The Erie Community Foundation’s most utilized grant program, Helping Today, is designed to accommodate the many wide-ranging, near-term needs of local nonprofit organizations, from programming to capital needs, marketing to strategic planning. Quarterly opportunities to apply to Helping Today help nonprofits and the sector address as a whole issues and priorities in real time.
And while the volume of dollars granted through Helping Today continues to grow each year, we can’t fund every request. That’s why it’s important to compose a strong grant application.
Successful applicants often address the following:
1) Priority Projects –
HINT: Only come to a funder with one of these!
Every organization submitting a proposal feels strongly about their project. And the Foundation rarely receives a bad application. So when getting ready to approach Helping Today, be prepared to explain why this particular project is of the upmost priority to your work and your mission. How does it allow you to do the work better, more efficiently, or with increased efficacy? Is it addressing a timely issue that could negatively impact operations? (If the issue is extremely timely, the Foundation also has an urgent grant program.) Projects that develop as a result of a strategic plan and projects that build on the success of an existing program or initiative make a strong case.
2) Systems Integration –
This speaks to collectively addressing big issues: homelessness, education, mental health, economic development, or career pathways, just to name a few. Understanding and communicating your role and your initiative’s role in the larger system is especially important for new 501(c)3 organizations seeking funding from the Foundation. An important part of introducing your organization and your mission is demonstrating that you’ve done your due diligence.
What do you know about the other organizations, programs, and initiatives working to address the same problems you are? How is your organization part of the solution? Systems integration shows you’ve done your homework and have a strong understanding of how your organization can best utilize your resources and expertise to generate outcomes that will impact the system as a whole. For example, are you a niche organization/program that is filling a gap? Is there such a strong need to address a certain issue that more services are needed to do so effectively? If so, how are you collaborating with others?
3) The Big Picture
The Helping Today program exists to support the vitality of the nonprofit sector. No matter the size of your organization, the goal is, undoubtedly, to improve our community, impacting lives in meaningful ways. Understandably, generating impact costs money… and there is never enough, it seems. The constant search for new revenue, whether from donors, grant opportunities, or fundraisers, can be exhausting and prove to be a significant drain on your already-limited resources. You feel you’re running in circles and need someone else to bring a fresh perspective to your organization and your story.
Two increasingly popular categories for Helping Today requests are strategic planning and marketing/communication proposals. These projects are vitally important and are directly related to the operations and increased capacity of requesting organizations.
When it comes to a strategic planning request, organizations need to demonstrate that they’ve taken steps to begin developing a plan and to illustrate that board and staff agree on the specific goals of the organization. Then, when those discussions have gone as far as possible, it may be time to engage in an outside consultant, particularly one that is familiar with similar organizations.
We also understand the need for telling your story – how else can you educate the community about your excellent work? Attract donors or volunteers? Reach potential clients? Marketing and communication grants can help upgrade websites, create promotional content such as videos or newsletters, or develop a specific part of your marketing efforts, such as a social media plan. As with strategic planning requests, it is important to demonstrate your due diligence. Does the board view marketing/communication as a priority? Have staff/board/volunteers sought resources to build capacity through educational opportunities at The Nonprofit Partnership or collaborated with community partners, such as Community Access Media?
And most importantly, with both of these types of requests, the appeal comes in connecting the dots from the project to operations to the overall benefit to the community. Think outside your organization!
As part of the Foundation’s grantmaking process, our team meets with all interested applicants prior to submission to talk through each request, which includes a discussion of the elements above. Our goals for the pre-application meeting are to help you frame the project in a way that will help us advocate strongly on your behalf and to have the project received positively by the decision-makers. Obviously, not every request that comes through receives funding, but we can continue to work with you to develop a project that does.
More about Rachel:
Rachel Cacchione joined The Erie Community Foundation in 2014 and as Program Officer, she works with the Community Impact Team to manage our competitive grant programs and launched the Foundation’s new Youth Philanthropy Initiative. She is the administrator for the Foundation’s online grant management system, oversees the urgent grant program, and is responsible for scheduling pre-application meetings.
Rachel earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media Studies from Pennsylvania State Erie, The Behrend College. Prior to joining the Foundation, she worked as an Administrative Assistant for The Muscular Dystrophy Association where she was responsible for administrative duties, fundraising and healthcare services.
She is an avid sports fan who was born and raised in Erie, PA, and spends many summer evenings with her family on the beaches of Presque Isle or enjoying the many cultural festivals that highlight the history and diversity of our community.