The View from the Other Side – an Open Letter to Grantseekers

September 27, 2016

Having worked with and for non-profit organizations for all of my career to date, it was quite an opportunity to be able to come to “the other side” and make the transition from grantseeking to grantmaking. When I came in the door, I had expected that I would be learning all the secrets of what happens “behind the curtain.”

What I found instead was that grantmaking is just as much art as it is science. There are more similarities between grantseeking and grantmaking than there are differences. Here are just a few of the alignments that I have found:

  • Resources are limited. There are only so many hours in a day, staff are stretched, and unrestricted funds are few in relation to the need and the opportunity.
  • Difficult decisions have to be made every day. Good people – both board and staff – have stressful meetings and sleepless nights knowing that their decisions will impact others. And we know that sometimes, those “others” are the most vulnerable among us.
  • Relationships matter. We can do more and make better decisions and have greater impact working together. When we have an idea of who each other is and what we are working on and passionate about, we can leverage each other’s strengths.

So, grantseekers, here is what I would like to share. Get to know us at the Community Foundation. Talk with us about what you’re doing even if you’re not sure yet what your ask would be. Read the guidelines and then give us a call and let us help you to put forth your strongest application possible. You don’t have to have it all figured out before we chat. That first contact is the start of the conversation – the beginning of our relationship.

We will be honest and let you know if you don’t meet our basic eligibility requirements, but we will mostly listen. We will learn what you are doing, where you would like to go next, and where your pain points lie. We will think about you and your organization and your work. It may take time for the right opportunity to surface or you may need time to do some formational work or to have an independent financial audit completed or to pilot test a theory. But we will begin to know each other and that matters.

And sometimes, even after taking all of those steps, you will not receive funding.  But, keep the relationship going.  Remember that many factors go into a decision as good people (our board) make difficult decisions about the allocation of limited resources. Building the relationship over time will help CFSEM staff know when to inform you about different opportunities, based upon the work you do.

One more thing to add to my list above is – we are all people. We are all doing a job, working for the greater good. We may have differing approaches and perspectives, but we have a heart for community, a desire for innovation, and a collaborative spirit.

If you want an “in,” all you need to do is call. Just ask to speak with a program officer. We will call you back and we will talk with you. We will learn from you and we will share our thoughts with you.

Nora Roberts, in her novel Jewels in the Sun, portrays one of her characters providing the following advice, “…If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer’s always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”

So, dear grantseeker, go after it. Ask. Step forward. Give us a call. We look forward to hearing from you.

About the Author

Ruth Rashid Kaleniecki is a program officer at the Community Foundation. Previously, she was a consultant to Detroit Public Television and Metro Solutions and was a program manager at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan and the Detroit Area Agency on Aging. She holds a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in gerontology from Eastern Michigan University and a bachelor of arts from Albion College.

To read more of Ruth’s posts, please click here or to learn more about the Community Foundation’s grantmaking programs, send her an email at rkaleniecki@cfsem.org.