Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

KSBNE  Author: Kate Sunners

Grants and funding myths busted!

Disclaimer: This blog does not blow up nearly as many cars, empty quarries, crash test dummies or moustaches as Jamie and Adam from the Mythbusters show.

Myth 1:  I can’t ask for evaluation costs in my budget

Philanthropists just won’t fund evaluation! At least that’s what a recent study showed the majority of nonprofits think (Arts Philanthropy: Towards a Better Practice Model.2018. Melbourne Business School​).

But we can (thankfully) call this one busted, as the same study showed that according to philanthropists 40% are highly likely to provide funding support for evaluation, and 12% have a medium interest in funding evaluation.


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Myth 2:  I can’t ask for salaries in my grants budget

Sure, most funders aren’t interested in funding salaries if you ask them for just a plain old salary.

But we know that all are interested in funding outcomes, and having good people working on projects is essential to creating outcomes, right? You might, for example, ask for part of a staff member’s salary for time spent on the particular project you’re pitching to a funder.

What’s the formula for getting grants funding for the part of a salary involved in delivering a project?

X hours spent achieving X outcome at $X hourly rate = $X

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Myth 3: Putting confirmed $ in your budget from other funders will jeopardize your application 

Nope! Funders want to see that your projects are organizational priorities, and that there is a strong need for them to happen: which means you should be actively looking for funding for those projects!

If you’ve already got some confirmed funding, that’s fantastic, because it shows how well organized you are and that now you just need $X from funder number 2 to make it happen!

Plus, it’s very important to always be transparent with your funders, so definitely don’t hide your existing funding under a rug while you fill in your application to funder number 2!

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to corporate funders competing in the same industry. Applying to another bank when you already have confirmed funding from another bank is likely to leave you with no funding from zero banks!

What about unconfirmed funding?

One of our funder friends confirmed at a recent Grant-Seeker Workshops that if you also list unconfirmed funding, you need to have a strategy in place if that funding doesn’t come through – a contingency. So, you need to be able to answer the question: what will we do if the unconfirmed doesn’t come through. Fund ourselves? Find another funding, scale back project etc?


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Myth 4: A good measure of the performance of a Grants Program is how many applications you put in

Total myth! It’s like saying a good indicator for measuring your employee’s performance is how many hours per day they show up to work. Yep, they’re turning up for their 8 hours a day, but what are they achieving in that time?

Same with grant applications. You can submit applications until the cows come home and have no success at all if the focus is just on churning (dairy pun intended) out applications.

Even worse, if the KPI is number of applications submitted, it may encourage poor practice! Like submitting applications to funders who don’t fund that sort of project.

What are some good KPIs of a grants program? Check out Charlotte’s blog on her work with Assistance Dogs!

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Myth 5: Once your nonprofit has charitable status, the grant money will be free n’ easy.

Most of us know grants are hard work and a long term game (see our previous blog on why grants aren’t a silver bullet solution), but we do get the occasional phone call from a newly set up nonprofit exasperated that the first few applications they’ve put in haven’t seen success.

It’s easy to get disheartened, but good grant applications take a lot of project planning, time and learning from feedback. As long as they don’t specifically say they aren’t able to give feedback on applications, make sure you’re always asking your funders for feedback on your unsuccessful applications where appropriate (first thanking them for the opportunity to apply).

And even though you may be able to see the need clearly, it doesn’t necessarily mean every funder will consider your mission their highest priority. You need to do your research, find the funders whose values align with your organisation’s mission and projects, and start building relationships with them!

Try thinking of potential funders like investors: what kinds of sureties and details would investors be seeking? Ability to deliver? Strong governance? Evidence of good planning and risk assessment? An understanding of what they are interested in achieving (the project outcomes) with their money?

If you’re struggling with your grants success rate, we highly recommend investing in our online training, or attend one of our Grant-Seeker Workshops. Our training provides insight into the 80% of planning and strategy that goes into successful grant programs before you even get started on the 20% of writing the application! 


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Got questions about your grants program?

Want to know how to be more strategic and forward thinking with your grants fundraising? 

Get in touch! 







Bianca BNE 


 Author: Bianca Williams


So - you worked tirelessly on a high-quality grant application….

You submitted the application BEFORE the due date…..

Your application was successful…….

The funding was committed to delivering the identified program, then……

The program did not achieve its objectives!!

And need to submit a funder report??? Arghhhhh!!

A rare scenario, but none the less, a dramatic example to identify the importance of documented reporting processes and in maintaining a transparent and honest relationship with your Funders.

In a perfect world, every project would exceed expectations in outcomes delivered, come in under budget, and produce high calibre data to prove its viability. But, sometimes in grant-funded projects, new interventions are being trialled of which have associated risks (every project has risks!) and sometimes this means that the project just doesn’t create the expected outcomes. But that’s definitely not a reason not to report back!

Funders understand that even the most thoroughly planned projects can go askew. However, three key things will greatly influence a funders’ impression of your organisation and possibly determine if future funding will be granted;

1)      Monitoring and Evaluation of the program – ensure your organisation has evaluation and performance monitoring systems in place to proficiently identify areas of the project that are working, and those that are not. Use these evaluation measures to inform decisions of whether the project is achieving its deliverables, and if not, how to improve your project to ensure every possibility for success.

2)      Communication – maintain transparent and honest communication with the funder. Strategically plan your communications around key milestones, celebrations or updates relevant to the project. And of course, if things are going wrong, or if you need to make changes to your program based on what your evaluation data is telling you, talk to the funder and keep them involved in decision making! Make sure you’re communicating with the funder who has invested into your organisation as a partner in the project’s delivery.

3)       Learnings – If things haven’t gone to plan in your project, or if you haven’t reached your expected outcomes, that’s fine, but get ready to answer the question ‘Why didn’t it go to plan, and what did you do about it? For funders, as long as your organisation is able to learn from the experience and clearly articulate those learnings, that’s an outcome! Funders want to know that your organisation is a learning organisation, so you need to be able to reflect on what you’d do differently next time. Was there something about the implementation that meant the project didn’t quite reach the intended beneficiaries? Or maybe you needed more concrete frameworks around your partnership with another non-profit? Whatever it is, you won’t be able to share those insights with your funder unless you have those monitoring and evaluation systems in place! Microphone image BWBlog

When you receive notification of a successful grant application, take that as the beginning of the funding journey, not the end. Often the reporting process isn’t considered until the very end of a grants program – but that’s far too late! You need to ensure that you’ve considered reporting from the word go.

You need a knowledgeable team to collect the right data at the right time to inform any required tweaks to your project and to be able to confidently report the outcomes (including your learnings) to your funder.

If your organisation does not have the tools and processes to capture the value your programs deliver, Strategic Grants offers several Evaluation Services to help you better understand and make better decisions on your projects, and importantly, report to your stakeholders on how well your organisation is meeting its mission.

So, be proactive – continually monitor your projects and ensure any relevant updates are communicated with the Funder. Lean into the learnings, face the music….and sing along with it!