Does your nonprofit think it's a tiger -- when it is actually a really awesome kitten?



Do your nonprofit's grant proposals accurately communicate the unique core value that the organization delivers? 

In other words... Does your nonprofit think it's a tiger -- when it is actually a really awesome kitten?

Consider these examples of proposals that miss the mark:

  • A farmers' market network submits applications to support markets in low-income communities -- while the organization's real value is that it assists food entrepreneurs in developing sustainable businesses.
  • A zoo submits applications to build a family fitness trail -- while the zoo's real value is that it educates its visitors about world geography and conservation issues.
  • An afterschool program submits applications to raise kids' reading and math test scores through tutoring -- while the program's real value is that it builds positive feelings and attitudes about school among the kids who participate.

The truth is, it can be hard for nonprofits to have an objective view of what they actually contribute to a community or cause.

They may have been doing what they do for so long that they've become locked into narrow definitions of who they are. Nose-to-the-grindstone staffers deliver on their job descriptions but may not have the time or perspective to see the bigger picture. At the same time, well-meaning board members or executive directors may be reinforcing old identities and turf at the expense of newer opportunities for greater impact.

So what can we do about this dilemma? The good news is that you, as a grant professional, can be the change agent who helps a nonprofit to recognize and capitalize on its core value proposition.

Grant professionals can take the lead on facilitating a series of conversations with people on the inside and outside of an organization -- stakeholders including staff and board members, clients, donors, community partners, and even local politicians and reporters. The conversations can be structured as focus groups with someone serving as facilitator and someone else as "scribe" (note-taker).

The point of this process is to learn from your constituents what they count on you to deliver.

If the process reveals that your organization is out of touch with its core value proposition, there are two courses of action for the nonprofit's leaders -- either to change how it describes its programs, or modify the programs themselves. 

Grant development expert Marti Fischer introduced me to these powerful ideas at this year's Grant Professionals Association MidAtlantic Grants Conference, through her workshop on changing the role of the grantwriter. I'm looking forward to seeing Marti's future writings on this topic, which will build on the already extensive research she's done.