Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

CraigMELB Author: Craig Hunter

1. Stay informed

Information is power, but too much information is distracting. Choose a reliable source of funding information and stay informed. In response to COVID-19, the grants landscape is moving quickly -  many funders have announced changes to grant rounds, flexibility with past funding and funding distribution plans for the near future.

Now more than ever, you need to know every grant that your organisation is eligible for. We usually recommend our clients update their GEM Portal grants calendar once per month, but at the moment we recommend they do it fortnightly because new grants are released daily. We also have a dedicated COVID-19 Funder News page to ensure organisations don’t miss major funder announcements.

2. Review your information and projects

How has your organisation changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started? Are the projects you planned still viable? Are your Key Messages and Case for Support documents up to date and still relevant? The projects that are on your wish list (program / project list) may need to be re-evaluated to align with the current status quo. Review the project plan for each project (or if you haven’t got a project plan – you can download a Project Information Template for free) then conduct a needs analysis, what are the new outputs, have the outcomes changed, will your project have the same impact?

3. Contact your funding partners Craig Funding Pipeline Image 1

Your supporters want to help, if you need flexibility with an existing grant agreement for a funded project - do not hesitate to speak to your supporters. Bring them into the conversation and ask for help. Your funding partners can also link you to other potential supporters. Manage all correspondence from a central point to ensure your communication is targeted and strategic.

4. Put your best project forward

Keep applying, but do it well. Ensure your project is eligible, meets the funders criteria and the application is well written. Ensure you stick to best practice grant seeking;  conduct needs analysis, develop your project, research possible grants, read the guidelines and confirm eligibility, speak to the funder….then write the application.

5. Know your outputs and measure your outcomes

Evaluation should be embedded into all of your projects. But, with the fast-changing environment as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, you may now consider evaluation methods such as Learning Loops and micro evaluation to evaluate, analyse, re-develop and deliver your project in stages. By incorporating a strategic process of evaluation and learning that influences the next stage of a project and future projects, you will ensure your organisation can pivot and adjust if the need and/or project delivery method changes.    

AndrewC  Author: Andrew Callaghan


Being relatively new to the Strategic Grants’ team, the plan for my first blog was to layout the foundations of what grant makers want from measurement and evaluation. In reviewing previous Strategic Grants blogs, I came across a similar piece by our Director Jo Garner – “Funders want Outcomes”. Almost two years later, there has been some evolution, but certainly no revolution in measurement and evaluation.

Checklist of what Funders Want in Measurement and Evaluation

* Theory of Change

* Evidence your approach works

* Alignment to the grant makers funding focus

* Realistic goals for measurement

Theory of Change

The most fundamental piece of your measurement and evaluation work is your theory of change or logic model. While the actual document or end diagram is incredibly useful,  the process in getting to that completed model is where the real value lies. The process of creating your theory of change forces you to understand the environment in which you are working in. You need to know the external factors that will influence your interventions or programs as well as being able to  clearly articulate the outcomes you want to achieve and how they relate to your  mission.

Developed correctly, the process engages your whole organisation, your stakeholders and the target groups of your programs. The result is a shared resource that guides your work, holds you accountable to stakeholders and allows for continuous improvement, as you compare your outcomes evidence against your theory of change.

Evidence your approach will work

At the beginning of my journey measuring and evaluating, I fell into the trap of thinking you need to prove anything and everything about your organisation’s work. There is a smarter and better way! Build on the work of others who have gone before you. You are most likely not the first person or organisation to tackle the issue or need you are addressing and guaranteed not to be the first to use all the different elements of your approach.

Therefore, there is a body of evidence that exists through academic studies, meta-analysis of interventions and other evaluation reports, which can provide solid evidence that an approach works and achieves certain outcomes. So, leverage this data and present it in your own work as evidence via literature review.

You will still need to build your own body of evidence that you are achieving these outcomes in your programs through monitoring progress and addressing any specific adaptations or changes that you have made to suit your target group.AC MandE Blog Image

How your project aligns to the funder’s priorities or funding focus

Funders have their own unique set of funding  priorities or preferences.  It is vitally important that you align your proposed projects to objectives and can demonstrate how you are helping them fulfill their goals.

You therefore need to be confident that your program’s outcomes and evidence base are credible and realistic. That does not mean you alter them each time you approach a funding opportunity,  but you should make it easy for funders to understand how your project helps them in achieving their goals.

Philanthropic funders, particularly Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs’), will most often have a mixed portfolio of types of projects they support, and some will be willing to fund innovative and unproven approaches if the returns of it being successful are worth the risk. Trust and Foundations often see their role as venture capitalists for the not-for-profit sector, whose support can be used to leverage further investment from government and other funding bodies, to scale interventions.

Realistic Goals for Measurement

When applying for grants, it’s important to have realistic goals for measurement of outcomes. One of the key criteria that funders will base their decision on, is the outcomes you commit to. If you commit to a complex evaluation with large sample sizes, this is their expectation in the reporting.

Secondly, evaluation plans need to be relative to the project.  Outlining the use of pre and post testing of participants and having a control group is probably over doing it for a small program contribution grant but would  be a must for an unproven approach involving significant investment.

Funders also want you to be honest with your reporting. There is no value for anyone in disguising or omitting evaluation data from reports.  The key is to use evaluation to continually adapt and refine your intervention to maximise its impact and address any negative outcomes that arise.  Report your outcomes and engage funders in the work you are doing. Remember, many funders are prepared to fund the evaluation of your work as part of the grant request.

Journey to Impact Measurement

Measurement and evaluation are essential for both the grant maker and the grant recipient. I would highly advise being proactive in talking to funders about measurement and evaluation. With  a strong culture of measurement in your organisation, you will meet and most likely exceed the expectations of funders.