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  • Marty Zimmerman

If I were a program officer, I would...

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Volunteers coming together

Nonprofits and foundations are mutually dependent – one cannot succeed without the other – yet they often have different experiences with the grantmaking process. As a grant writer who has encountered a variety of grant application experiences, here are some ideas for funders of ways to improve the grantmaking process.

If I was a program officer, I would…

  1. Prioritize granting large general operating and startup awards with an emphasis on multi-year funding. These grants are what organizations truly need, and they also justify the appropriate amount of time and resources spent writing the grant.

  2. Create an online grant portal that clearly shows where to submit a grant, where to find a saved application, and where to submit a report. Many grantmaking websites can be difficult to use; similarly, asking for paper copies of grants doesn’t fit within the digital world we live in today.

  3. Limit the application to core questions that provide valuable information such as organization history, program information, and evaluation.

  4. Prioritize funding sustainable, healthy organizations with a reasonable budget, and not necessarily the organizations with the least amount of overhead. Administrative costs are also important and ensure responsible practices such as having enough funds to pay staff a living wage and to keep the lights on. Again, we rarely question these costs for private businesses – the same understanding should apply to nonprofits.

  5. Communicate regularly with grantees and the community. For example, share information about other foundations and nonprofits with potential grantees to increase collaboration and success. Be responsive to nonprofits and encourage phone calls and site visits when possible.

  6. Treat nonprofits as partners alongside the foundation; emphasize that their goals and successes are also the foundation’s goals and successes. Taking a them vs. us view of the relationship, or one that focuses on dollars instead of programs and missions, impacts both parties negatively.

Developing strong nonprofit-funder relationships ensures everyone’s success. Nonprofits and foundations are in the business of changing lives and improving our communities, which should be the ultimate objective of the grantmaking system.

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