Our company is based in Illinois, a state whose budget woes are getting national attention. Many of our municipal contacts are faced with a disheartening situation: state funds that have been reliable sources of support for many years suddenly are no longer available. Although such funds are never guaranteed, they have in the past been steady enough to build budgets around them. Now those budgets are in jeopardy. As a result, our consultations and strategy sessions often revolve around replacement funding.
The question is often phrased something like “How can we get the same money from another source?” I call this the replacement mentality, and it’s an obvious response. However, the replacement mentality places limitations on the kind of thinking and planning needed to meet shortfalls. Instead, we encourage our state-strapped clients (municipalities are the most common), to ask different types of questions. Thoughtful, well-considered responses to these questions can lead to improvements, born of necessity, in the organization’s grant strategy. In some cases, responding to the questions prompts an institution to develop an expressed grant strategy for the first time. That in itself is valuable.
Here are some examples of questions whose responses can reveal sources of funding not immediately obvious at first blush—sources that a replacement mentality would likely obscure.
What are our over-arching goals-our most critical objectives? Funding sources usually cannot be developed overnight, so the immediate timeframe may require reduction of activities. Sometimes state-funded programs are so vital it is more prudent to cut other areas and shift funds to the previously state-funded programs. In the longer term, keeping the mission and priorities at the forefront of planning can help determine which areas are worth the investment of proposal development.
Which of our activities are the most fundable? Replacement funds may not be available for a particular program area, but there may be funds available for other areas not previously supported by grant funds. A replacement mentality could easily overlook such opportunities.
How can we position our activities to be more fundable? Here is a terrific opportunity for thinking outside the box. Quite often, the project you have in mind can be adjusted to meet one or more funding trends. We get many consultation requests for Parks and Rec grants. Park districts tend think in terms of facilities. But funders tend to think in terms of programs and impacts. So, for example, to better attract grant funds, a park district might list “youth fitness” as a priority, rather than, say, “swimming pool.” As another example, public transportation could be funded by transportation programs, energy conservation programs, safety programs, emergency managment programs, economic development programs, assistance for older Americans, and more.
Two important aspects of this approach are worth noting: 1) Planning requires a good sense of funding trends. Some organizations are aware of these; others need to build such awareness or find experts to work with. 2) Planning also requires thinking about grant funds earlier than often occurs, during strategy and planning cycles. It therefore entails a long turn-around time, but the odds of funding increase dramatically when you are positioned specifically for fundability.
Who will benefit? Every type of beneficiary for an activity, program, or facility is a potential funding source. Community gardens are a great example of this. They can benefit students, and thus are eligible for education funding. They can benefit at-risk youth, attracting Department of Justice funding. Gardens can also help feed the hungry, an area that’s supported by many foundations. They can improve neighborhoods and retain residents, especially in rural and underserved populations which is of interest to the USDA, HUD, and others.
If your project impacts youth, think about what corporations benefit from building a relationship with youth. Many foundations associated with corporations are actively trying to become the champion of tweens, in the hope of generating long-term loyalty. Seniors are also a sought-after audience. Pharmacies offer loads of services directed at older Americans, so would be a potential source of funding for a community project benefitting the older population. Consider your audience and ask “Who benefits from their loyalty?” Then search for funders with such an interest.
What other opportunities are there? The trauma of funding lapses, while unpleasant, can prompt the kind of thinking that uncovers possibilities otherwise not considered. New partnerships, new sources of funding, and an improved vision are possible by moving from a “replacement mentality” to an “opportunity mentality.”
Photo Credit: Chris Potter