The Most Important Thing is to Have a Strong Program

Recently I had the opportunity to sit on a panel of foundation representatives organized by Senator Claire McCaskill. The audience was nonprofits from across the state of Missouri and the panel consisted of the Community Foundation of Mid-Missouri, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Darr Family Foundation, Kaufman Foundation, and Missouri Foundation for Health. Throughout the hour, we discussed what we considered when making grant decisions, including timeliness, fit with our missions, our relationships with the organizations applying, and tailoring the grant application to the funder. One of my colleagues on the panel hit the nail on the head, though, when she said, “the most important thing is to have a strong program.”

A strong program that fills a community need is the key to success. The Missouri Common Grant Application, which we use for the foundations we manage, asks “What are the community needs or problems to be addressed by this project/organization? Why is this issue important?” Having a good story to tell with data to back it up is key to bringing your program to life for the reviewer. Remember, there’s a good chance that at least one reader/reviewer will not know anything about your program area, so paint a complete picture of why you are proposing this project.

Next, help us understand what you are trying to accomplish, for whom, and how you know your project will work.  Is this a program based on other successful programs? If you are expanding or replicating a program that you have implemented previously, what were your measures of success?  The metrics don’t have to come from a scientific, longitudinal study that most nonprofits can’t afford; however, we do expect that you have a clear understanding of what results you are striving for and a plan for how to determine if you achieved them.

Matching your mission to the funder’s is a given.

Writing a good application that answers the funder’s specific questions ensures your application is read.

Relationships increase the probability that you will receive a call if the reviewer has questions or needs clarification.

A strong program that fills a demonstrated need not only is more likely to get funded, it will also make a difference in our community.