The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Cynthia Adams

Recent Posts by Cynthia Adams:

Strategic Partnerships: An Avenue to Success

More and more often we are seeing a number of philanthropists coming together to address a specific problem, for example this announcement from Blue Meridian Partners:

Saving the Planet, One NGO at a Time

In October, the United Nations released a dire report on climate change and its impacts. No matter where you live or work, you are witnessing the effects of the change in our climate. At home, we all do things to offset this rapidly advancing global crisis. We recycle. We turn down the thermostat or turn off the air conditioning. We carry cloth shopping bags. We bike when we can. But the issue is so overwhelming that it’s easy to feel like a sand crab being hit by a 50-foot tsunami. At the office, we may feel even more helpless, with no clear policy on how to instigate change.

I want to help you untangle the various ways to attack climate change and perhaps jump-start a conversation between you and your staff and board about how your organization can play a role to help address this global crisis.

Strengthen Your Bottom Line: Securing In-kind Donations

Here’s the scenario:

You need to raise $750,000 to renovate your existing facility. Finding those first few dollars to get a capital drive underway is always tricky. You look at the overall capital budget and identify that you need about $90,000 in office equipment, furniture, and technology. If you start your campaign by securing in-kind product donations for these items, youll set the stage for leveraging cash support for the rest of the renovation. And the beauty of this approach is that writing the grant proposals for these types of product donations is fairly easy.

Funding Anti-Poverty Programs

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

No matter how you slice and dice the topic, we all know that poverty is a huge issue throughout North America. I spend a good part of each year in Mexico and further south—in Chile—and have lived in Alaska for 40 years. I know how poverty has infiltrated Native villages throughout that state and Canada. And living in the New York Harlem neighborhood for part of each year, I see the “city side’ of poverty on a daily basis. That multiple perspective moved me to write this post as well as develop a new webinar focused on how to fund anti-poverty programs in North America.

That “Hello!” Moment: When Grantseeking Becomes an Imperative

I think there is a moment in every organization’s life when grantseeking is not just something that is on the list of things to consider, but when it becomes obvious that the next step in growth is to pursue grant support. Sometimes this happens as a reaction to a financial crisis, but most often it occurs because the growth of the programs and services being offered outpaces current revenue. You can count on fundraising events, soliciting individual donors (small and large), and program revenue to take your organization to a certain level, but when it comes time to engage in the next phase of development, you have to look to other sources such as grant support.

The Zen of Grantseeking

Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less then the one you are capable of living.” I have embraced this sentiment my entire life—not only in my personal living and adventures but also in my day-to-day work.

Checklists! A Killer Time Saver

In 2007 the New Yorker magazine ran an article called “The Checklist” written by Atul Gawande. The article was about the importance of having checklists for emergency services and how these checklists have saved people’s lives over and over. I remembered that article, which I read over a decade ago now, when I was starting to write this article because it carried a real one-two punch. The tagline for the article said: “If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?”

If It’s Bold, It’s Gold!

I’m in the process of writing an e-book for publication this summer called A Bold Approach to Grants Research. This book encourages grantseekers to challenge their thinking when it comes to identifying funders for a particular program or project.

The Golden Key to Grantwriting

You would think, with this being the age of "all information available" via the Internet, that it would be so much easier to develop a compelling statement of need when you are writing a grant proposal. But in truth, it has become much harder.

With so much information available, how do you know which reports, statistics, or quotes to use to build a compelling case for support? Where do you look for the best data you can find? Where do you even begin to build a strong statement of need?

All need statements answer these four very basic questions:

  1. What is the problem that requires a solution?
  2. What will happen if this problem is not addressed?
  3. What is the gap between what exists now and what ought to be?
  4. Why do we need funding now to address this problem?

It will focus your research if you keep all four of these questions in mind as you dive into the task of writing a strong statement of need.

Tip! I actually write these four questions out and keep them on the wall of my office when I am writing a proposal. This keeps me on track.

Unearthing the True Need

Evidence and data are essential tools if you want to develop a strong case for support. The data you present must be relatively objective, however. While most people would say the evidence they present to support their need is objective, it's very easy to skew data—even if it is not intentional.

Consider this scenario:

Your nonprofit runs an afterschool program that is a bit stagnant. The program is maintaining its funding, but the outcomes, the results, are just so-so. The board of directors is beginning to question whether or not the program is having any appreciable impact, and you are sure it won't be long until the funders start to question this as well.

The program needs a makeover, and the director of the afterschool program proposes changes based on her experience.

A funding opportunity comes along, and there is a scramble to collect the data to support a proposed program makeover. Finding the data to support your statement of need isn't all that hard, because the solution to the problem (weak outcomes) has already been determined. You decide to develop a survey of your stakeholders to gather the information you need to generate the statement of need. In fact, the questions you develop are, at this point, actually biased to support your new plan of action.

So, what is wrong with this approach?

The problem with this approach is that, despite the best intentions, your statement of need will now be based almost entirely on the observations and experiences of a few people. It is in-built, a natural progression from an existing program, not truly data-driven!

The potential pitfalls in using a planning process like the one described above is that many individuals who review proposals on a regular basis look for this kind of documentation.

They know it is an easy pitfall for many an organization, not to mention the grantwriter, so you want to stay far away from this kind of reasoning. Instead, go after the documentation that will build a powerful, objective case for support that results in a plan of action that truly attacks the basic premise of your problem or need.

When you develop a need statement, you have to be aware that you are not only documenting the problem or need that is facing society but you are also demonstrating that the approach you propose is built on a solid understanding of that problem.

The need you are presenting, the need you are documenting and sharing with the grantmaker, is what I call a "true" need.

Remember, your overall goal is to convince the grantmaker that the information you are presenting in your statement of need is both accurate and credible, and that the resulting program or project you are asking them to fund is the best way to address this need.

If this topic interests you, I am offering a 90-minute webinar called The Golden Key to Grantwriting as a free gift if you join GrantStation over the holidays! You can learn more about this offer by going to GrantStation.

The preceding is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.

Early Trends in the 2015 State of Grantseeking


Scientia est quaedam potentia intelligentisknowledge is power—and accurate and timely data can provide you with the knowledge you need for organizational planning, development, and budgeting. It can help you manage expectations—board member expectations, donor expectations, etc.—by providing real-world benchmarks.