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Small Grants

2014-September 10
by Don Matteson, Chief Program Officer

In a few weeks, we'll be taking a look at the next round of submissions for our twice-annual Small Grants Program. It's intended to provide a way for organizations to seek funding for things that wouldn't typically be covered by our other grant opportunities. The idea is to focus on program or organizational planning, capacity-building opportunities, and small capital projects that are worthwhile, but inconsistent with our other grant guidelines or too small to warrant the exhaustive (some would say exhausting) review those grants entail.

By way of background, we used to make "mini-grants" for Foundation-identified items of potential use to organizations working with the people we serve. Some of our mini-grants focused on assistive technology, clinical reference materials, and even middle-school science lab equipment. A few years ago, we found that we were having trouble coming up with good and relevant ideas for mini-grant materials. We decided that instead of dictating the types of things that we would pay for with our mini-grants, we would increase the dollar cap from $10,000 to $30,000 and then let organizations make requests for things that best met their needs. Thus was born the Small Grants Program.

What does it take to write a successful request? Speaking only for myself, but I think others at the Foundation would give similar answers, I look at requests based on the following criteria (in order of importance):

  1. How well aligned is the organization and its work with the Foundation's target populations and goals?

  2. Are there lots of "moving parts" to the request? Fewer moving parts is better, as we don't want to get involved in detailed grant monitoring for small grants.

  3. Does the request "compete" with one of our other grant opportunities? The most notable issue here is with technology requests. We have a separate set of grants dealing with technology planning and implementation. We especially don't like to fund technology purchases if they're not tied to a solid plan.

  4. How greatly does the request benefit the Foundation's target populations?

  5. How much will this request build the organization's capacity to provide services or function effectively?

  6. How urgent is the need? (The above factors being equal, I generally give higher priority to more urgent requests.)

  7. How much money is being requested? We want to make sure we spread things around, so we don't make too many grants at the top end of the award range. The guidelines break that down pretty clearly, I think.

Probably the biggest thing to bear in mind is that we are *not* looking to fund service delivery through our Small Grants Program. We're just fine with program design and planning, but we're really looking to deliver programs with our annual cycle grants and other initiatives. Besides, sometimes an agency just needs new windows, sensory materials for kids with autism spectrum disorders, a new intercom system, or a community needs-assessment to identify barriers to programming.

Photo by Jodi Green
Flickr: Essex Public School: stimulation room / 2868460697
Creative Commons 2.0 Licensed

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