Grassroots Grants: An Activist's Guide to Grantseeking / Edition 2

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In the revised second edition of the bestselling guide to grantseeking, author and activist Andy Robinson walks you through the challenges of incorporating grants into a complete fundraising program, using grant proposals as organizing plans, designing fundable projects, building proposals piece by piece, and fostering effective communication with funders who support the activist community. This updated edition keeps pace with the changing times and contains all new budgets and model proposals, interviews with funders from the grassroots community and timely information about grantseeking on the Internet. 

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
“With the new edition of Grassroots Grants, Andy Robinson has done all of us a great service. He's compiled and organized dozens of commonsense tips for building effective partnerships with funders, many presented in the words of the grantmakers themselves. From the art of the schmooze to effective letters of inquiry to simple, fun exercises that will help get your organization off the dime and into the money, Grassroots Grants is a must-read for those in charge of sustaining and strengthening community voices. Thank you, Andy!”
—Jay Harris, publisher, Mother Jones

“Your indispensable guide for navigating the world of foundation fundraising.”
—Frank I. Sanchez, senior program officer, The Needmor Fund

"Combines a tough and thorough approach to fundraising with a deeply ethical world view. A must-read for caring community organizations operating in a competitive world."
—Maude Barlow, national chairperson, Council of Canadians

“The experience, tactics, tools, and case studies needed to launch an effective fundraising strategy for social change.”
—Robert Bray, communications consultant and founder, SPIN Project

“Well worth your time before, during, and after your grant submissions!”
—Tricia Rubacky, senior development adviser, Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations

"Can save you years of learning the hard way."
—June Rostan, director, Southern Empowerment Project

“Artfully demystifies the world of grants by drawing on the experience of a wide range of activist groups.”
—Guadalupe Guajardo, senior consultant, Technical Assistance for Community Services

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787965785
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/19/2003
  • Series: Kim Klein's Fundraising Series, #13
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,243,073
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Andy Robinson has worked with a variety of nonprofits as a fundraiser, grantwriter, editor, and community organizer. All told, he has raised more than $4 million for grassroots organizations and written 150 successful proposals. He is the author of Selling Social Change (Without Selling Out): Earned Income Strategies for Nonprofits, available from Jossey-Bass.

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Table of Contents

List of Exhibits, Exercises, and Worksheets.



The Author.

The Contributors.

1. Up from the Grassroots: The Evolution of Grants and Grantseeking.

The Expanding Philanthropic Sector.

A Different Set of Circumstances: Economy, Politics, Technology.

Grantmaking: An Experiment in Democracy?

Funders Don’t Act the Way They Used to Act.

2. What Grants Will Get You . . . and What They Won’t.

Who’s Got the Money?

The Downside: Ten Ways That Grants Can Drive You Crazy.

The Upside: Ten Ways That Grants Can Benefit Your Work.

How Grants Fit into a Complete Fundraising Strategy.

3. Why People (and Funders) Give Away Their Money.

Who Gets the Money? Criteria for Giving.

Foundation Culture.

4. The Grant Proposal as Organizing Plan.

Building the Case for Support.

Programs, Projects, and Campaigns.

General Support Grants.

Designing Fundable Projects: The Grantwriter as Feasibility Tester.

Involving Your Coworkers, Your Allies, Your Neighbors.

How Much Money? Developing Budgets for Grant-Funded Projects.

5. Finding Funders.

Do Your Homework!

Follow the Guidelines.

Phase One: Sleuthing.

Phase Two: Using Computer Resources and Web Searches.

Phase Three: Doing Library Research.

Phase Four: Studying the Current Guidelines.

6. Building Peer-to-Peer Relationships with Grantmakers.

Leveling the Playing Field.

Grantmaking: It’s a Job.

Are We Partners or What? The Value of Honesty.

Pick Up the Telephone.

Honor the Gatekeepers.

How to Meet Grantmakers.

Donor-Directed Grants.

Letters of Inquiry.

Be Professional, Be Patient.

7. Creating Your Proposal, Piece by Piece.

The Value (or Not) of Good Writing.

Should You Hire an Outside Grantwriter?

