For our inaugural issue of Grantseeker Monthly, we sat down with Kelly Meighen, President of the T.R. Meighen Family Foundation. Established in April 1969 with a gift from the founder, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt Meighen, the Foundation has granted close to $20 million dollars over the past 41 years. Most of their support has been directed to community based activities in the fields of education, health, social welfare, cultural and environmental conservation.
We discussed with Kelly Meighen how organizations can successfully win grants. As Kelly tells us, “it is an increasingly professional sector. It’s a competitive, sophisticated business now.” With thousands of worthy causes in Canada, it’s important to have a sound grantseeking strategy in place: “invest in your fundraising; put some resources behind it, because it will pay you returns”.
First Things First: Preparation
Before you begin to research funders or write proposals, set aside time for internal preparation. If you are short on staff or expertise, explore the option of recruiting the help of volunteers. CharityVillage allows non-profit organizations to post volunteer ads at no cost.
The T.R. Meighen Family Foundation receives many grant requests from ill prepared organizations: “We have had situations where organizations will write us a letter and we are tentatively interested in having a conversation. We call them, and they really don’t know how it is we can help them - other than the fact that we have money, and they have need. So many organizations will just write and ask for a donation for a program, when in fact, if they really looked at their own needs and their own activities, there really might be something within their operations that more closely aligns with what [we] are doing.” A prepared approach that matches your organizational objectives with the objectives of the funder will lead to the best possible results in terms of financial support and great working partnerships.
Ensure that your preparation includes reaching agreement amongst your colleagues on the goals and priorities for funding, as well as preparing case resources, and constructing a thorough description of each project or program need.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Resource Center provides great advice on making your case, and compiling your case resources – the go-to documents for grantseeking. Grant research and solicitation will be much more efficient and effective if you have taken a hard look at your funding needs by developing these components.
Research, Research, Research
Funding guidelines and application procedures are crafted so that a funder can effectively support their mission, their cause, and their community. Given this, funders are often surprised by the number of proposals they receive that do not adhere to their guidelines.
Irrelevant of how remarkable or persuasive a proposal is, if it does not align with the funder’s determined interests and guidelines, it is very unlikely to be funded. The good news is that there are thousands of corporations, foundations, and government grant programs in Canada with a range of interests and capacities. “It’s a question of identifying those overlapping circles: our capacity, our interests, your needs and your activities,” Kelly tells us.
Using the case resources that you have prepared, identify your “circles”. What is the population you will be serving? What is the outcome you hope to achieve? Where will the activities take place? How much support will you be asking for?
A resource like Imagine Canada’s Directory to Foundations & Corporations can identify the funders in Canada that align with the needs of your organization. Have a qualifying process in place to decide whether or not to make an approach. If the information is available, have a look at the grants they have given in the past. The size, location, and purpose of past grants can reveal whether or not your goals align with the mission of the funder. Always review their philosophy as well as their guidelines to ensure you don’t waste time sending a proposal that will be turned down.
Don’t be afraid to contact the grantmaker during the research process. “It’s a question of being more strategic and more patient,” Kelly told us, “Contacting the foundation saying: I’m not looking for money now, but I’m interested in understanding how you operate… Why do you make the decisions you make? Why did you make a donation to this place, as opposed to somewhere else?”