Anatomy of an Effective GrantAdvisor Review

Every day at 8:00 a.m., I log on to my computer and read reviews written at grantadvisor.org. My goal is to assess whether or not the new reviews align with GrantAdvisor’s community guidelines. GrantAdvisor encourages reviews be about the institution of philanthropy and therefore doesn’t allow comments about specific individuals. I make sure no names are mentioned, and often times ask for input from an internal committee if a staff member from a foundation might be recognizable by job title. This daily task assures we are always working toward our mission of both a valuable information service AND promoting more effective philanthropy.

And so it is that I’ve read almost every single review of the over 1,600 at the site by the time this blog is being published. It is my job after all–I’m the GrantAdvisor content coordinator who coordinates all the content on the site. But, as a new grant writer, I have found the advice from nonprofit grantwriters and fundraising consultants invaluable to understanding philanthropy and grantwriting.

When I started work on my first ever nonprofit grant proposal last year, I felt confident having recently worked in grants administration. I’d read thousands of proposals so surely this small request would be no problem. But, as all new grant writers learn, there is likely a problem…the first of which is: where do you even start? Instead of panicking, I first asked my supervisor for help. Then, I turned to my daily routine and read the advice about the funder on GrantAdvisor. I noted that we’d had, as other reviewers suggested, a call with a program officer and we were applying for the amount they had suggested. Other reviewers reported that the proposal would likely take me around 10 hours to complete; being new, I calculated it might take me 12-15. This is how reading reviews again became a part of my work routine.

Reading all those reviews has also taught me to recognize the anatomy of an effective review as one that thanks and acknowledges good practice, offers constructive feedback, insider information that might not be available at a grantmaker’s website, and contextualizes the funder within their community.

Here are examples of reviews that exemplify these categories:

Thanks & acknowledges good practice

“Open Road Alliance strives to be grantee-centric, and they absolutely live up to that goal. It was really quite remarkable and illustrates just how far most other grantmakers have to go to similarly support their non-profit partners. Our Investment Officer spent an hour with us on the phone, helping to refine our case. After we submitted our LOI (no full proposal required) we received additional feedback – and had the opportunity to make edits! The Investment Committee probed thoughtfully and gave the impression that they understand the non-profit perspective and experience. Finally, we received a response within a couple of weeks of the meeting. Even had we not received funding, I was still very impressed with the experience.” Read more reviews of Open Road Alliance (Washington, DC)

A review of The Blandin Foundation celebrates the grantmakers accessibility by specifically calling out what their application form states:

“The Blandin Foundation is one of the most accessible funders we’ve worked with to date. Their program officer was extremely transparent about the application process. In addition, we appreciate that their application form clearly states that they welcome grant proposals from ALL nonprofits, not just those with professional grant writers on staff.” Read more reviews of The Blandin Foundation (Grand Rapids, MN)

Insider Info

This review of The California Endowment gives tangible steps for approaching this funder.

“Request a meeting with a program officer. Come prepared with a brief letter summarizing your request. If you don’t get a meeting right away, it is still worthwhile to at least submit a letter of introduction or request. I’ve found that their staff are very approachable, and the foundation makes many resources available to the nonprofit community.” Read more reviews of The California Endowment (Los Angeles, CA)

Constructive Feedback

In this review of The Minneapolis Foundation, the reviewer asserts the grant report is repetitive and offers how the reviewer would use the time differently if the reporting requirements and online system weren’t so cumbersome.

“Please dramatically cut down on the reporting process. Completing the grant report feels like another grant application. So many questions are redundant, seeking information that was already addressed in the original application or during the site visit. It feels like a very poor use of time. Hours spent on the grant report could be spent cultivating other donors or pursuing another grant opportunity. ” Read more reviews of The Minneapolis Foundation (Minneapolis, MN)

Contextualizes the grantmaker

A reviewer of the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation helps frame the grantmaker’s work around familiar frameworks used in nonprofits and within the landscape of philanthropy in Minnesota.

“They are eclectic in their giving. Their user friendliness and resources they provide in writing SMART objectives is why I say they are reaching their philanthropic goals.

While many of the grantees are traditional social services, there is an interest in entrepreneurial approaches (reflecting R. Schulze’s background) but don’t write yourself off if you don’t seem to fit among the current grantees. Call the foundation and asked to meet with them before even submitting the LOI.” Read more reviews the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation (Minneapolis, MN)

I hope you can spend some time reading reviews like these on grantadvisor.org as you prepare proposals for submission. I also encourage you to build writing reviews into your proposal writing process. As I have been learning more and more about grantwriting, I’ve found it helpful to reflect on what went well in my experience and what didn’t. In the process of writing a review it becomes clear whether the system of submission needs work or if I do. I’m hopeful you’ll find my anonymous reviews as helpful as I have found yours as you craft your work plans, approach grantmakers and build relationships, and carryout your charitable missions.

About the author: Andrea Sanow is the development coordinator at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and serves as the GrantAdvisor content coordinator for www.grantadvisor.org. In this role, she supports and advances the philanthropic support of MCN’s programs and operations as well as increases the visibility and credibility of GrantAdvisor.

One Comment

  1. […] With my supervisor, I apologized to everyone who applied and who was intending to apply. We extended the deadline until the end of the week and adjusted our work plans. I am the first person to admit mistakes happen. I can also recognize that we don’t always realize they are happening which means we will unintentionally hurt people we don’t mean to. This reality is why, as I am trying to frame up this post—“Anatomy of an Effective GrantAdvisor Response”–I am struggling to find the same metrics as I did when I wrote about the “Anatomy of an Effective GrantAdvisor Review.” […]

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