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We are excited to be offering the Catalyst Award again in 2014! We’ve made a few strategic changes this year to make the award accessible to more graduating students. -Applicants do not have to be from Halton Public board high schools. We welcome any graduating student within our region who is able to commit to attending all our relevant events. -We are no longer offering any cash prize with the award. We believe those funds are better used to select additional award recipients. -The entire application can now be completed online. All the relevant information is at: http://www.catalystfoundation.ca/catalyst-award Every year this is one of our most inspiring programs. If you are, or know of, a young leader who is graduating from high school in Southern Ontario this year who has dreams of spending their life for the benefit of others please share this information with them. The application deadline is March 17, 2014.
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The application window for Stronger Together 2013 opened a couple hours ago. I’ve been getting a few inquiries from potentially interested charities and wanted to share a few thoughts (representing my own perspective only) on the process. I’ve been actively involved in some of the planning since the beginning of Stronger Together 4 years ago. I’ve read, discussed, and made funding recommendations on every application in that time. I’ve had dozens of conversations with fellow donors, applicants (successful and turned down), and both defended and challenged every aspect of the initiative. I love being a part of ST, but it’s not for everyone. It’s a competitive process. Submitting a decent application takes a significant amount of time, especially for those not used to grant proposals. Fewer than a third of applications receive funding most years. Past success (or failure) is not always indicative, and familiarity with any particular funder isn’t a guarantee. So, should you apply? No, if:You don’t meet the basic eligibility requirements. We get applications each year that appear to have never read the criteria or believe they are “close enough” to get an exception. This is ultimately a waste of time for the applicant. If in doubt, call first. –You are having to work hard to come up with a suitable project. Increasing your organization’s impact should be your constant agenda. If you’re forcing a round peg into a square hole it would be better to wait for next year. –You don’t have time to prepare properly. The application takes time. Rushing to meet the deadline almost always shows in the quality of the proposal. It’s better to submit a week before the deadline than at the last minute. –You aren’t certain you can complete the project. There are always unforeseen problems that can derail even a great organization, and we welcome reasonable requests for modification or extension. But this is not the place for taking a flier on something unlikely to deliver. –Your project (or organization) isn’t distinct. Funding partners review every proposal (between 100-200 of them). Something needs to stand out to gain support. –You aren’t ready to be turned down. The basic odds are against your application being funded. If you can use that as a chance to learn and gain feedback before submitting the same project elsewhere, great! If not, be prepared for disappointment. However; you should definitely apply if:Your organization has an opportunity to measurably increase your impact and our support can help. There is real excitement among funding partners when we participate in something that thrives. –There is something novel, collaborative, or innovative you want to pursue. Stronger Together can be a place for an element of risk, if it is supported by solid leadership and clear objectives. Some of the most enthusiastic support comes in these areas. –You can see the process as educational regardless of outcome. A well written application to Stronger Together will contain everything you need to approach some of your other donors with a solid proposal. –You value the exposure. Few of the donors are available for cold calls or reachable by phone, email, or web. This may be the only way for you to introduce your organization to this group, and their networks. If you do choose to apply, here are a few final suggestions: –Don’t assume we “get it”. Have someone outside your organization read the application before you submit. Jargon, assumptions, and the kind of information someone unfamiliar with your work needs to understand should be addressed. –Don’t be intimidated. You pour yourself into your work because you deeply believe in it. Let your enthusiasm be contagious. We love “discovering” things we had never seen before. –Do your own due diligence. Speak to past applicants, funding partners, or the Stronger Together office to get a sense of how best to present your project. We really want to support the best projects we can find, so we’re generally happy to help you be as clear as possible. My bottom line: Stronger Together is an opportunity for your organization’s dreams to be matched with the dreams of the funding partners in ways that increase both impact and joy. Let me know if I can help.
