Skip to main content

3 Tips for Measuring the Success of Your Grant

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 howplant growing out of a stack of coins can you nail down what it means to succeed? And how can you provide tangible results?

  1. 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.

  1. Be realistic

Keep the ideal outcome in mind, then pair it with reality. The nature of the project is just letters spelling be realisticas 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.

  1. Leave room

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

Young design team brainstorming together in creative office

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.

3 Ways Social Media can Enhance Your Philanthropy

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 graphic of a sign post with social media phrasesmedia and have found a few concrete ways that it can help us support grantees and enhance our philanthropic efforts:

  1. 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.

  1. Connect

Social media is in its nature social. At JSF, we are consistently search for other graphic of people networkingorganizations 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.

  1. 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 graphic of raised hand with center hand having a heart shape inside itcommunications 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

3 Reasons Why Indigenous Students Merit More Philanthropic Investment

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 students walking along a wet sidewalkpopulation.
  • 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 students in caps and gowns holding up their diplomaabout 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.

Great Results

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.

United Tribes Technical College Spring Graduation on May 8, 2015

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.

Adding Value: 3 Ways to Increase the Value of Your Grants

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 teachers and students posing in front of johnson scholars signothers 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:

  1. Network

The funders network of both philanthropic and organizational leaders can be valuablegraphic of people networking 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.

  1. Fundraise

Most of the grants made by JSF have a matching grant component. We do this to maximize graphic of hand and heart with dollar sign in heartthe 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.

  1. Celebrate

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,MBA-AIE graduates 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.

9 Things to Know Before Applying for a Grant

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 Pathways grantee 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 JSF Logoand 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 teacher helping student at a computerfoundation 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.PBAU grantee

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.

Success: 3 Insights from a First-Generation College Grad

Gadwin Stewart, a Johnson Scholarship recipient from Palm Beach County, graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. He was the first in his family to do so. Gadwin StewartBeing a first-generation college student comes with its many challenges, as indicated by Leslie Pendleton in a recent blog on the University of Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. Overcoming various obstacles, Gadwin thrived in college and graduated with several opportunities ahead of him. He currently teaches at Kipp Delta Collegiate High School and is in pursuit of a graduate degree that will equip him to help kids reach their potential.

Gadwin’s story is one of success. He recently returned to his high school to speak with current Johnson Scholars and shared 3 important keys to success that are valuable and applicable to us all.

  1. Success is earned

“Do what you have to do now, so you get to do what you want to do later.” Few model this idea better than Gadwin. As a high school junior, Gadwin spent hours writing essays and gathering references for college scholarships. While the Johnson Scholarship was a start, Gadwin Stewart speaking to group of studentshe would need more to cover the cost of his post-secondary education. The effort he put in literally payed off. Gadwin received over 20 scholarships, including the Gates Scholarship that gave him a full-ride to his institution. Because the cost of college was covered, Gadwin could join several on-campus clubs and organizations to maximize his learning experience.

What do you have to do now to get where you want to be tomorrow and beyond? Think about the future and let it affect how you’re living right now.

  1. Don’t let anyone downplay your success

It’s tempting to let others downplay your success. But success is earned and your hard work deserves the appropriate amount of recognition. Knowing your value and the value of Mentors, Wanda & Bothe opportunities you’ve created for yourself is an important piece in continuing to strive for accomplishment. When success happens, trace it back to the root of your dedicated
effort and the encouragement of others. When you celebrate, don’t just celebrate what you attained, but reward yourself for the focus and effort it required of you. Then you can refocus and keep moving forward onto your next goal. Doing so will also help guide others in better understanding how to earn their own success.

  1. Your success can lead to others’ success

As a first-generation college student, Gadwin is acutely aware of the impact his success has on his family. When he got accepted to college, he knew that he was paving the way for his younger siblings to believe they, too, could attain a post-secondary education. He used his success to encourage a new precedent for his family members. Success has the students speaking to johnson scholars representatives potential to generate a snowball effect of change, starting with the life of the individual and – if properly handled – growing to include the life of the community. Recognize that your success has potential to make an impact and use it to catalyze and inspire others to succeed, as well.

Take a look around and think about how your very next actions can have consequences on your surroundings and those within it.

