Pulling Back the Veil – 36 Questions for Grantmakers to Consider and Potential Grantee’s Should Expect to be Asked

by Robert Hyfler, Ph.D

Mission Appropriateness

Most funders seek grant proposals that promise innovation and change or a significant enhancement of services. Projects must be consistent with the funder’s mission. Grant proposals can expand the horizon and comfort zone of potential funders but are unlikely to force the funder to significantly alter their vision or mission.

  • 1. Is the purpose of the grant consistent with our mission?
    2. Does it offer us the opportunity to bring greater depth, sophistication and clarity to our unique philanthropic role?
    3. Is there geographic fit?
    4. Does the project reflect the type of innovation and change we champion?

Value of the Project

Proposals should clearly identify both the target population served and the impact that success will bring. They should clearly articulate the potential increase in the quality and quantity of client services and the contribution to state of the art performance or learning. The cost of the initiative should be commensurate with its impact.

  • 5. Who specifically is served by the grant? (target population)
    6. What is the value to state of the art service delivery brought about by the grant?
    7. What is the added value to agency overall performance and learning brought about by the grant?
    8. What is the opportunity for increased client services?
    9. What is the opportunity cost of not proceeding with the grant at this time?
    10. What would be the programmatic benefits of a CAPITAL grant?
    11. Is the impact of the grant commensurate with the overall budget of the program and the request to the funder?
    12. What would be our primary motivation for funding the grant?

Issues of Sustainability and Financial Need

Potential grantees should systematically and thoughtfully identify and marshal potential resources to ensure the success of their project over time. How the agency will sustain the initiative and its benefits once funder support is no longer available is of critical concern.

  • 13. Is the program sustainable in the long term?
    14. Can the agency sustain the program once funder dollars are no longer there?
    15. Is there an exit strategy for our dollars?
    16. What other funding or programmatic partners is the agency bringing to the table? Do we value our partnerships with some of those organizations and funders?
    17. Does the agency truly need our funding support or will the agency make the program happen in a timely way without our support? Is funder support material to the success of the initiative?

Issues of Project Efficacy and Evaluation

Smart funders welcome proposals that have an informed degree of risk coupled with a strong likelihood of success. A clear method of evaluating the initiative should be identified including baseline data and benchmarks of future success.

  • 18. Is the submission clear and focused? Do they convey clearly and specifically what it is they will do and what results will be forthcoming?
    19. What risks are associated with the project in terms of both possibilities for failure and unintended negative consequences? (foolish risk vs. informed risk)
    20. Is there a clear and observable method for evaluating the program, including baseline statistics and benchmarks for future success?
    21. Will we know success when we see it? Are their methods of evaluation both quantitative and qualitative?
    22. Has the intervention or approach been tested elsewhere?
    23. Are there alternative modes of intervention that should be considered?

Issues of Agency Competency, Suitability and Operational Practice

Funders seek to partner with agencies that are passionate in regard to their mission and meet high standards of governance accountability and fiscal management. Potential grantees should have a track record of programmatic integrity and success. Start-ups should show that they have learned from the best and have in place mechanisms for accountability. Funders consider themselves to be responsive and collaborative organizations and look for the same openness among grantees.

  • 24. Is there agency (mission) fit, experience and competency in the area of engagement?
    25. Are they passionate in regard to the issue at hand?
    26. What is the agency’s commitment and enthusiasm for the project? Does it equal or exceed our own (it should)?
    27. Is the agency itself the primary deliverer of service?
    28. Is the agency the primary initiator of the project?
    29. If collaborations and subcontracting are part of the grant, are appropriate communication, project management and oversight controls in place?
    30. If scholarships or client specific subsidies are part of the grant, are appropriate oversight controls in place?
    31. What is the agency’s track record of success? What is their history in sustaining new initiatives? Who have they learned from and who do they talk to?
    32. How successful have they been in previous Funder grants? If this is a first time grant request do they have other forms of reference?
    33. What is the overall state of agency finances?
    34. What is the level of board engagement in the agency? In the particular project? Did a board member show up to the presentation made to the funder?
    35. How will the grantmaking organization be recognized for the grant?
    36. If we declined funding does the agency initiate further contact to thank us for the consideration and/or to ascertain what might have led to a different result?

Bob Hyfler is an independent consultant with over 30 years of grantmaking, venture philanthropy and managerial and program development experience. He has served as a senior Jewish Federation executive and foundation executive and has eleven blog articles published on eJewish Philanthropy. He can be reached at BobHyfler@comcast.net.

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  1. What a thoughtful rubric of queries to test the validity of a grant proposal, as well as its appropriateness for the donor agency. Of course it gains significance by offering chai insights for improving both giving and life!

    Dr. Susan Gitelson, author, Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich: A How-to Guide for Giving and Philanthropy

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