Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

KarleenQLD  Author: Dr Karleen Gwinner

More and more funders are wanting to see evaluations of the programs they fund. They want to know the funds they provide are having an impact. Effective Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of your programs supports your ability to prove the impact, show the need and progress evidence informed programs. NGOs who actively measure impact, say that their M&E efforts improve their services and ability to demonstrate impact (Making an Impact).


In Australia, NGO agencies deliver an increasingly wide range of health and welfare services benefiting communities both here and abroad. They enhance the fabric of our society and make the world a better place. Still, it’s not uncommon for us to hear from organisations that they don’t have M&E methods in place. They don’t have data to show the impact and performance of their programs. The recent “distrusted” rating, reported in the 2018 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER, suggest Australia’s NGO sector needs to boost sector accountability and do more to measure up. MeasureUpImage BlogKG


Apart from the fact funders are increasingly seeking evidence of impact and want to get more ‘bang for their buck’, good M&E frameworks help NGOs to identify and develop evidence-based policy and practice. Only 5% of NGOs say that wanting to improve services is a primary motivation for increasing their impact measurement efforts; and yet, improved strategy and services, as well as the ability to demonstrate impact, are the main benefits they see of undertaking M&E activities.


A study of factors supporting or preventing evaluation by NGOs emphasised the need of M&E to understanding effectiveness (or possible harms) to vulnerable service users and a significant step to ensure best-practice (Bach-Mortensen, & Montgomery, 2018). An article by the authors of the review indicated the lack of financial resources was the biggest limitation to undertaking M&E, followed by the lack of technical capability. A recent Australian study found, leadership and culture to be pivotal for influencing evaluation practice in Australian NGOs (Schwarzman, Bauman, Gabbe, Rissel, Shilton, and Smith, 2018).


Enhancing the capacity to do evaluation is undeniably important for NGOs. In recent years several resources have been developed to help agencies evaluate best practice. Some recent initiatives are supporting NGO capacity to develop robust M&E include: The Australian Institute of Family Studies’ searchable database of Australian research and evaluation projects; and Inspiring Australias resource kit to help NGOs develop effective evaluation strategies for events.


We are here to help too. Strategic Grants is at the forefront of knowing how you can better account for what really matters in your work. We want to support you to build and strengthen the sectors’ capacity to do M&E, be accountable and #measureup.


J Schwarzman, A Bauman, B Gabbe, C Rissel, T Shilton, B J Smith (2018). Organizational determinants of evaluation practice in Australian prevention agencies, Health Education Research, Volume 33, Issue 3, 1 Pages 243–255,






Charlotte Melbourne Author: Charlotte Francis

When approaching funders and deciding which ones to target, where do you start? And are some ‘easier’ than others and which ones give feedback? These are some common questions we get asked. The short answer is to do thorough research and find out all you can about the funder. But here are some tips to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.  

There are roughly 10,400 grant-makers in Australia*, of which 6,644 offer structured philanthropy through Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), Public Ancillary Funds (PuAFs) and other charitable trusts; and they are all unique in their charitable objectives and criteria, accessibility, application and feedback process.

Which funders offer feedback?

Our advice is always to do two things: scrutinise the funder’s website and guidelines and build the relationship by first phoning before you put in an application. Some funders state on their website whether or not they give feedback. But if you have built a relationship with a funder and followed best practice guidelines throughout the process – including acquitting previous grants well – then you may well find they are open to providing feedback. 

Interestingly research carried out by the Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre at Melbourne Business School, as part of its report “Philanthropy: Towards a better practice model”, demonstrated a disconnect between grant-makers and grant-seekers when it comes to feedback. 80 per cent of philanthropists feel they provide sufficient feedback, yet only 21 per cent of nonprofits agree. Similarly, while almost all philanthropists feel they are suitably open to communication; less than half of nonprofits share their view. What does this tell us? That the need to communicate, engage and be open with funders as part of a strategic relationship is more important than ever.

Which grants should we apply for – is there a recommended application rating?

Choosing to apply to a funder requires you to do your research and assess whether your project matches the funder’s criteria and focus areas. Your research needs to be thorough and you should invest time looking at what organisations they have funded in the past, what kinds of projects, their average funding amounts and geographic area. Of course, subscribing to a Strategic Grants’ Customised Grants Calendar will save you hours and hours in finding the right grants - freeing you up to read the fine print and build the relationship. CFBlogCommunication is the Key

What is the average success rate among Funders?

There are many different factors that influence your chances of getting funded, and different funders vary in their approach and aims. Moreover, a lack of mandatory reporting for charitable Trusts and Foundations means there is a lack of data making it impossible to arrive at an average rate. However, some funders do publish detailed information on their giving. Perpetual Trustees and the Ian Potter Foundation are good examples. In fact, the Ian Potter Foundation’s grants database goes right back to 1964 and lists all projects funded by program area, geographic area and dollar value.  Once again, do your homework!

How can we maximise our chance of success?

The first thing to note is that the writing is only about 20 per cent of the process. Before you start drafting an application, you need to have a long-term grant-seeking strategy in place and to engage and build the relationship with funders. Bashing out grant applications – playing the numbers game – won’t lead to success. For example, we recently heard of one grant writer who had written over 230 applications in one year (about one application per day), but only secured around $18,000. That, by anyone’s standards, is a very poor return on investment. By contrast, we have clients who have much higher success rates and win repeat grants from the same funder.

Some grant winning essentials include:

Your organisation’s track record and ability to deliver projects with measurable outcomes

- Demonstrating an evidence-based need

- Ensuring that your project and funding amount align with the funder’s criteria and funding range

- Evidence that you are collaborating with partners and not duplicating effort

- Planned, strategic applications that are submitted well in advance of the deadline.

*Source: Australia’s grant-making charities in 2016: an analysis of structured philanthropy and other grant-makers’. 2018. Centre for Social Impact and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Australia.)