Democracy in Action: 3 Indicators that Philanthropy will Generate Social Change

I recently had the privilege of hearing Karl Zinsmeister speak at the CEO dinner at the annual Florida Philanthropic Network summit. Karl Zinsmeister oversees all magazine, graphic with the words "what comes next"book and website publishing at The Philanthropy Roundtable. He has authored 12 books, including What Comes Next? How private givers can rescue America in an era of political frustration, which was the theme of his talk.

Zinsmeister’s thesis is that today’s social and political divisions are nothing new and that solutions to the country’s problems will not come from government or the political process but from private citizens, led by philanthropy. He cites numerous examples from American history where private action – not government – addressed and solved pressing social problems.

  1. Political Dysfunction is Nothing New

Zinsmeister’s examples are instructive. As for political dysfunction, he notes that the american flagInauguration of Andrew Jackson (1829) was a drunken, destructive riot and that, at various times in the 18th and 19th centuries, Congressional debate descended into fistfights or worse. Governments have, at times, been misguided or dysfunctional or both. The secret to America’s advancement is that it has always been a country with many independent centers of power. Who can doubt that in a free society most decisions are made by “the market” and not government?

  1. Philanthropy has Historically Catalyzed and Led Social Progress

Philanthropy is one of American’s “independent sources of power” and has the ability to catalyze and lead social progress. Zinmeister notes that both the Abolition and Temperance movements came from philanthropy and volunteerism.

In 1833 two brothers, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Tappan’s were successful New York businessmen, who abhorred slavery and set out to change American attitudes towards it through worship, education and organizing. They were ostracized, defamed and bullied. The political establishment of the black and white photo of women and childrenday and the press were not sympathetic and turned a blind eye to mob violence against anti-slavery advocates and the destruction of their houses. But the brothers kept going and built a movement that culminated in the abolition of slavery less than 30 years later.

Similarly, it was philanthropic and charitable action, the Temperance Movement, which addressed another American disgrace. The Temperance Movement is often portrayed as quaint and even silly. History tells a different story. In the early 1800s alcohol consumption was rampant and destructive. Americans drank “from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn”, observed one historian. The cost to American society and its economy was enormous and the effect on individuals and families was tragic. The alcohol industry had powerful proponents and lobbyists but was nonetheless defeated by a coalition of philanthropists and volunteers.

  1. Philanthropy Catalyzes and Leads Social Progress Today

We do not have to go back to previous centuries. Look at what the LGBT movement has accomplished in a relatively short time. As for direct action – as opposed to policy – consider this. Philanthropist George Soros and his gift of $50 million are estimated to have saved more lives in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war than the combined interventions of all national young people waving pride flagsgovernments plus the United Nations. Current examples of philanthropic leadership can be found in the fields of education, research, job training programs, public works, micro-lending, foster care and adoption.

History tells us that we should not sit back and wait for government to solve all of our problems. It can’t. Nor should we wring our hands and complain. Yale professor Stephen Carter has referred to philanthropy as “democracy in action”. Our action is needed and we must keep going.

3 Ways to Turn Failure into Success

For the third year in a row, the Florida Philanthropic Network hosted its annual “Fail Fest,” a time when funders are given the platform to share and celebrate specific illustration of man with bow and arrow missing targetinstances of failure. Some shared small failures and others leaned into the opportunity for vulnerability and shared oversights that cost them over $2 million.

As funders, grantees and human beings, failure is never a fun topic. Nor is it something that we typically enjoy reflecting upon. But if there’s anything to be learned from FPN’s #FailFest, it’s that failure is an opportunity for success. Here’s why:


When things don’t quite go as planned, we can either hide and hope no one notices, or beside view of an iceberg in the ocean vulnerable and share our shortcomings. The beauty of sharing our shortcomings is that it makes us more trustworthy. Admitting failure tells others that we value honesty and open communication. It takes off a mask of perfectionism and – as a funder – it makes us a little bit more approachable. When we are transparent, we invite others to be, as well.


There’s no better moment to invite others to the table than when our own solutions and strategies have failed us. Failure can reap its rewards when it leads us to valuing someone illustration of a man standing on another man's shoulders holding a light bulbelse’s input.

When things haven’t gone according to plan, do you wrack your brain to find another way? Or do you accept the failure and turn to outsiders for their support and advice? Diversity of thought often leads to better solutions and can empower others in the process. Whose voice can be of help and value to you? Sometimes it’s only out of the desperation following failure that we become aware of the value of an outside perspective.


