Private Funders Don’t Have To Be Objective

You submitted a knock-out grant proposal to a well-targeted funder requesting just the right amount of money for just the right purpose. You did extensive background research and know for certain that the proposal was a spot-on ask. You didn’t win the award. What happened? 

There are countless reasons you might be turned down, and when grantmakers are weighing the pros and cons of high-quality proposals there are several factors that easily tip the scales. “It’s important to realize that private funders don’t have to be objective in their decision-making,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Unlike government funders, they’re unlikely to use detailed scoring systems and award the grant to the organization that beat out the others by a point or two.” 

While the decision-making processes of private and corporate foundations vary, here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • The assessments and recommendations of foundation staff are often critical. When a foundation is staffed, open and clear communication with those contacts is critical;  
  • The missions of foundations are usually diverse, embracing several areas of interest. If your proposal addresses environmental concerns and the foundation’s current portfolio of awards is already heavy in that area, the bulk of the awards may go to health-related issues for that year; 
  • When choosing between two good proposals, the funder’s trust in the applicant organization will carry more weight than the written document. A high-quality relationship with the funder easily tips the scales. If you were handing out thousands of dollars wouldn’t you lean towards those you knew would get the job done?; and,
  • An inspiring response to an important issue is sure to grab the funder’s interest. But an exciting program plan that’s not underpinned with a practical, realistic plan for sustaining impact after the period of grant funding is still likely to falter. You’ve got to be sure the entire package can withstand a good hard shake.

This is private money and these funders have no obligation to make award decisions based on some empirical, abacus-based system. A small family foundation may make decisions at the holiday dinner table. A large foundation is likely to have formal systems, but the processes will vary a great deal and relationships will always matter. 

“I believe that awards based on deep, thoughtful consideration are likely to result in more impact than decisions dictated strictly by metric-based decision-making,” said Floersch. “And the strength and quality of the applicant organization should always be a deciding factor. Grant competitions should never be about how well an organization dots an ‘I’ or crosses a ‘t.’ Bringing humanity to the decision-making process helps move all of our missions forward.” © Copyright 2019 The Grantsmanship Center.