Catalyst, Past Grants, Philanthropy

Should you bother applying for Stronger Together?

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.