Layout: Creating a Good-Looking Proposal.

The Components of a Grant Proposal.

8. A Tour Through Four Winning Proposals.

Urban Garden Resources of Worcester (UGROW).

Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington.

Supportive Parents Information Network (SPIN).

Wildlands Project.

9. Creative Ways to Leverage Your Grants.

Matching and Challenge Grants.

In-Kind Donations.

Program-Related Investments and Loans.

10. Successful Grants Administration.

Record Keeping and Reporting.

Managing Grant Money.

The Value of Honesty, Revisited.

Your Mother Was Right: The Value of Good Manners.

11. The Grantseeker’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving.

Dealing with Rejection.

Diversifying Your Funding.

Using Your Time and Energy Effectively.

The Perfect Organization.

Resource A: Useful Publications.

Resource B: Grant Database Tools, Jean Lewis.

Resource C: Raising Money from Faith-Based Grant Programs.

Resource D: Legal Issues for Nonprofit Advocates, John Pomeranz.

Resource E: Sharing Grants: A Strategy for Collaborative Fundraising, Wendy Wilson.



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First Chapter

Grassroots Grants

An Activist's Guide to Grantseeking
By Andy Robinson

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-6578-2

Chapter One

Up from the Grassroots The Evolution of Grants and Grantseeking

Grantees are more oriented toward results and less involved in defining themselves as victims. People speak with more verbs and fewer adjectives. There is less guilt-tripping of funders. Overall, I see more seriousness and maturity. -MARTY TEITEL, Cedar Tree Foundation

Foundations are smarter about organizing because there are more organizers in foundation jobs. -SI KAHN, Jewish Fund for Justice

"This book is about two things: money and power. If you didn't need money for your organization, you wouldn't be reading these words. If you weren't trying to change the world, which involves challenging and changing the relations of power, you wouldn't be so concerned about raising money."

So began the first edition of this book, which appeared in 1996. In the intervening years, our world has shifted-and the way we organize and raise money has also shifted-but what strikes me is how the fundamentals remain the same:

There's enough inequality and oppression to keep us all busy for decades.

There's plenty of money to do our work, if we can just get over our discomfort and shortsightedness and learn how to raise it effectively.

We are sustained by each other. Social change work builds solid, enduring relationships.

If you find the first point depressing, well, the other two provide a strong antidote.

What follows is a summary of the trends that are changing the way we approach and practice grantseeking. Some of the news is discouraging, but much of it is cause for optimism.

The Expanding Philanthropic Sector

For grantseekers, many new funding opportunities have been created in the past decade, while thousands of new nonprofits have been established to address a wide range of community needs.

More foundations, more grantseekers. In 1996, there were roughly forty thousand grantmaking foundations in the United States. As of December 2003, the Foundation Center database ( includes about seventy thousand foundations, along with about ten thousand corporate giving programs and public charities that make grants. Due to changes in the law that encouraged the creation of foundations-a way of shielding assets from taxation -those of us looking for grants have a lot more options.

On the other hand, we've seen an explosion in the number of nonprofits, especially groups with the 501(c)(3) tax status required to receive most grants. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, we now have an astounding 1.35 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, including 870,000 groups with 501(c)(3) designation. In the 1990s, the number of registered nonprofits increased by 44 percent, then increased another 15 percent during the current decade so far (National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2003). These numbers do not take into account the hundreds of thousands of informal local groups that have chosen not to incorporate but are still doing important, grant-worthy work.

I hate to use the word competition, but those of us who've been around for a while have a lot more company. As Therese Ogle at Northwest Grantmaking Resources says, "My job hasn't changed, but the piles of proposals just keep getting higher and higher."

The growth of family foundations. Most of these new funders fall under the informal category of "family foundations." Typically they are managed by a family member, or perhaps a local attorney or foundation consultant. Very few have formal guidelines, annual reports, or even an office. While their grants can be substantial, they don't give away as much money as the brand-name foundations. You might find them in the big grantmaking directories, but information about their grants and priorities is often very sketchy. (See Resource A for information on grant directories.) Most have no presence on the Internet: of the more than seventy thousand funding programs tracked by the Foundation Center, only twenty-five hundred have Web sites linked to the Foundation Center site. Family foundations tend to be invisible, and many prefer it that way.

