A Bridge Leading Somewhere

bridge to somewhereBy Steven Green

Since the Jim Joseph Foundation’s inception nine years ago, bridge funding has been a part of the Foundation’s grantmaking strategy. While usually defined by shorter grant periods, a bridge funding grant can have a significant catalyzing impact on the grantee – and often is indicative of an exciting new stage of organizational growth or direction.

The Foundation’s bridge funding grants have most commonly followed a leadership transition in the organization and often have also resulted from the development of strategic and business plans, capacity building plans, and pivots in overall mission and vision. Bridge funding also has been awarded as an initial foray into capacity building when program funding had been awarded previously as a multi-year commitment.

While these are common characteristics of the Foundation’s bridge-funding grants, grant recipients of bridge funding include a broad array of Jewish organizations: Hillel International: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Jewish Student Connection, Moishe Foundation, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies – North America, Reboot, and Repair the World. Following the bridge funding (ranging from $100,000 over several months to $3,000,000 over three years), many of these organizations received multi-year grants and were arguably better positioned to capitalize on the more substantial grants as a result of that sequence. In many foundations, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, the first grant awarded generally has a notably shorter term than the second.

At the same time, approximately 23 percent of the Foundation’s major grant recipients received bridge funding after receiving multi-year grants – a seemingly regressive kind of funding arrangement. But this would be an incorrect assumption. Regardless of sequence, receiving a bridge funding grant is an important development for a grantee. In thinking about bridge funding, the following insights gleaned from my time as a foundation professional may be relevant for both funding recipients and funders:

For Grantees and Potential Grantees:

1. The receipt of bridge funding creates a moment of opportunity
The typical goal when a funder awards bridge funding is to test the ability of an organization to achieve short-term goals and measures of success. While the grantee perhaps would have rather received a multi-year commitment to show stability and success to its Board of Directors and other stakeholders, a bridge funding grant creates a unique moment of opportunity to mobilize a Board and a professional team to reach specific benchmarks.

Along with the tangible dollars, bridge funding also represents an important stamp of approval. At the Jim Joseph Foundation, the 26 organizations who have received the most funding awards have been awarded 88 percent of the total grant dollars. To receive a grant from a foundation or philanthropist is a big deal and a testament to faith in the organization.

2. There are no guarantees for future funding after bridge funding is awarded
Apart from several undecipherable MC Escher and Rube Goldberg sketches, I have yet to see a bridge that does not lead somewhere. The inevitable goal of most funders, thus, is to have a bridge that leads to greater success and subsequently further funding opportunities. But, while funders generally aspire to provide additional funding after the grant has concluded, priorities adjust, key decision-makers change, or organizational leadership may fail to execute. Essentially, funding is not infinite. Unless there is a written commitment, there is no guarantee.

3. The goals and measures of success for a bridge funding grant are not merely suggestions
While there are no guarantees that a funder will provide future funding, there is a guarantee that if a grantee fails to take seriously the goals of the grant, it will not receive subsequent funding. As with any grant, some goals may not be reached – and some may change entirely –  but they should be recognized and treated as clear objectives.

4. Be honest
If key objectives change, a program is altered, or attendees just do not show up, it is far better to share these items in advance rather than waiting until the end of the grant for the big reveal. On the same note, if a potential grantee knows it will not be able to achieve the goals set forth in the proposal, it is best not to set them as objectives. In addition to likely forgoing future funding from this donor, failing to be honest about capabilities as an organization likely will hinder other funding opportunities in the future too.

For Funders:

1. Consider bridge funding even if an organization has always received long-term support
Whether following a change in leadership, a pivot in an organization’s strategic priorities, or the formation of a new strategic plan/strategic business plan, bridge funding may be the appropriate step for a foundation or individual funder to make. Simply because it is funding awarded for a lesser amount of time, it is not a value judgment on an organization – nor should it be presented as one.

2. Do not call a grant bridge funding if there is no prospect of future support for the organization
A grantee invests tremendous amounts of time and resources cultivating a relationship with a funder. Transparency, too, is critical for both the funder and the grantee to sustain this relationship. If there is no chance for future support, share this information with the grantee as early as possible. Postponing this will not make the grantee feel any better.

3. An effective bridge funding grant should not be less on a per-year basis than a multi-year grant would be
If a foundation is asked to award $100,000 per year over a five year period, it is unlikely that awarding $50,000 for one year will be adequate to accomplish year-one goals set forth in the original grant. Often, if there is strategic planning or business planning involved, the bridge funding could be higher on a per-year basis than the proposed multi-year grant.

4. Bridge funding does not have to be for one year
Despite the fact that a majority of grants correspond to calendar or fiscal years, the term of a grant need not fit neatly within those parameters. A bridge funding grant could be for one month or two and a half years, depending on the objectives set during that period of time. Similarly, a one-year grant may not be bridge funding.

Bridge funding grants – with their varying characteristics and purposes – are, like other grants, an opportunity for funder and grantee to deepen a relationship and work towards a common goal. Any grant speaks to the confidence that a funder has in a grantee to think creatively and to implement strategically. The length and largess of a grant do not define an organization’s importance and are not barometers for achievement. Rather, the outcomes an organization achieves are the true measurements of success. And often, bridge funding can be an important means to that end.

Steven Green is Director of Grants Management and Administration at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

cross-posted on the Jim Joseph Foundation Blog