Over the years, as I’ve led grant-seeking workshops across the country, I’ve found that many proposal writers–especially new ones–are intimidated by program officers and their decision-making powers. It is important to understand, however, that getting to know program officers and developing relationships with them is a critical skill for a successful grant seeker. In my own experience, I have found program officers to be extremely helpful as I work on proposals for submission.
If you’re looking for a window into the perspective of those who control the purse strings, you should check out a web site that a colleague of mine just told me about. It’s called GrantCraft (www.grantcraft.com), and it’s packed with articles and other helpful resources for grant makers.
According to the web site, which is a project of the Ford Foundation, GrantCraft is designed to teach foundation officers how to be successful grant givers and to identify the tools and skills needed to be an effective funder. The site boasts that using GrantCraft is like being able to sit at a “virtual roundtable” with experienced grant makers from all kinds of foundations. There is an impressive list of contributors to the site, from an equally impressive list of well-known foundations, such as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Bush Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Otto Bremer Foundation, and the Verizon Foundation. In addition, the site’s contributors include representatives from several community foundations, smaller family foundations, and institutions of higher education.
Besides items for purchase, there is a long list of GrantCraft guides that can be downloaded in PDF format. Some of the topics of the guides include “Program-Related Investing,” “Mapping Change,” “Advocacy Funding,” “Working with Start-Ups,” “Outcomes and Evaluation,” and “Saying Yes/Saying No to Applicants.” These latter two guides are of particular interest to grant seekers, and I would definitely recommend reading them. The “Outcomes and Evaluation” guide looks at the potential risks and rewards of using outcomes-based measurements to evaluate the success of grant projects. The “Saying Yes/Saying No” guide looks at grant seekers’ expectations and how to understand them, how applicants can understand the rationale behind a funder’s decision, and how applicants can make realistic plans about their next steps.
Two additional resources of interest are the “Besides GrantCraft” page and the “P.S. (Peers Suggest)” page. The first lists a variety of articles under topic headings such as “Reflections,” which focuses on introspective pieces about what it means to be a grant maker, and “Hardy Perennials,” which is devoted to looking at old issues in new ways. There’s an article here by Paul Brest, president of the Hewlett Foundation, that argues for funding general operating support (a frustrating topic for grant seekers, as it’s hard to find foundations that will support general operating expenses), and another article that poses hard questions about grant evaluation. On the P.S. page, grant makers review and describe resources that have helped them do their jobs.
After spending some time looking at this site, I feel as if I’ve learned a little more about how foundation officers think, and what it’s like to sit on the other side of the “fence”–that enviable position of being the one to give the money, rather than ask for it! If you’re just starting to develop relationships with foundation officers, I think you’ll find this web site very useful. And, if you have submitted any proposals to foundations that have not been funded (and who hasn’t?), you might pick up a few helpful hints by looking at GrantCraft, too.