Giving money away is a complicated business, but a few simple questions can bring a lot of clarity to the process. The questions are straightforward, but they lead to deep issues that can impact your grantmaking profoundly. As you consider your next initiative, take some time to ask these questions:
- What’s the problem? The first question to ask is what problem you want to solve. You may know that homelessness is the issue you care most about. But what’s the underlying cause to address? Is it that there aren’t enough jobs available? Is insufficient help available for people suffering from foreclosure? Are people coming out of the prison system with no resources and nowhere to live? You could consider these and probably dozens more problems related to homelessness. The question is how to deploy your grant funds to have the most impact. Answering “What’s the problem?” will help define the scope of what you do.
- Is there data? Next consider the data you have and the data you need. Don’t base your grantmaking on assumptions. A lot of data could be out there already, at universities (local or national); with nonprofit research centers; or in the data archives of your city, county, or state. If not, then the first grant to make is one that will allow you to gather that information. Determine who can best collect the data you need, and fund them to do it.
- Who else is working on this? Third, find out who else is working on the same problem. Identify the people who can help inform your grantmaking and the organizations you might partner with. They could include national experts, local experts, other funders or donors, nonprofit organizations, and researchers. Pick up the phone and call them.
- What resources are available? Ask yourself what resources, aside from money, you have (or can create) that can help address the problem. Resources could be your contacts, knowledge, expertise, relationships, or even meeting space. They can also be existing resources within your organization, such as staff with marketing expertise. Say you want to address economic development and job opportunities in your community. Convene interested parties from your local community college, your city and county economic development department, and local nonprofit employment providers. Develop ways everyone can work together on the agenda. Your grant funding will help, but the power of people and organizations working together may be the real game changer.
- How will you learn? Finally, decide how you will learn and improve. Put processes in place to course-correct as needed. A formal evaluation method is one way, but you can also convene colleagues, grantees, and stakeholders to check in on progress, identify challenges and opportunities, and determine whether any changes should be made.
Sometimes we get lost in our plans and goals. It’s helpful to step back and ask these five simple questions: What’s the specific problem you want to solve? What data do you have and what data do you need? Who else is working on this problem? What resources besides money can help address it? How will you learn? If you take time to consider these questions, I guarantee you’ll be more successful with your funding, more satisfied with your work, and more innovative in your solutions.
For more on how to sharpen your grantmaking focus, click here to read the full article. You might also be interested in One Question Guaranteed to Save Funders Time, Save Money, and Achieve Results, as well as our podcast series, Smart Philanthropy.
Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2014.