Something didn’t work or go according to plan? While starting from nothing isn’t always the best solution, it is a solution. And sometimes it is the best solution. When you startplant in hands from scratch, you’re offered the opportunity to rebuild correctly, applying the lessons you learned from your most recent failure. So instead of thinking of failure as a dead-end, think of it as a new beginning. This will help you get up and continue to move forward – this time with a renewed sense of how you plan to do so.

What’s a time when you’ve failed? How has it paved the way for success? Let us know! We want to hear your stories!


January is National Mentoring Month

January is National Mentoring Month. Much has been written about the value of mentoring and most of us remember mentors, in our high school or college days, who silhouette of person being helped up a mountainmade a difference in our lives. Mentoring takes many forms. It may have been a teacher, a coach or an employer. Anyone who took a particular interest in us and gave a piece of themselves. We can count those people on one hand and they each rendered a great service and made a big contribution to our personal growth and our future. We will never forget those people and the difference they made in our lives.

Often the greater value of Foundation scholarships is not in the money but in the human support that goes with it. That is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it we have no mission and no scholarships. But it is often the mentoring behind the money that reaches a student emotionally and is remembered long afterward.

The Foundation funds several scholarship programs, which are supported by mentoring. Mentor and mentee posing for cameraThe Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children program for example, prepares and mentors students during their high school years, and provides a scholarship to attend college. Once in college, these students are supported by a professionally staffed retention program, which is essentially mentoring.

Pathways to Education is another example of mentoring with the promise of a college scholarship. Pathways provides counselling, tutoring and material support through the high school years. This has more than doubled graduation rates and college access rates. A further example is the Johnson Scholarship for students with disabilities in the State University System of Florida. The State of Florida supports that program by providing a 50% match to scholarship grants. The program is also supported by the disability service offices in each of the 12 state universities. These offices take the students throwing their graduation caps into the airapplications, run the selection committees, award the scholarships and, most important, give personal support to the scholarship recipients.

Sometimes, the grant of the scholarship itself is in itself is a form of personal support. We have had many students tell us that our scholarship is a show of faith that helped them through difficult moments when doubted their ability to succeed. This show of faith coupled with the human face of mentoring can light the way forward. This has been a recurring theme in the feedback we have received from recipients, who typically say that it helped more than the money .

Mentoring helps to change lives and we salute National Mentoring Month. To mentors of every kind we say, “Keep going”.


Philosophy of Endurance During this era of Muted Returns

Our foundation uses an investment consultant who we pay on a fee for services basis and we use specialized managers to do the investing.  For some years now, they have been advising us that the years of investment returns being at least 10% or higher are a thing of the past.  We have maintained an investment philosophy that is very diversified.  Although we may occasionally be the “loser” in comparison to our peers, our goal is to be in the top quartile over the long haul which we identify as 10 years or more.  To accomplish students walking along a wet sidewalkthat we believe we must find and invest with the best managers.

But how can we endure as a perpetual foundation which was designated by our founder, if we earn only 5% or less in net returns and are required as a private foundation to pay out a minimum of 5% to our beneficiaries? What about the cost of living that continues to reduce the true value of our assets and our grants, even at a historical low percentage of 1% to 3% per year?  Our goal during the past 25 years of our existence has been to earn an average annual return that would be sufficient to pay out our required 5% in grants, cover the cost of inflation at say 3% and grow our assets a few points at say 2% for a total of 10% average which would include periodic dips in the world economy.

That goal was easier to achieve in the past than it is today and we are told for the students jumping up in the airforeseeable future.  So, what do we do in the face of this dilemma?  We have chosen to keep on moving forward by looking for the very best investment managers, by weeding out the poor performing managers, by keeping our assets well diversified, by questioning our investment consultants on every proposal they bring before us and by optimistically waiting for some better years when returns will return at a higher level.

We are constantly looking at the mix of Foundation assets with a view toward increasing returns while maintaining an adequate level of liquidity.  Given its perpetual mandate the Foundation can probably tolerate greater volatility in returns from year to year if over the long term this strategy produces higher overall returns.  With these thoughts in mind the Foundation is currently considering moderately reducing its weighting in hedge funds and fixed income in favor of equities and equivalents.

We know that the best and brightest economists, investment consultants and even womanpolitical pollsters cannot always accurately forecast the future.  As optimists, we plan to endure as a foundation and continue our work during this era of muted returns, realizing that although our asset base may be declining now, a brighter day is over the horizon when 10%+ investment yields will return.  We will just keep going.