March 6, 2013

Stepping into the Shoes of a Grant-Issuing Organization

Post by:
Dana Connolly
MS-MBA, PNP, 2013

Last semester, I had the opportunity to team up with 6 other students to face the challenge of acting as a grant-issuing organization as part of a semester long project for one of the Public and Nonprofit Program electives, PL837: Strategic Fundraising and Corporate Philanthropy. We were generously given $10,000 by the Highland Street Foundation with very few restrictive guidelines, and although a few of us on the team had prior experience requesting grant funding, none of us had ever been on the side of those who have the money to give.

The task was daunting: the team had a mere 12 weeks to determine our “brand”, develop a mission and grant-making strategy, send out Requests for Proposals, review Letters of Inquiry and full applications, complete site visits for finalists, and then make the actual award. We decided to target shelters in the Greater Boston Area to help fund IT infrastructure enhancements intended to improve operational efficiencies to better enable these organizations to serve their clients; we placed a high priority on the impact and the sustainability of the proposals we received. We initially reached out to nearly 40 shelters and through the various rounds of the process were able to determine a final organization to which to award the $10,000 grant.

The discussions the team had when narrowing down organizations were more difficult than any of us had imagined. Every single organization had a compelling story, an admirable mission and were making tremendous strides in combating homelessness in their communities. However, through the guidance of the course we were encouraged to remaining objective and consistent with our mission in order to assess all of these proposals fairly and appropriately. In addition to these responsibilities, the team was also charged with keeping the rest of the class aware of our strategies, processes, and insights – as they were working on individual projects in grant-writing or fundraising plan development.

After countless hours of review and deliberations, the team determined that the grant would be awarded to Housing Families (, an organization that works to end family homelessness and has been providing safe, temporary shelter and quality affordable housing to homeless and at-risk families since their first shelter opened in 1987. Housing Families’ proposal was to enable mobile capabilities for their case workers through the use of tablets. Previously, case workers would have to go to multiple families in a day, lugging around pages and pages of documents to be completed by hand, which they would then have to enter manually into their home office later on. With these new tablets, the case workers at Housing Families will be able to have more meaningful and thorough visits with the families they serve.

After careful consideration, the team presents a grant check to Housing Families

This project was a truly fascinating challenge and provided the unique opportunity to observe the kinds of language and strategies used by grant-writers and development officers as well as gain the first-hand professional experience of the difficult decisions that foundations and other philanthropists must go through every day. It was also incredibly moving to learn about the phenomenal efforts and impact that all of the grant-seeking organizations are undertaking, and the entire student team is excited to see the impact this grant will bring to Housing Families.

Dana is a 2nd year MS-MBA in the Public and Nonprofit Management Program and currently serves as the Public and Nonprofit Representative to the Graduate Student Council.

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