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A good friend pointed out to me that yesterday’s post on things learned from this year’s Stronger Together granting process were all directed to applicants. In fact, most of the best lessons are probably better directed to the funders side of the table. 1. Specific Criteria. Thanks to the diligence of Brent Fearon at Bridgeway Foundation we have developed some clear qualifications for applicants that would seem to leave little room for uncertainty. But we still always have some questions, challenges, and exceptions to the rules. The same is true at Catalyst; we are becoming more explicit in our requirements as we learn what works well and what doesn’t. 2. Know Your Purpose. At Catalyst we have become deeply committed to funding leadership development. Our partners understand that interest and approach us with requests in that area. At Stronger Together the purpose is increasing measurable impact according to the applicant’s own core statements. At times I needed to remind myself to stay focused on that priority. Philanthropists should be as intentional in our sense of vision and calling as the charities we support are. 3. Look, Listen, and Learn. The Stronger Together process incorporates a written application, a site visit, financial analysis, and discussion among funding partners. That represents a lot of information to be processed. I am always fascinated by how much new data comes out at each subsequent stage. Too often I take a lazy approach to grantmaking because I’m really intrigued by a proposal or fond of the organization. I need to be deliberate about going deeper. 4. Shift Happens. I approach applicants with certain bias. I pay a lot of attention to leadership, creativity, and marketing; and I’m often convinced when I see excellent staff involved. I benefit from being around people who are more attentive to financials, measurement, history, and networks. My paradigm is challenged when I consider these areas, and while I may still hold my priorities higher, they give me insight to do my work better. Writing site visit reports for people who have different priorities forces me to think differently and more deeply. 5. Surprises. Every year there are organizations I’ve never heard of that become favourites. It’s one of the great things about the breadth of applications we receive. I need to stay open to things that may not be familiar or may not appear as strong at the outset and be ready to be blown away. 6. Break the Rules. As much as we have clear criteria and a well defined process, sometimes there is an opportunity that is deserving of being the rare exception. Philanthropy needs to be a process of discernment as well as of discipline. Intuition and prayer should create space for me to occasionally take a risk or advocate for something outside our usual sphere. I know I need to do this cautiously, but I should never abandon the possibility of serendipity. 7. Synergy. I can’t say that every decision we made through Stronger Together was better than what I might have made alone. I’m sure there were instances of group think and peer pressure that may prove regrettable in time. On the whole however, being among like-minded people to mutually assess, discern, and challenge one another gives me insight to be more effective in my role. I am grateful for the experience and perspective of other granting partners. My hope is that our collaboration raises the bar for all of us to give more joyously, more effectively, and with greater impact both through Stronger Together and in whatever other giving we do.
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Last Friday the granting partners for Stronger Together released the successful grants for this year. I know there were a number of organizations that were either very pleased or quite disappointed with the news. For me it marked the culmination of a significant process that consumed a large portion of my attention for the first half of this year. As in past years, it has been an excellent experience; and, as in past years, I’ve learned a few things I’m going to pass on here. 1. Fundraising is ultimately relational. Each year there are surprises, organizations we’ve never heard of that are so impressive in their application and through due diligence that we are amazed and eager to support them; but that is the exception. In the majority of cases it is very helpful to have someone around the table who has some knowledge of the applicant and can speak from that point of insight. Yes charity leaders: Donors talk about you just as much as you talk about us. There are advantages to having built sincere relationships with donors over time. 2. History counts. I was particularly pleased to see applicants who had been turned down in the past receive funding for the first time this year. Others who had performed well with previously received grants were easier to rate highly again. Being able to see trends over time is one of the valuable aspects of this collaboration. In most cases this worked to the applicant’s advantage. 