Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

MariaAuck Author: Maria Hernandez-Curry

Understand the ecosystem, honour your funders, involve your beneficiaries!

It’s the start of a new year, and a perfect time to consider these things to help make your grant seeking practice more intentional, more relational and more likely to create impact.  

Here are some things to consider…..

You’re part of an ecosystem!

Your organisation plays an important niche role in the ecosystem of our society. Being able to enact your niche role well (and being able to apply for funding well) means knowing exactly who the communities are that you serve, the landscape of organisations and people who work in your space, and funding sources available.

This year, ensure that you have a robust understanding of your beneficiaries and that you are providing those insights to your funders. In your applications (and reports), make sure you have the data on hand to be able to include information on the target beneficiaries of your projects (e.g. age, ethnic and cultural make up, exact geographic location, sociocultural deprivation index) and on other organisations working on similar projects in your geographic region to ensure you are able to communicate the specific niche needs you fill that no other organisation is providing for.

Another point here is that impact on complex social and environmental issues is not achieved by one organisation, or even sector, alone! Check out our blogs on collaborating for greater impact for more on this! (Necessity of Collaboration Blog

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Honour thy funders

They are part of our community. New Zealand’s philanthropic sector is interwoven and close-knit, so building and maintaining strong relationships with funders is key to having an intentional and robust grant seeking programme. I encourage you to honour every relationship and interaction your organisation makes with a funder or potential funder.

Ways to show your respect for the contribution funders make can include things like: being prepared before phoning a funder; letting them know of potential or imminent changes to a funded project; inviting them to see your mahi; always ensuring funder reports are submitted on time; making that hard but important decision not to pursue a funding relationships where you know there isn’t alignment with your organisation’s mission; ensuring all communications are coordinated and transparent; ensuring they feel included as partners in your project in the impact you’re creating.

Honouring funders is also about ensuring that they are connected with beneficiaries. This can be achieved through measuring and evaluating the work you do, as well as sharing your beneficiaries’ stories in a way that is meaningful for funders.

Know your impact

In the nonprofit sector it can frequently feel like resources (dollars, time and energy) are scarce, so it can feel impossible to invest time in creating clarity around your organisations’ goals, your strategic plans to achieve them, and how you measure your performance against those goals. However, with the increasing competition for funding, and as funders become more invested in evaluating their own impact, this is an essential step in setting your organisation up for success and sustainability!

You also need to have a strong understanding of how the programs you provide translate into outcomes, how those outcomes are helping you meet your organisation’s kaupapa or mission, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. This means implementing key performance indicators and monitoring them throughout your programs: and using those insights to help you make tweaks to ensure they are optimally designed to create the best outcomes possible. (Just make sure you keep your funder abreast of any changes before they happen!).

How you evaluate your projects should be informed by the funder’s reporting requirements, but also by the information your organisation needs to be able to assess your performance against your strategic goals. Nonprofits play an important role as the bridge between funders and your beneficiaries, so it’s also important that your evaluation captures information about your beneficiaries’ experiences and stories. This is vital information in understanding how your projects are creating change.

Evaluation is hard work and requires a specific set of skills and knowledge! Check out our Evaluation Readiness Quiz to assess your strengths and weaknesses in evaluation, and get in touch if you need help.

Don’t play piggy in the middle: know your value as an educator instead

The non-profit sector is, of course, unlike the for-profit sector where the purchaser and user are generally one in the same. Your funders essentially fund services that will benefit someone else. This can create issues when there is a disconnect between what beneficiaries need or want, and what funders think beneficiaries need – with your organisation stuck in the middle.

We see this happen when organisations create projects to fit funding rounds, rather than creating projects based on their strategic goals and the identified needs of beneficiaries.

This can create a situation whereby you are able to meet the requirements of your funders, but not necessarily listening to or meeting the needs of the communities you serve. In worst case scenarios these sorts of practices can contribute to an imbalance in power dynamics, silencing the voice and contribution of your beneficiaries: which is far from what funders want to see happening!

In your grant seeking practice this year, continue to be mindful that the goal of your funding relationships is to obtain the best possible outcome for your beneficiaries (this might involve co-design of projects and consultation on what your beneficiaries want). You and your funder are in an equal partnership where you work together to serve your communities. Your organisation plays a vital role in translating that financial gift into social and environmental benefit.

