As a funder, we are well-aware of how frustrating it is to measure success. The ever-present question about this very thing oftentimes yields ever-elusive responses. So how can you nail down what it means to succeed? And how can you provide tangible results?
Know the nature of your project
Grantees are the ones providing on-the-ground support and are the experts in both their fields and programs. At JSF, we value their input as such. When applying for grants, keep this in mind. You are the expert.
Know the nature of your project – the population it will impact and the ideal picture of success. Brainstorm outcomes that reflect the core purpose of the project, and do so with as much clarity and brevity as possible.
Keep the ideal outcome in mind, then pair it with reality. The nature of the project is just as important as the reality of the project’s environment. Ask questions like:
How long will it take for the ideal outcome to succeed, if ever?
Is there a difference in short, intermediate, and long-term goals?
What is a tangible goal at each programmatic stage?
Let these questions guide how you measure success. Create a timeline in which you envision specific measures of growth, and be as objective as you can in this stage. Funders like to know what to expect and when to expect it. Be honest, realistic, and objective in your application so that everyone can be on the same page throughout the entire process.
Nothing ever goes 100% as planned. While you are determining measures of outcomes, leave room for flexibility. Be honest about potential and predicted setbacks at the
beginning stages of the grant, and build in a “pivot plan” if or when these happen.
But don’t just plan for setbacks, leave some wiggle-room for extra, unexpected positive outcomes. These might not be things you planned to report on, but they’re vital to measuring the success and the impact of your program. As the grant progresses and the project evolves, be aware of the ripple-effect, and keep in mind that success doesn’t always look like what you originally thought it would.
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Last year, we shared a post on JSF’s social media strategy and how we planned to use social media to expand our communication efforts. Since then, we’ve continued utilizing social media and have found a few concrete ways that it can help us support grantees and enhance our philanthropic efforts:
Share the messages of your grantees
Social media is all about sharing a message, so why not use the platform to share the message of the programs and organizations you support? Budgeting for the purchase of ads and campaigns to promote grantee messages is an indicator that your organization is dedicated to supporting grant-funded programs through unique and flexible means.
Social media is in its nature social. At JSF, we are consistently search for other organizations and content that we could learn from. We often connect with our grantees and the beneficiaries of those grants, providing the opportunity for a public show of partnership and mutual gratitude.
Partner with grantees to provide individual communications wraparound support
The world of social media and communications is rapidly changing. At JSF, we want our communications strategy to be something that benefits us and the organizations with which we partner. We have found that we can do this creatively – whether it’s technical support, communications expertise, sharing content, or promoting initiatives, there are multiple ways that we, as a private philanthropic foundation, can and should support our grantees via a communications strategy.
For more information about JSF or to discuss incorporating social media and a communications strategy in your foundation, visit our website or contact Tori Lackey at email@example.com.
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Since inception, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has invested in the lives Indigenous Peoples. Our Founder believed they got a “raw deal” and thought it fair to give back to the communities and people who – through no fault of their own – do not have the same opportunities for success. For over 25 years, Native communities have proved themselves well worth the investment. Here’s why we believe others should consider investing, too:
There’s Great Opportunity
Indigenous Peoples can sometimes be referred to as the “Invisible People” or the “asterisk nation” because in national surveys, Indigenous Peoples either fail to be represented, or are represented by a * indicating the population is too small to survey. However, the National Congress of American Indians reports:
The total American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population (including people who identify with a combination of other races) is 5.2 million or 1.7% of the US population.
About 32 percent of Natives are under the age of 18, compared to only 24% of the total population who are under the age of 18. The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for the entire nation.
The AIAN population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total AIAN population; whereas the under 25 population for the United States is only 34 percent of the total population.
Needless-to-say, these statistics indicate that Indigenous youth are a notable portion of the population and there is both great opportunity and need for investment in them.
They Have Much to Teach Us
Indigenous students have seen their communities endure hardship and change in the face of the progression of modern society. But they’ve also experienced the traditions of their tribes and have become passionate culture-bearers among the threat of dying cultures. They’ve become advocates for the cultures and their futures, threading a positive narrative about Indigenous communities while still challenging and cultivating change. The narrative of native youth is one of hope and resilience. It is one that is dedicated to serving its people and preserving its culture. We all can learn a great deal from Native youth.
Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) is a Native youth initiative focused on removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. It gives a voice to Native youth and encourages them to use their talents, creativity and education to benefit their communities and culture. So far, Native youth have jumped at the opportunity to engage with positive solutions in their communities and society.
Investing in Indigenous students equips them with the skill and knowledge necessary to implement change and influence culture. It is a way to empower them and indicate faith in their ability to make a difference.
For more information on JSF Indigenous Peoples investments, visit our website.
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We have come to think of our grants as investments, similar to those we make in the financial markets. When we invest in a new organization or idea we are, in effect, venture investors. Like our counterparts in the financial marketplace, we can usually add value by giving our grantee something in addition to money. We might provide specialized knowledge. Sometimes we connect a grantee with another organization or person. We regularly convene meetings of grantee partners so that they can learn from each other and others in their field of endeavor. Often we just show up to meet students or help our grantees raise money.