3. Honesty wins. Most organizations have had some hard times. Many have made significant mistakes in one way or another at some point, (or several). It is a strong sign of integrity when applicants acknowledge their weaknesses or failures and demonstrate how they have learned from them. Choosing to withdraw an application when it became clear that they would be unable to fulfill the project properly shows the kind of organizational character I will want to support next time around. 4. Clarity, clarity, clarity. The simple truth is that we had far more applicants than we could hope to fund. We made a real effort to make the criteria as explicit as possible. If I was uncertain about the mission of the organization, the specifics of the project, or the anticipated impact of our support I could easily find other organizations to consider. Site visits did provide additional insight, but some potentially worthy projects didn’t reach that stage because their original application was confusing in some way. 5. Follow up. This isn’t only for those who are receiving funds and need to be diligent in their reporting. Organizations who were not funded have been invited to contact the Stronger Together office for feedback on what may have been deemed to be weaknesses in their application. I’ve had a couple conversations directly with unsuccessful applicants as well. We’re all in learning mode all the time (I hope), take advantage of the opportunity to hear what potential funders were thinking. 6. Attitude leaves a lasting impression. Being turned down for funding is difficult. I understand that every applicant is sincere in their belief that what they are doing is of great importance and is deserving of support. Passion is expected and commendable. That said, demonstrating humility is always far better than taking rejection as some kind of affront. The truth is, we don’t get every grant “right”. There is a great deal of analysis, prayer, and discussion involved in our process, but it isn’t perfect. You may be turned down because of our failure, but it may also have more to do with something about you or your application. I welcome constructive criticism, but those rare occasions of people responding to a turn down with a bad attitude are all too memorable. 7. Joy! It is very exciting to get a glimpse of what is being done in Jesus’ name across the country and around the world. There is so much worth celebrating! I really do feel very spoiled to have the opportunity to help so many meaningful organizations move forward.
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In recent months I’ve been able to be a part of two pioneering events in which people from across the country gathered to push the boundaries of how their fields generally operate. Stronger Together 2010 saw 8 significant donors combine efforts to provide capacity building grants totalling over one million dollars to Christian charities. The discussions during the process and particularly during the funding meetings were rich, sometimes pointed, and extremely valuable to my learning. (There are current discussions about renewing Stronger Together for 2011 but nothing is ready for announcement yet). This past weekend, The Leadership Studio at Muskoka Woods hosted a gathering of about 40 key people from a wide assortment of ministries across Canada with the purpose of calling forward some of the promising leaders in our country with a vision of ego-free networking and open-source sharing of experience and resources. It’s too soon to tell, but it was the kind of weekend that could still be ringing 20 years from now. What both events had in common, other than bold innovation and committed leadership, was a commitment to connecting people of influence in their respective fields. Neither group was an open invitation or a widely distributed application for participation. To get in you had to know someone. You had to be invited. When people asked me what were common traits of successful grants at Stronger Together I told them that among the trends was that successful organizations had someone at the granting table who advocated on their behalf. Younger leaders invited to the weekend in Muskoka were specifically recommended by some leading ministry staff who have known each other for years. There’s no secret here. If you want to have influence you simply need to be in positive relationship with other people of influence. There are very few exceptions. Sincerely developing appreciative interactions with the gatekeepers, influencers, and authorities in your area of interest isn’t slick or manipulative. It’s just the way credibility is built, wisdom is accumulated, and reputation is established. A couple key points: -Influential people generally get very good at sniffing out people’s intentions. If the only reason you’re interacting is to gain their influence for your own purposes you will likely find that your calls stop getting returned. Being known as a schemer is a reputation not easily changed. Be sincere. -My organization is no exception. Reputation and relationship go a long way in smoothing the process towards funding. Great ideas from strangers are less likely to gain a hearing than merely good ideas from those we’ve known and built trust with over years. Welcome to reality, enjoy your stay.
