Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reading grant announcements

A nice lady called and wanted to know if I could write up an application for $500K for her small, one year old organization. Here is the entire announcement as it was forwarded to me:

Blackstone Charitable Foundation
Program(s):  Employment, Economic Development, Job Related and Business Grants
State(s):  National
Maximum Grant Amount: $5,000,000 Total Funding Available
Deadline:  October 12, 2015

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is accepting applications for the 2016 Blackstone Innovation Grants program, an annual program that awards a series of targeted grants to innovative organizations focused on entrepreneurship and job growth. Now in the fourth year of the program, the Foundation will award up to $5 million in grants to organizations that are tackling the big challenges facing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Eligible organizations and programs may apply for one of two funding tracks:

BIG Program/Project Grants - Organizations with an existing track record of success may apply for funding for a specific program/project (new or existing) that addresses a major systemic challenge facing an entrepreneurial ecosystem and has the potential to be scaled and replicated.

BIG Event Grants - Established organizations may apply for funding for a specific event or convening that accelerates the conversation around entrepreneurship on a regional, national and/or global scale.

Organizations will be evaluated and selected by a committee and subsequently approved by the Board of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

To be eligible to apply, organizations must be at least three years old and have an annual operating budget greater than $1,000,000. (Italics are mine).

Obviously, the lady's brand-new organization doesn't qualify. Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. But hiring someone to write a grant you can't possibly qualify for is just plain bad business.

Moral:  read the whole grant announcement.  The lady got as far as the first 2-3 paragraphs and quit reading at "(new or existing)".  The good news is, I have been able to find her a grantor that does match her organization well, although the amount is certainly not as large as she wanted.

Big grants normally require substantial organizational strength. That's normally why I don't write Federal grants or large foundation grants for new organizations.

Yes, it would be nice if these grant announcements would lead with the eligibility guidelines first. Federal grants are historically notoriously bad for being ambiguous or at least indefinite about what level of nonprofit they are written to attract.  Just saying you have to be a 501(c)(3) to apply  leads to a lot of wasted time, money and ink.

Still, if you read the whole announcement, at some point you can probably get a clue that your organization can't complete the requirements.

The good news is, there are almost always grantors out there that will match up well with your level of development.

In fact, one largely overlooked area is in development grants. For some reason, people just aren't  looking for grants specifically designed to improve their overall organizational capability or provide board or staff training.

It's true that only about one in ten grant applications are funded. You can improve your chances by making sure that your organization and the grantor match up well and that includes reading the entire announcement. 

If you have a question about applying for a grant, feel free to contact me at

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