The idea of adding value seems good. But there are at least two competing policy considerations. First, at JSF
we pride ourselves on being “lean and mean.” We have a small staff and our expense to size ratio is about 35% lower than the median. Second, we do not want to undertake work that someone else can do better. So we have to be selective about the activities in which we involve ourselves. As the Foundation matures and gains experience, its ability to add value to grants increases. Here are some practical examples of how we do this:
The funders network of both philanthropic and organizational leaders can be valuable assets to grantee partners. Funders can use their networks to leverage financial support,
connect similar causes, increase awareness, and educate. On numerous occasions, JSF has been happy to write letters of recommendation for grantee partners to help them leverage support. On other occasions we have purposefully convened meetings with different grantees so that they might learn from one another. In any case, a funders network is an asset and a valuable tool in the hands of grantee partners, and should be utilized as beyond the grant support to maximize the value and impact of the grant.
Most of the grants made by JSF have a matching grant component. We do this to maximize the support for the grant-funded program, and to ensure sustainability after the grant ends. A match ratio quite literally increases the value of the grant and creates an
opportunity to raise awareness. Fundraising support is an opportunity to invest in the program by putting your mouth where your money is. Persuading a consortium of potential funders is difficult, and often times foundations lack staff resources to do this, but it is necessary if we are to support the sustainability of our funded programs.
Perhaps one of the most gratifying things that we get to do at JSF is participate in grantee events, honoring the success of the programs we support. Not only are these events fun, they are opportunities for us to show our appreciation for the partnership and personally invest in the program. The presence and participation of funders in these types of celebratory events inspire and ensure support.
Adding value to our grant investments will continue to increase in importance. More activity comes at a cost, however, and in a time of skinny or negative investment returns, the discussions and decisions on how we add value will also be important.
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Grants are the catalyst for much of the change that non-profits create and sustain. But the process of applying and receiving a grant is no small feat. After nearly 25 years in the field, the grant making process of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has become a well-oiled machine. Having given over $100 million in grants, here are some pieces of knowledge we wish every grantee to know before applying.
First and foremost, grant makers want to get to know you. The President of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Malcolm Macleod, puts it this way: “The application process is our way of saying, ‘Let’s dance.’ If we enjoy dancing together, then we’ll ask if they want to go steady.” A grant agreement is an offer to “go steady.” Wise grant makers won’t ask to be in a relationship with a grantee before first getting to know them, so do your best to build that relational collateral. Be confident in what your organization or program has to offer, invite them to be a part of the impact you intend to make, and be patient in awaiting a response.
Similarly, grant makers want you to get to know them. Letter of Intent and grant applications from organizations or programs that have little or nothing to do with the grant maker’s goals almost always lead to immediate rejection. To work collaboratively, you have to be heading in the same direction on the same road. Before applying for a grant, make sure that you do your research and get to know the mission, values, and grant qualifications of the grant maker. How do your organization or program goals align with theirs? Websites and social media are good outlets for this type of information.
While you are researching, note that every grant making process is different. There’s a saying that “If you’ve met one philanthropic donor, then you’ve met one philanthropic donor.” The same goes for grant making processes. Not only should you get to know the organization from which you are asking funds, you should also get to know their processes. Do they prefer an online application or a hard copy? Are unsolicited requests welcomed or is it invitation only? What is the time frame of the process? Finding these answers will affect the appeal and success of your request.
Next, know what you’re asking for. Whether it is a foundation or a private donor, someone has worked hard to earn the money you are asking for, so it is important that you know exactly what you plan to do with it. When engaging in the grant making process, be sure that you have a detailed budget ready to share with the grant maker at the appropriate time. A detailed, thought-out budget lets the funder know that they can trust you will take care of their money.
It’s always a good idea to be straightforward. No grant maker wants to read your organization’s life story. Know what you want to say and do so clearly and concisely. Always pay attention to word counts when answering application questions.
Remember, a good grant maker will recognize the power imbalance. Money should not equal power. A grant maker should not pretend to have the expertise and know-how of your organization’s vision, but they do need to have confidence that you know how to implement it. When building a relationship with a grant maker, find ways to assure them of your expertise. This will give them confidence in you, your program, and the promised impact of their dollars.
In addition to your expertise, commit to being a financial partner. Make sure that your organization is financially investing in the program. Grant makers want to know that organizations are also stakeholders in their programs because it creates a partnership, helping to answer the question of post-grant sustainability.
Remember that communication is key. To a grant maker, effective and clear communication is a good indicator of who can become a trusted grantee. Ask questions. Often, grant makers are happy to make accommodations to grantees who are upfront, honest, and good at keeping the grant maker in the loop. The desire to communicate is always appreciated.
Finally, get inside the head of a grant maker. Giving is an investment. Investments are calculated risks that result in an expected return. Similarly, giving money to non-profits is an investment. Good grant makers want to make sure their money is actually making a return in the form of sustainable change and impact. Questions about evaluation and sustainability are necessary drudgery. Grant makers are investing in the potential impact of your organization. Be sure to have a good system of evaluation set in place. Make it clear that you understand this and are joining them in the mission of achieving a high return on their investment.
*This week’s blog was originally published in Philanthropy Journal, a publication of NC State University. The original post can be found here.
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Johnson Scholarship Foundation One N. Clematis Street, Suite 307
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a private Foundation. It does not make individual grants. All scholarships and grants are made through selected institutions. The Foundation’s support of these causes is delivered through a variety of scholarships and grant programs, which are described in this site.