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This morning the results of the Stronger Together 2010 collaborative granting project were released (Complete list of grantees here.) Having invested a significant part of the past ten months in the process it is a satisfying thing to be able to notify the successful applicants (selected from a total field of 131) and anticipate the work they will be able to accomplish with these resources. While 43 organizations received funding, Catalyst is actually involved with the 29 listed below. Alpha Canada: To upgrade corporate websites to facilitate communication and a sense of community by various organizational stakeholders of an evangelistic ministry. Arrow Leadership: To create a strategy and online platform to nurture alumni relationships to support a leadership development organization. Basically Babies: To create an organizational website to reduce the reliance on paper-based systems and to facilitate better coordination of services of an Edmonton-based outreach to new mothers in need. Cardus: To reduce duplication and marshal collective resources, influence and social capital through the merger of two similar think tanks. cbm Canada: To undertake a comprehensive organizational assessment and strategic planning initiative for an organization focused on serving the disabled community in the developing world. Dalit Freedom Network: To hire a website coordinator who will create online communities and through those inspire giving towards the education of Dalits in India. Frontlines: To hire a programs manager allowing the executive director greater freedom to focus on strategy and leadership of a small but growing drop-in centre for children and youth in the Weston area of Toronto. Future Vision: To launch a unique fundraising strategy through the creation of a select group of individuals who already access organizational resources and who will now also creatively fundraise for a community centre in Cambridge. Health Partners: To increase the awareness of people living in Kitchener-Waterloo of the opportunity to partner with an international development organization which specializes in the distribution of pharmaceuticals to the developing world. International Justice Mission: To assist in the development of a comprehensive strategic plan and build a stronger team through the services of an outside consultant to a growing human rights organization focused on the developing world. International Teams: To assist churches in Hamilton to work together collaboratively in the service of their community through the assistance of a partner mission organization. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada: To facilitate a more robust and integrated online platform to enable secure financial transactions and event registration for a camp and campus outreach organization. Medical Ministry International: To develop a customized inventory management software system for an international medical aid organization with warehouses in Canada and the United States. Micah House: To leverage the ability of a Hamilton-based refugee centre to raise funds through support of a fundraising banquet. Mission of Mercy: To enable two organizations to develop and deploy an online and open source project management tool designed to enable more effective reporting by international development organizations. Missionary Health Institute: To create a series of web-based educational modules which will provide customized health care coaching and support tools for missionaries and their families living in remote locations around the world. Next Level Leadership: To develop the capacity for launching an effective e-learning platform for a women’s leadership development organization. Opportunity International: To provide seed funding for a social media coordinator who will launch and administrate a Web 2.0 platform designed to create community, increase volunteerism and grow funding for a microfinancial services provider. Prison Fellowship: To expand the public awareness of an organization’s restorative justice services to prisoners and their families through renewed marketing efforts. Reach Forth Sports: To subsidize the salary of an executive director in developing a strategic plan and formalizing operations for a Hamilton-area based sports outreach organization. Regent College: To intentionally engage alumni in advancing the mission of a Vancouver-based graduate school of Christian studies through the hiring of an alumni coordinator and the launch of an awareness campaign. Salsbury Community Society: To hire a volunteer coordinator to lead community engagement for an organization dedicated to the reduction of sex trafficking and exploitation of Canadian women. Sanctuary: To receive mentoring by consultants in crafting a unique and compelling story for two urban organizations that create community amongst the poor and wealthy of Toronto. Toronto City Mission: To permit the hiring of a full-time volunteer engagement officer for an urban organization dedicated to breaking cycles of poverty. Urban Promise Toronto: To supply frontlines staff with laptops and software to enable better performance for a Toronto organization offering spiritual, social and educational development of children and youth through after school programs. World Hope International: To expand the capability of an international development organization’s leadership through subsidizing the full-time salary of an executive director for one year. World Vision: To equip Canadian charities to assess, design, implement and evaluate their own resource development strategic goals through the creation and launch of a fundraising course led by staff from Canada’s largest charity. Yonge Street Mission: To equip and improve acoustics in a training facility run by a large urban poverty outreach centre in Toronto. Youth Unlimited (Launch): To create an online delivery capability for a unique one-on-one mentoring program by a Toronto-based youth empowerment organization. Congratulations to all successful applicants!

To hire a programs manager allowing the executive director greater freedom to focus on strategy and leadership of a small but growing drop-in centre for children and youth in the Weston area of Toronto.

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