March 27, 2017

Determining eligibility and alignment

I was once a grantwriter. And this time of year, during the month when Meyer’s annual funding opportunity is open, I feel the pain of grantwriters.

Grantwriters are tasked with figuring out how to write the most compelling application possible in fewer than 2,000 words and convince a funder that a particular project is worth investing in. Coupled with funders’ selection criteria and processes, which are not always clear and can even seem arbitrary, the application process can feel downright frustrating.

One of Meyer’s values is transparency, and we strive to be open about our grantmaking and decision-making criteria. That’s why we organized in-person and virtual information sessions and created a new section on our website to share useful resources for applicants. I hope these tips help make applying for Meyer funding even easier.

Eligibility vs. alignment

Many organizations are eligible to apply for Meyer funding, but not all of them will be in alignment with our goals.

Eligibility means that the applicant fulfills certain requirements, such as having tax-exempt status and meeting our nondiscriminatory policy. Eligibility is a paved road — you’re either on it or you’re not.

Alignment, on the other hand, is more like a hiking trail — sometimes the path is clear; sometimes it’s harder to see. To show us that your project or proposal is a good fit with Meyer’s portfolio goals, you’ll want to demonstrate not only that the work you’re proposing to do directly ties to our desired outcomes but also that you have a strong analysis of how this work is (or is committed to be) rooted in equity and inclusion.

To get an idea of the projects we might fund, check out what each portfolio funded last year. Building Community’s list is here, Healthy Environment’s is here, and Housing Opportunity’s list is here. The Equitable Education portfolio begins making grants this year.

Read about our funding priorities, grant types and amounts

For some organizations, choosing a portfolio will be easy; for others, it might be a bit more difficult. If you’re in the latter category, spend some time reading about the different portfolios and decide which of their goals your work aligns with most closely. If you still have questions after looking at the portfolios, feel free to email us at questions [at] mmt.org or visit Meyer’s frequently asked questions page.

In the Inquiry Application, you will have an opportunity to choose one — just one — portfolio goal and up to two outcomes your proposed work will help to achieve.

To read more about the types of funding available, please click here.

Use plain language

When talking about your work, don’t assume we know what you do, who you are, or what communities you serve. Answer each question fully and in as plain a language as you can, providing examples if appropriate, and avoiding jargon and acronyms if at all possible.

Check out the cardstack above for an example organization and program description for “Awesome Organization.” It can be a bit of a Goldilocks situation to find the sweet spot of clarity and simplicity.

Connect your work to root causes and systems-level impact

For your proposal to be competitive, you’ll want to make a strong connection between your programs and services and the root causes of the problem you want to address.

To continue with our previous example, improving access to chocolate is a worthy cause in its own right, but Awesome Organization’s proposal would be significantly more competitive if it demonstrated that it not only addresses the immediate need of the community, i.e. access to delicious chocolate, but that it is also thinking about what creates that immediate need (in this case: lack of farmer training and access to capital — especially for farmers from underserved communities), and how the organization can effect long-lasting change (in this case: providing low- or no-interest loans to farmers to keep chocolate affordable, and addressing barriers to access to both connections and spaces for innovation for farmers and chocolate makers).

Some additional tips

Create or update your profile in GrantIS, our online submission platform, with plenty of time and consider that:

  • The setup takes a few days.

  • If you already have a profile, you’ll need to certify that your organization’s information is correct.

  • New this year: You’ll need to add your executive director or CEO’s start date.

  • If you are applying through a fiscal sponsor, the process can take additional time.

Right-size your ask

Familiarize yourself with the range of funding amounts in your chosen portfolio. In determining whether your request is “right-sized,” we will consider your project size, project complexity, project budget, organization size, and what other funding you’ve secured.

Prioritize conveying key information in the body of the application

We receive such a high volume of requests that — as much as we would like to — we may not be able to read attached materials we have not specifically requested. Equity demands that we give all organizations the same amount of time and attention.

Let us know if you’re experiencing challenges

If your organization is going through a major change or has experienced some challenges recently, note it in your application and explain how the challenges might impact your project.

Write clearly and concisely, but don’t sacrifice meaning

If your friends or next door neighbors can’t understand what your organization does or what your proposal is about, we probably won’t either.

If you’re not funded, ask for feedback

If you are not invited to submit a full proposal this time around, we encourage you to contact us so that we can go over your Inquiry Application with you and discuss our perspective on what you can consider when submitting your next application.

We are looking forward to reading about the great work you are all doing and meeting some of you at the information sessions. In the meantime …

Here’s wishing you a productive grantwriting season!

— Violeta