For grantseekers, the family foundation phenomenon presents both challenges and opportunities. They're hard to find, hard to contact, and hard to figure out. Many direct their grants to "preselected organizations only," so "applications are not accepted." From the outside, it looks a bit like a gated community.

However, according to a report from the National Center for Family Philanthropy (2003), 92 percent of family foundations limit grantmaking to their local community, state, or region. They have personal relationships, business relationships, and organizational relationships. They are, literally speaking, your neighbors. With diligence, you can begin to create relationships with them.

The approach to family foundations feels more like a major gifts campaign-soliciting gifts directly from individuals-and less like a grant application. (When budgeting, some nonprofits count family foundation donations as major gifts rather than grants.) Many of these folks don't even ask for proposals. They just want to meet the people doing the work and to know that their money is being used effectively. The lack of paperwork and bureaucracy is refreshing.

A Different Set of Circumstances: Economy, Politics, Technology

In a rapidly shifting world, fundraiser-activists must be adaptable if they want to be successful.

The stock market giveth and taketh away. Since the first edition of Grassroots Grants was published, we've experienced one of fastest-growing stock markets in history, followed in rapid succession by one of the most persistent "bear markets" ever. (By the time you read this, who knows how the market will behave.) Most foundations are heavily invested in stocks; when the market goes up they prosper and when their portfolios decline in value they have less money to give away.

This is tough on funding officers, who already have a difficult job. "Our endowment has dropped by 40 percent," says Jon Jensen of the George Gund Foundation, "so I spend more time equitably distributing disappointment." It's even tougher for those of us who depend on grant money for our work.

Despite the stock market's swings, overall foundation funding held steady from 2000 through 2002, though many environmental and social justice funders cut way back. Because foundations prepare their budgets based on a five-year "rolling average" of their assets, we are still seeing the residual positive effects of the boom. For grantseekers, it may get worse before it gets better.

The United States has become more conservative, making our work more challenging. "It's a repressive time. Things are harder now," says Gaye Evans of the Appalachian Community Fund. "We always talk about being reactive instead of proactive, but now there's an even greater sense of insecurity. Organizations are constantly shifting gears to deal with moving targets and upcoming crises. Sustainability is a big question, both on the funding side and the political side."

This shift has hit organizers and grantmakers with equal force. "Given the national political change and the sinking economy, our strategy has changed," says Hubert Sapp of the Hartford Foundation and formerly with Oxfam America. "Before, we looked at how to build and expand programs. Now, we're looking at how to preserve and conserve gains we've already made."

Roxanne Turnage of the CS Fund agrees: "We've always been in a relatively defensive posture, but now we're in what feels like a critical time, trying to hold on to the gains of the past twenty or even fifty years. This makes it much more challenging to figure out what to fund. The stakes are higher. We can't afford to make mistakes."

The upside, says Sapp, is this: "Grantees are more realistic now about what they can actually accomplish."

Changes in technology have created both opportunities and barriers. The expanding use of e-mail has made it a lot easier to stay in touch with funders and even transmit proposals electronically. "I now read and comment on a majority of proposals, including essentially all renewals, prior to the official hard copies of these proposals being submitted," says Ed Miller of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

On the other hand, somebody has to manage the inevitable paper. "We have an internal debate about electronic submissions," says Pat Jerido, formerly of the Ms. Foundation. "The support staff says they're a lot more work to process," because the tasks of printing and collating shift from grantseeker to grantmaker. As it becomes easier to submit applications, she says, "More proposals mean more pressure on us."

The continuing evolution of computer technology and the Internet has made it easier to research prospective funders. Thanks to the wonderful work of GuideStar (, you can now download the tax returns for 850,000 U.S. nonprofits, including virtually all charitable foundations. A variety of commercial grant research products, in both on-line and CD formats, are also available; you'll find them profiled in Resource B.

