Hello again! This is Deb Montgomery, CEO of Resource Associates – a now 22 year old grant writing firm. I will be writing several blog articles on the topic of assessing one’s chances of obtaining a grant award. You are reading part one of this series.
There are many thought processes and strategies that can, should, and should not apply to this topic so I am going to start off with a discussion about the proper examination of eligibility.
When pondering this topic, one may think that determining eligibility is pretty simple and straight forward. An RFP is released. There is a section in the RFP that describes the eligibility criteria. In mostly black and white language, this section will indicate the specific type of entity that the funder will consider granting, such as nonprofits, IHE’s, land grant colleges, federally recognized tribes, etc. There can be gray areas, though. For example, those application proposal guidelines calling for “National Nonprofit” applicants as opposed to using the term “Nonprofit” applicants. This is similar to guidelines calling for Tribal Nonprofit applicants.
What do these terms – “National” and “Tribal” – mean? In the case of National Nonprofits, all true nonprofits are incorporated through the state and federal IRS so doesn’t that make them all national? Actually, no it does not. Some funders believe this to mean the operation of the organization in a certain number of states. Other funders define this as serving participants in more than one state.
In the case of a Tribal Nonprofit; if the Executive Director is Native American and the participants served represent a certain proportion of Native Americans, does that make it a tribal nonprofit? Not really…but sometimes is the muddiest answer.
Bottom line: Such interpretive verbiage can often mislead organizations into applying for grants in which they are not eligible.
As many of you know, I founded a nonprofit several years ago called Capacity Builders Inc. (capacitybuilders.info). The majority of our Board of Directors, the majority of our staff, and nearly all of the participants we serve are Native American (primarily Navajo). For the first few years of operations, Capacity Builders Inc. (CBI) applied for several foundation and state grants that called for Tribal Nonprofit applicants. We applied and won a few of these grants without any question of eligibility. It was only around two years ago that our own consideration of being a Tribal Nonprofit began to disqualify us from funding eligibility – mostly state and federal funding. Most recently, we were told by a funder that unless our nonprofit holds an active tribal council resolution that designates CBI as the sole recipient of ALL grant funding on behalf of the tribe (not just this sole funding opportunity), we would be disqualified as a Tribal Nonprofit. We have learned two lessons from this and related cases. The designation of Tribal Nonprofit can differ vastly from funder to funder…and we must ALWAYS give the funder a call or email to clarify eligibility before we ever sit down to write a grant.
Eligibility, however, goes beyond 501 status and board composition. When researching your probability of receiving a grant, you should take the time to determine if you are a “fit” with the profile of past and commonly awarded grantees. Before the writing process, I always take a few minutes to look at the funder’s website. Often times, there are abstracts of current/prior grantees and lists of awardee names. From this information, I can tell if a funder leans more towards funding entity types not matching that of CBI.
I remember looking at a TRIO Department of Education grant a few years ago. The RFP looked like such a good fit for CBI. It funded programs dealing with school to career transition…and the community in which CBI serves is in dire need of these types of services. The grant appeared to be a perfect fit until I looked at the past awardee list. My numbers are probably off a tiny bit here but out of 300 or so grant awards, less than 2% were ever made to nonprofits. They were all given to colleges and universities. Although nonprofits were common consortium partners, the lead fiscal agents were mostly institutions of higher education. I knew I would need to recruit a higher ed partner to take the lead if CBI had a chance at securing the funding for the community.
There are many, many other components to assessing one’s fit and chance for a grant award so I encourage you to stay tuned for my upcoming blogs!