the capital campaign can be shared. Feedback can be requested. As appropriate, donors willing to help now can be offered the opportunity to fund the new playground.
  • When all of the above opportunities are exhausted, if the playground is still unfunded, the nonprofit can request funding for it from the local friendly foundation. In all probability this won’t be necessary. Instead, the opportunity with this foundation can be used for a practical need with low crowd appeal.

Even if they will be funded, not all grants should be written. Make your goal to get the maximum income for your nonprofit over time, not the most grant funds.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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