Despite the advantages of computer technology, the "digital divide" remains a significant barrier in poor communities, communities of color, and rural locales. Grassroots groups are likely to be years behind the technology curve. The benefits arrive late and, due to limited resources and lack of access to training, sometimes they never arrive at all. "GIS is the new PowerPoint," sighs Marjorie Fine of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, offering one example, "and most groups are not equipped to use it well."

As media activist and foundation officer Jerry Mander has written, technology is not value-neutral: the institutions in power take advantage of nearly every technological advance to consolidate their power (Ingram, 1991). To the degree that we can use e-mail, the Web, wireless communication, and so forth to counter that trend, we should-recent antiglobalization organizing is a fine example-but without succumbing to technology worship.

Grantmaking: An Experiment in Democracy?

A common critique of foundations-from both liberals and conservatives-is that they are not accountable to anyone but themselves. Recent changes in the funding world have begun to address this problem head-on and also in more subtle ways.

The many faces of community-based, social change philanthropy. More than twenty-five years ago, the Funding Exchange pioneered a new kind of philanthropy based on two radical ideas: (1) giving should be directed toward "change, not charity," and (2) the people affected and the communities served should help make decisions about distributing the money. Gaye Evans and her colleagues at the Appalachian Community Fund call this "activist-controlled grantmaking."

The Funding Exchange network now embraces fifteen affiliate funds, including the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles. Liberty Hill staff members Margarita Ramirez and Lina Paredes describe how their version works:

Our decision-making process lies in the hands of a Community Funding Board comprised of community and donor activists engaged in a wide range of social and economic justice issues. While staff does initial screening, the CFB interviews all potential grantees and makes final funding decisions for the foundation.

Having a Community Funding Board process has its challenges. We've adjusted our grantmaking procedures to meet many of these. We now provide training for CFB members in grant review and in the foundation's mission and goals. We also have developed a more concrete policy about conflicts of interest. We focus on funding groups that have an impact on social change, and we emphasize strategic grantmaking. We've standardized our decision-making process, and we provide CFB members with considerable background information about groups so that they can make more informed decisions. We also give groups that will receive an interview a list of questions they will be asked in advance.

At the end of a decision-making process we meet to evaluate what worked and what didn't. Finally, we have a party for our new grantees, giving them the opportunity to learn about each other's work. As a result, grantees have ended up collaborating on current or future projects.

The idea of democratic, community-based decision making has taken a variety of forms and influenced many grantmakers, both within the Funding Exchange network and beyond. According to Social Change Philanthropy and Community-Based Philanthropy, a report from Changemakers (2003, pp. 1-7), more than one hundred community-based social change foundations now operate in the United States.

The principles behind this movement have affected the corporate and mainstream foundation community as well. John Sterling, former grants officer for the outdoor clothing company Patagonia, reports, "We established a grants council of employees who represent and report back to their work groups. Our process is unique in that we try to involve our entire company in philanthropic decision making."

Jeff Anderson of the Oregon Community Foundation reports, "We use about fifty volunteers who do fact-finding and provide us with a sense of the overall fit [of a proposal] with our funding objectives. Volunteers review larger grant requests than ever before. We have recruited and trained additional volunteers, which may suggest a trend for my time-maybe more management of a volunteer-based program and less time spent on site visits."

While these volunteers are not the final decision makers, they have substantial influence over the results. As Barbara Meyer of the Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation notes, "In my experience, community-based reviewers are the toughest evaluators of all."

The Southern Partners Fund represents perhaps the fullest flowering of the idea of community-based philanthropy. Meyer has pledged to turn over the assets of her family foundation-currently valued at about $14 million-to a new public foundation, the Southern Partners Fund, founded and run by Meyer Foundation grantees.

She says, "As far as I know, we are making history. I am not aware of any private foundation transferring all of its assets and consequent power to a public foundation run by its grantees. We're pioneering a new model. If we believe that community members know what's best, if we believe in the wisdom and integrity of the grassroots, it makes sense to transfer the money and the authority to the community."

The founding activists, who had long and deep relationships with Meyer's family foundation, were stunned by this notion.


Excerpted from Grassroots Grants by Andy Robinson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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