Hey Grantwriters! You’re inspiring bold moves and big change

More than 11,000 of you across the nation have joined the GrantAdvisor community in our first 20 months. Whether you’ve written a review of a funder, registered with the site, or subscribed to our newsletter – you are a playing a crucial part of transforming philanthropy.

As we approach the end of our second year, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve started to do some higher-level reflecting and writing on things we’re seeing unfold throughout your reviews on our site and in the field (everything from online grants management systems to friendly critiques of other mechanisms for feedback).

One of our main goals – beyond working to ensure that nonprofits have the information they need to succeed in grantseeking – is to elevate the perspectives of grantwriters and increase public understanding of our unique role in the sector.

2,000 Reviews Later, Here’s What We’re Hearing

Here are just a few of the things we’re hearing you say throughout the nearly 2,000 reviews of more than 620 foundations that you’ve written so far:

Helping your colleagues is important: As grantwriters we work in this uniquely competitive-cooperative environment. We’re often approaching the same foundations, requesting grants in competitive funding rounds. We also often work in lonely siloes within our organizations, and so the recognition of shared experience with other grantwriters is deeply important. When we asked you all why you write reviews on the site, the number one reason was “to help my colleagues.”

But we don’t just want to help other grantwriters; we also want foundations to succeed. We need each other to achieve our missions, and honest feedback about things that are advancing our shared goals (or not) is a crucial first step. We’ve seen that on average 75 percent of reviews are positive. So while of course there’s some work to be done, reviews on our site indicate that a majority of funder-nonprofit relationships are strong. This desire to help each other through written feedback is the genesis of our “I write for good” buttons (if you’d like one, let us know).

“on average 75 percent of reviews are positive.”

There’s incomplete public information about what it takes to succeed in grantseeking, and that information almost exclusively used to be learned through experience over time: The first narrative question on our survey asks what advice you would give to a colleague who is thinking about approaching that foundation. It’s our most commonly answered question on the survey, and responses vary dramatically from foundation to foundation. Do they conduct site visits? What do they really mean by “innovation?” At what stage of case development should I vet my idea with a program officer? Do they return phone calls? Reviewers are sharing hundreds of collective years of experience with each other, and grantseekers are getting priceless insight that informs more effective work plans. After all, sometimes the decision to not pursue a grant is just as important as submitting the proposal itself.

The knowledge of what it takes to succeed in grantseeking requires impressive energy to acquire and sustain: A full time grantwriter may be interacting with up to 50 foundations every year, and each foundation has its own particular way of operating, norms, and expectations. Imagine you’re hosting 50 separate parties each year and are responsible for planning the meal for each of the 50 people who all have very distinct preferences. That’s a lot of work to not only remember everyone’s names and interests but also that she doesn’t like crust, he prefers tea, and they actually probably won’t come at all but you should still invite them anyway. You all are using GrantAdvisor to help each other learn what it takes to pull off a great “party” AND reflect back to foundations some implicit patterns that may or may not be advancing their own goals.

The balance of the funding community’s attention is often shifted toward an ultimate outcome, and sometimes the important middle space between funders and nonprofits here and now gets lost: Online grants management systems, accessibility of program officers, excessive reporting requirements, unclear and changing expectations of what funders want to see from us – all of these factors have huge implications for the grantwriters who hold and lead this work on behalf of our organizations and communities, but it’s often underemphasized and its impact sometimes goes unnoticed. You all have used GrantAdvisor to help identify seemingly small problems (ie. a broken “contact us” form) that have huge implications (ie. no new prospective grantees can reach a foundation with mission-aligned interests). Grantseekers spend time and energy navigating the systems that funders design (and funders invest time and energy reviewing proposals) – it’s in all of our best interest to ensure the “middle space” between us is designed to support effective interactions and responsible stewardship of our resources.

Acting on Feedback: Upcoming Changes at GrantAdvisor

As The Whitman Institute recently pointed out so eloquently: “acting on feedback is as important as soliciting it.” We’ve been listening to you all and will be making some changes going forward:

All reviews will be live starting on May 23: Currently a foundation must receive at least five reviews before its profile goes live. This rule was originally set in place to help ensure that one loud voice didn’t dominate the public narrative about a foundation. Reviews have been mostly positive and constructive, less than a dozen of the 2,000 have been removed for violating our community guidelines (we continue to monitor all reviews), and many of you have let us know the current rule was inhibiting public conversation.  If a foundation would like to seek a diversity of perspectives, we’ve noticed reviewers are more likely to write reviews when a review is already written. We encourage foundations to seek additional reviews from all members of the community impacted by their philanthropy (and here’s a toolkit to help).

Foundations with live profiles:

A desire for more research and analysis on what we’re seeing on the site: Two of the most frequent questions we get asked are: “What themes are you seeing? What impact is this having?” In this project’s beginning we have been focused on inspiring as much participation with the site as possible. As we approach the end of year 2, we are also now reflecting and learning – and have the opportunity to do so with some great partners. We’re thrilled to “unofficially” announce a joint research project with University of Maryland, led by Dr. Angela Bies, Dr. Joannie Tremblay-Boire, and Nazat Dowla (2nd year MBA and MPP student), who are working on research about the nonprofit sector, particularly nonprofit-foundation relationships. Together we will be analyzing data from the anonymous reviews to identify higher-level patterns in the foundation-nonprofit relationship. Stay tuned for more information coming soon…

International demand: Folks from a number of countries have reached out to us and asked about the possibility of international expansion. We’re excited to announce that we’re working with the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology to launch a pilot of GrantAdvisor UK beginning in June. Stay tuned for more information and follow @Grant_AdvisorUK on twitter for the latest news.

These are just a few highlights we’re eager to share in the project’s launch stage. On behalf of nonprofits and communities everywhere, thank you – grantwriters – for all you do. We are honored to offer this site as a service in support of your work and mission. What else do you need from us? Let us know by emailing team@grantadvisor.org or tweet @Grant_Advisor.

About the Author: Kari Aanestad is codirector of GrantAdvisor.org and the director of advancement at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN). In this role, Kari advances the mission and work of MCN and Minnesota’s nonprofit sector through strategic visioning, fundraising, relationship development, sector research, and education. She also serves as the Vice President of the Minnesota-Northstar Chapter of the Grant Professionals Association.

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