Ecology of grant seeking: Are you the lion or the house cat?

In our Page to Practice™ summary of “Winning Foundation Grants” by Martin Teitel, we promised you some excerpts of Part Four: “Administering the truth-detector test to America’s charitable foundations.” Teitel offers his best and most truthful answers to some of the questions his readers wanted to know.  In the passages below, Teitel addresses scope and summary statements in the grant proposal process.

Readers: “The chance of a local nonprofit securing funding from a major foundation is slim to none.”

Teitel: True, and a good thing this is. In the ecology of grant seekers and grant makers, appropriateness of scale matters. This is why house cats don’t run down wildebeests on the Serengeti—lions do that job; house cats chase mice. I don’t see much downside to the question of scale. Local funders know their communities, the players and the problems and the strategies that work in their areas—they’re the ones best equipped to help local groups. Even so, national foundations I worked for regularly received inquiries and proposals from locally focused nonprofits. Such mismatches waste resources. These groups would often claim their work was potentially national in scope because someone could replicate it (they planned to write a report and post it on the Web, after all). But just as the photos I snapped in Melbourne don’t make me an Australian, a posted report doesn’t make the project national or global. A national strategy is just that – a strategy for creating change that occurs at a scale and scope you can explain in detail. In thirty-five years as a funder, I never once saw the claim of being a model work out. Everyone is a model for the rest of the world, just as my kids are model children.

Readers: “With the mountain of proposals foundations receive, if the summary doesn’t immediately capture attention, your proposal is doomed.

Teitel: True. If you’re in a bookstore, do you buy a book without looking at the blurb on the back? If you’re on Amazon, don’t you usually scan the reviews? It’s not realistic to think that foundation staff diligently read every word of every submission. So although obsessiveness is usually a hindrance in life, it may not be possible to over-fixate about the quality of your summary. That’s what dictates whether your proposal itself will be read or not.

For more perspectives on grant seeking and Teitel’s book, watch for our second installment of administering the truth-detector test in our Page to Practice™ blog next week. You can also read Cindy Willard’s response to Teitel’s book . For Teitel’s book, visit www.emersonandchurch.com

See also:

The Foundation: A Great American Secret; How Private Wealth is Changing the World
Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity
Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results

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