Stay in the know

Just like the rest of us, funders are influenced by current events, new research and ideological shifts. I encourage you to keep up to date with changing philanthropic trends both in New Zealand and overseas. A good place to start is subscribing to Philanthropy New Zealand’s e-newsletter if you haven’t already.

There are also some great tools out there (check out our GEMS calendar) to keep up to date with new grants available, existing ones you may not know about, as well as changes to funders’ strategies, areas of interest and funding round dates.

Spill the tea with your networks. Share knowledge about grant seeking trends and practice with other organisations who make up part of your community. Keep an ear out for great tips and don’t hesitate to pass on tips to others.

Wishing you every success for 2019! Please get in touch with us if you have grants or evaluation questions or we can provide you with any support.


Bianca BNE  Author: Bianca Williams

Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day.

– Michael Josephson

Now whilst the festive ‘merry-ness’ may be starting to waiver as you begin to focus on the key tasks for 2019, take a moment to reflect on what you achieved in 2018, and what you are yet to achieve in the year ahead. Identify your key business goals, break each one down into bite size pieces and map out a strategic plan of how to achieve each bite. Starting the year with a clear path of how you are going to achieve your business goals will help sort out your priorities and inform where to commit your resources; none more so than your grants program.

As with any business, relationships are invaluable to charitable organisations. The team at SG strongly advocates for our nonprofit partners to invest time in establishing and nurturing a relationship with funders. Trust and Foundation funder relationships should be managed similar to those of  donors, corporates or sponsors; engage purposefully on a personal level with a meaningful message.  By investing time in these relationships, you open the doors to establishing a partnership and long-term support.

Existing funding partners

Invest time in structuring a communication plan for each existing funder

Identify key project milestones of when to update the funder and report on how the project is going; an email, card or letter paired with photos of the project (site or program participants) is a great way of celebrating milestones with the funder

Allocate one person exclusively in your organisation to contact the funder to ensure a coordinated approach (and save the embarrassment of having 6 different people send an email to report on program progress)

Have a discussion with your funder to determine how they best like to be communicated with (phone, face to face, email, letter) and how often; the last thing you want to do is ‘push the friendship’

Only contact the funder with a specific purpose or update – this will demonstrate your organisation is strategic and effective in using its resources (i.e. your time in contacting them)

Prospect funding partners

The best place to start when identifying prospect funders are those who have funded your organisation before.

Ideally your organisation will have a centralised record of all funder history (past & current) that you can easily access – if you are a GEMS user, this information will be easy to ascertain. If you don’t use GEMS (Grants Expertise Management System) - it’s worth checking out!

Once you have researched into the history, you can plan how you will reconnect with the funder;  you could give a brief update on the project that was previously funded, report on any changes within the organisation (staff, structure, programs) or, if you are new to the organisation, send an introductory email. Invest time into developing that relationship and see what funding opportunities arise.

For those who have identified key grant rounds in 2019 to apply for diarise time to call the funder before the application due date. The purpose of the call is to introduce your organisation, ask questions to clarify the application process or funding focus areas, and gauge their interest. This phone call will alert the funder to your organisation’s project and take the first step in establishing a relationship. Be sure to read the guidelines (most recent) and funder’s website (if they have one) before making the call, and ensure you tell the funder you have done so – it will be looked upon more favourably if you are prepared.

Future funding partners

This group of funders will take some time to develop a relationship with, they could include the ‘By Invitation’ funders who seem untouchable – limited contact information available, no interest in receiving applications from unknown organisations. So how do you become known? A good place to start is by researching into any connection between your organisation and the funder’s Trustees - there may be an opportunity to be introduced by a mutual contact. But ensure you have done your research to confirm your project aligns with the funder’s area of interest.  

Multi-year funders who partner with select charities for fixed periods can sometimes be difficult to connect with outside of the usual grant round; think ahead and send an email / call to introduce yourself, your organisation, and notify the funder you are looking forward to submitting an application in the next round (whenever that may be).

The difference between a relationship and a partnership

‘A partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests’ 

It’s important not to undervalue the importance of your organisation, the service it delivers and the community sector it supports when negotiating partnerships with funders (corporates, Philanthropic or otherwise); genuine funders will partner with your organisation because they share the same values and wish to align with an organisation that will deliver on their mission.

I realise that relationships take time,  which is a precious commodity (particularly if Trusts and Foundations form only part of your role). But if one hour a week is put aside to make a phone call, draft an email, or coordinate a program update – it’s time well spent that could see your existing and future funder relationships turn into fruitful and genuine partnerships.