Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

KarleenQLD AuthorKarleen Gwinner

I worked with a client recently to help them develop a grant application for a lifesaving project. This organisation has a transformative purpose, a clearly articulated approach to its work, and a specialised niche. The grant application was made that much simpler because the organisation had brought together their targeted messaging in one document — a key messages document.

In this one document were simple and inspiring messages that were easy to relate to and understand. These were outlined in short and long form, prioritised and backed up with statements and evidence of their value. While there was still room for improvement, the document was useful as a foundation for refining the project description and thus, fostering greater understanding of the project and how it aligned with the organisations purpose.

The benefits of a key messages document

Here at Strategic Grants we know that the corner stone to successful grant seeking is communication. It is the foundation of achieving your mission and building your relationships with internal project leaders and funders alike. The benefit of a key messages document is that it focuses and simplifies your organisation’s values and successes so that they have impact. A key messages document details the key goals, outcomes and organisational information, to help staff anchor the core ideas, values and messaging in grant proposals.

                                                       The anatomy of a key messages document Four Ps BlogImage

CLAIMS + FACTS + EXAMPLES are three essential elements for powerful messages.  With that in mind, here are four Ps and one A to ponder when putting together a key messages document:

Purpose – Outline your purpose. What is your organisation’s unique value proposition and benefits?

Pitch – Concisely describe the core idea that will help you gain traction with funders. What do you do? What makes it unique?

Persuasion – Identify what is actually likely to motivate and even excite funders. Be clear, concise, and honest.

Presentation - Key messages ensure consistency, continuity and accuracy about your organisation and help staff to link day-to-day efforts to the organisation’s mission and purpose. Package your content so that it is accessible for staff across your organisation and easy to use.

Adapt - Key messages are not static. Over time, routinely revisit the living document to ensure it still meets your needs and the messages reflect current trends, research and issues your organisation is addressing.

Share your key messages

Key messages need to be shared across your organisation so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet. Having clear, consistent messaging in your grant responses (and, in fact, right across your organisation) is fund-a-mental.

Ensure you get your point across by creating your key messages well before you start writing grant proposals.

Looking for more help in creating your own key messages document? Have a listen to A GEM of a Podcast episode 3, or get in contact with us and take advantage of our team’s expertise in creating clear, powerful messages that inspire people to take action.


KSBNE  Jane BNE   Author: Kate Sunners and Jane Symonds 

Some of you will remember the very wonderful Jane Symonds who worked at Strategic Grants a few years ago and has since moved to live and work in Paris. We thought we’d check in and see what she’s been up to in the past few years working at the International Federation for Human Rights, and ask her to share her wealth of knowledge on grants and cross-border fundraising.

Q: Tell us a bit about your current role?

A: I'm Head of Development for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The oldest international human rights body in the world, we are a federation of more than 180 independent human rights NGOs, working in over 100 countries on 5 continents, to focus the attention, support and protection of the international community on human rights. 

My role involves working with current and prospective major funding partners (public institutions and foundations) as well as working on individual giving and corporate partnerships strategy. I am also involved in building staff capacity on project planning, monitoring and evaluation, and fundraising more generally.

Q: Are there commonalities in what funders expect in Australia and internationally? And, inversely, what are the particular challenges of fundraising across global borders?

A: In terms of commonalities, relationship-building is critical - I think that's universal. And good communication is essential to that relationship-building. With international fundraising there's an extra layer because your funders may come from different cultures to you or your organisation. It might seem like a small thing, but culture has a big impact on how people communicate (think of stereotypes about the Germans being clinical, Canadians being overly polite, USA-ns being loud and over the top - those stereotypes grow, at least in part, from different ways of communicating that are perfectly normal and unremarkable within each culture). My French colleagues often make reference to my "Anglo-saxon" directness. French communication tends to be more formal and (to my blunt Australian eyes at least) flowery. So the way I email a French funder and a North American funder about the same topic can be miles apart. It’s a good reminder that good communication is about knowing and adapting to your audience. But ultimately I think that what they're looking for is the same: well-thought-out projects, good stewardship, and reassurance that their investment is going to achieve a result that aligns with their goals.BlogImageGlobe2

Q: What are the key trends you’re seeing in grants and grant-making in Europe?

A:  Unfortunately in the human rights space the work to be done is only growing, as rights and those who defend them are increasingly under attack in every region of the world. I'm not sure investment in human rights is growing at the same pace. Collaboration and strategic alliances are more important than ever (and funders are not just looking for this, but will actively fund it).


Grantees need to see themselves as part of an ecosystem with shared goals, not as a lone soldier fighting a noble but solitary fight. 

Effective project design, monitoring and evaluation is also more important than ever. Funders need to see that NGOs are clear about what they're trying to achieve, the logic of how they're going about it, and how they will measure their success. This is not always easy, particularly in sectors like human rights where impact is difficult to quantify (a big part of FIDH’s work, for example, is capacity building) and can take a very long time (it might easily be more than a decade between a human rights violation being investigated and the perpetrators being brought to justice). But just because it's not easy, doesn't mean it can't be done, and investment in this area is critical to keep attracting funding.

I think funders are more and more sensitive to the global North/South divide and the fact that a lot of funding (at least in the human rights sectors) continues to come from the North while the needs are more concentrated (although far from exclusively) in the South. So there's a focus on local-level impact and enabling local civil society and communities to lead change, rather than funding external interventions that are not rooted in the country or region. Which is a good thing!

Q: You’re not only a wonderful and very accomplished fundraiser and communicator, but have also been tour guide to Paris for a number of visiting Strategic Grants staff! Tell us your top tips/sights/experiences while visiting your new hometown 😊

A: Haha! Dragging visitors around Paris is my favourite pastime! I'm unashamedly #LeftBankforlife, so the Latin Quarter is a must but the best thing about Paris is that the city itself is a small place and you can cover a lot of ground (and a lot of very distinctive neighbourhoods) in a short time.

I guess if I had to whittle down to two tips, it would be: firstly, if fancy restaurants are your thing, go nuts, but for me nothing beats a baguette, a wedge of blue cheese and a bottle of wine from the local supermarket, eaten in an impromptu picnic on the riverbank at Sully-Morland.

And secondly, Paris is a beautiful place, and deserves to be admired from above. If you're in it purely for the view, head up the Tour Montparnasse in the 14th - but if (like many current and former SG staff) you enjoy a refreshing beverage, take your pick of the many rooftop bars. My favourite? Ahh... you'll have to come and ask me in person, I don't want word getting out or I'll never get a table again...