Grantseeking in 2017: You've Gotta Be Bold

 Teammates high-fiving

This post originally appeared on the TechSoup blog. We're sharing it here so libraries, like nonprofits, can benefit from the latest grantseeking tips.

My final blog post concerning themes grantseekers should understand in 2017 is about being bold. It is time to experiment with new ways of solving social or environmental problems. To use a much overused word, it is time to think innovatively.

Of course, this means looking at that problem from a fresh perspective and not being afraid to consider a new approach, even though it may be unpopular.

Many grantmakers are eager to engage in conversations on ways your organization can "shake things up" to help identify new approaches to ongoing problems. And, if you can engage the grantmaker in a conversation, then by all means do so.

However, sometimes you have to dive in and fully understand the issue before you can generate a bold, new request for support. There is a wonderful example of this from Food Solutions New England. This is a summary of their story.

In 2015, the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Team began a year-long process to better understand how we could support the region in achieving the New England Food Vision. The Vision describes a future in which at least 50% of our food is grown, raised, and harvested in New England and no one goes hungry. It looks ahead to the year 2060 and sees farming and fishing as important regional economic forces; soils, forests, and waterways cared for sustainably; healthy diets as a norm; and racial equity and food justice promoting dignity and well being for all who live in New England.

Lovely, articulate, and bold vision.

How Did They Create a Plan of Action?

With the help of an interesting and respected group, the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC), FSNE engaged in a process called systems mapping. IISC defines systems mapping as using a variety of tools to help people develop a better understanding of the interactions, relationships, and outcomes of different kinds of systems. It's a holistic approach that deserves consideration as you develop your organization's strategic plan.

You can learn more about FSNE's use of this approach and the systems mapping process on the IISC blog.

Identifying the True Issue

For years I have preached the importance of understanding the true need, the real issue that your organization is trying to solve, and making sure that need is clearly documented and articulated in grant requests. Your goal is to document the problem or need so the reader understands the depth of the issue, tapping into those items mentioned in systems mapping: understanding interactions, relationships, and outcomes of different kinds of systems. Now you are shining the proverbial light on the true issue.

But articulating the true need isn't enough. You have to also demonstrate that the approach that you propose to address the issue is built on that understanding. Here's where the bold approach comes into play.

Dare to Be Bold

Now you have to think outside the box. That means setting aside longstanding beliefs you have held about your organization, the work that you do, and even the positive outcomes you've already experienced. This, my friend, isn't an easy task. I fail at it more often then I succeed. But when I do succeed, new, innovative, and potentially mission-changing approaches surface.

And this is what many grantmakers are looking to fund in 2017. New, bold approaches that may or may not work but that shake things up, revealing new issues and new solutions.

What Should You Do Now?

The first step is to identify a process you can use to rethink how you go about accomplishing your mission. Finding a process you understand, and are comfortable with, is really important. I would suggest reading the story about FSNE to see if that approach might work for you. There are also numerous other processes out there that people have developed over the years, so put on your research hat and see what you can uncover.

Once you have identified a process to use, then you can pull together a set of individuals who are willing to think outside the box and who mirror the cultural makeup of the community you serve. This group, which will include board, staff, and volunteers as well as other community leaders, should go through the process you have selected. The outcomes of this process will greatly affect your strategic plan, so be prepared to make changes!

In addition, you may want to consider setting up meetings or conference calls with your existing funders for the first quarter of 2017 to discuss past and future funding. Prepare for that meeting by developing a set of questions you'd like to ask, such as these.

  • Why did you fund us?
  • Are we accomplishing all that you think we should?
  • Where do you think we are falling short?
  • Are you open to investing in a new approach?

Upcoming Grantseeking Events from TechSoup

On January 24, take a tour of GrantStation and learn how to use all of the valuable resources GrantStation offers, including the extensive funder databases that can help you identify the grantmakers most likely to fund your programs or projects.

Register now

On January 26, sign up for a free webinar on practical information to help you write successful grants. Alice Ruhnke, owner and founder of The Grant Advantage, will outline ways to infuse your organization's strengths into your proposal to create the best application possible.

Register now

On January 31 and February 1, you'll be able to get a GrantStation annual subscription for just $99! The regular discounted cost of an annual subscription at TechSoup is $299, and the retail price of this same one-year subscription is $699. Mark your calendar now for January 31 and February 1!

Learn more

About the Author

Cynthia Adams, President and CEO of, Inc., has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofits raise the money needed for their good work. She opened GrantStation because grant seeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grant makers and a sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world.

Image 1: Jennifer Leahy Photography

Image 2: Cynthia M Adams