At the end of each due diligence meeting, I like to save an opportunity for applicants to ask any questions they may have about the process. At a recent meeting, the applicant’s question was “So, how did we do?”
This gave me a chance to spend some time with them talking about what our advisory committees and board look for when they review a capital grant, especially one from a county outside of our primary geographic focus area.
I know that some of our applicants have a bit of trepidation when it comes to asking the “What are you looking for?” question. It’s normal to feel that way. And, the good news is we do not want it to be a mystery! I actually really enjoy the opportunity to help grantees think through how they can strengthen their projects. However, the due diligence meeting is too late for me to be of any help with the current application. It’s far better that you reach out when you are considering applying and we can discuss the elements of a strong project.
Even better than that – I can give you some useful tips right here.
1. Strategic Fit and Eligibility – At the Iowa West Foundation, we have a wide variety projects that we fund – education, place-making, healthy families, and economic development. There are projects, though, that are not a good fit with our strategic focus areas. Please make sure that you review our policies and procedures to understand the type of projects we fund (recreation) and what we do not fund (medical equipment). Also, spend some time thinking about how well your project fits in with our strategic areas. You can even look through past grants on our website. You will notice, for example, that we have funded 61 housing grants. On the other hand, you will be hard pressed to find many grants for dog parks. Our website is your first stop for thinking about how your project fits with the Foundation’s strategy.
2. Feasibility – Our due diligence process also examines how likely you are to successfully complete your grant. We look at whether or not you have done similar projects in the past and how those projects turned-out. If you are doing something new, how did you research your project approach? Have you looked at other communities who have done similar projects, and did you talk with them about what they learned? We want our investments to continue into the future, so what will you do to maintain what you want to build? Have you set aside enough resources?
3. Community Involvement – We try to be present in all the communities we serve. With a small staff, though, we know that the people who know the community best are those who live there. So, in order to get a sense of how important your project is to your neighbors, we look at whether or not they are helping support your project. We look at whether you asked your city, county, and community foundation to participate in your project and their subsequent response. After all, if you tell us that this project meets a critical community need, then surely they will want to help. We also look at private donations from the community. We know that making “the ask” is intimidating for first-time fundraisers, but strong local participation shows a strong community demand. Diverse funding also helps you to leverage our dollars. While we will fund up to 50% of a project, do not forget that we have many people asking for our support and if we can support your project at a lower amount, you are more competitive in that process, all else equal.
4. Bidding – The term bidding evokes a range of emotions from applicants (fear, consternation, resignation). We believe that a critical part of being good stewards of our money is ensuring that our applicants are getting bids and quotes for their capital projects. You might be surprised, but some of the applicants who are best at stewarding their resources are the smaller organizations that apply to us. They are often used to shoe-string budgets and want to make every dollar count. So do we. If you are confused by what we want as it relates to bidding / quotes for your project, then do not hesitate to ask. I would be happy to talk with you and help demystify the process. And remember, I can be a lot more helpful before we are in the due diligence meeting than during.
5. Timing is everything – This last section has two parts. First, we tend not to be the first funder to come to the table on a given project, typically for the reasons I mentioned above. That means if you have a multi-phase project, Phase I may not be the best phase for which to apply.
Secondly, how many grant applications we get varies (sometimes dramatically) from cycle to cycle. Some cycles are simply more competitive than others. When you do not get funded, or get partially funded, consider ways to strengthen your project for other funders, but recognize that it could just be a tough cycle and a rejection does not necessarily mean your project is not strong.
I hope this helps to take some of the anxiety out of the application process. Some of my best due diligence meetings have been with organizations who followed these tips.