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Benchmarks to Guide Your Grantseeking

GrantStation conducted its eighth semi-annual survey focusing on grantseeking, the State of GrantseekingTM, this past March. More than 1,200 nonprofits participated, providing data and experience that can be turned into actionable information to help your organization succeed at grantseeking.

The results of the survey are important because change in all fields, including philanthropy, is happening at a faster rate than ever before. From the immediacy of social media to the focus on overhead and transparency to volatile shifts in government funding, waiting for a year or more to learn current trends simply doesn’t cut it.

And, whether you are an experienced grants professional leading a team of grantwriters or a volunteer preparing to write your first grant application, having recent, trending data will help you prioritize, manage your time and expectations, and quantify your level of grantseeking success.

Somewhat shockingly, 95 percent of the respondents to the spring survey told us that they do not use any grant industry benchmarks to compare their grantseeking performance with external standards.

So why is it important to understand benchmarks and trends, especially if only 5 percent of organizations are doing so?

Without understanding current benchmarks, you are planning your grants strategy in a vacuum. You are for all intents working entirely alone, with no input to guide your planning.

Clearly, most organizations have experienced leadership with the knowledge and wisdom to guide their organizations successfully, but most people lack objectivity. While organizations can quantify their own grantseeking success by measuring their performance against the past, benchmarks enable organizations to determine how their results stand up against those of similar organizations and to plan for the future. The results of surveys, such as the State of Grantseeking, provides you with some basic guidelines as you build your own grant strategy for the year.

So, what does that mean to you? The best way to explain this is through some examples taken from the spring State of Grantseeking report.

Median highest grant awards vary dramatically by mission, ranging from $20,000 for organizations focused on arts, culture, and humanities (ACH) to $200,000 for educational institutions. Without benchmarks to add to their analytical toolbox, an ACH organization that was awarded a grant for $40,000 could think that they were underperforming (compared to the $47,000 median largest award of all respondents), when instead that award is actually double that of other ACH organizations.

This table shows benchmarks by mission focus:

 All OrganizationsArts, Culture, HumanitiesCommunity ImprovementEducation InstitutionsEducation Nonprofits
Lowest $ $35 $100 $2,000 $169 $500
Highest $ $80 million $25 million $2 million $80 million $9 million
Median $ $47,000 $20,000 $46,000 $200,000 $26,000
Average $ $586,866 $386,060 $154,403 $3,016,745 $363,531
 EnvironmentHealthHousing, ShelterHuman ServicesYouth Development
Lowest $ $999 $35 $500 $500 $3,000
Highest $ $650,000 $12 million $1.3 million $80 million $5 million
Median $ $42,244 $60,000 $35,000 $50,000 $37,500
Average $ $102,603 $495,907 $112,146 $797,690 $204,311

Another example, big-picture this time, concerns the simple truth that applications equal awards. For the respondents to our survey, the breakpoint on grantseeking success is three or more applications. The spring survey indicated that in the last six months of 2013, 84 percent of organizations that applied for grants won awards. When we delve into that statistic, we find that 90 percent or more of organizations that applied for three or more awards won at least one award.

If you are just launching a grantseeking program for your organization, you now know that you will want to submit at least three applications in the next 12 months if you are to receive an award. Sharing this kind of information with your board can help guide their expectation, as well as assist them as they establish specific goals and objectives for any grants program.

This is just a glimmer of how you can use the benchmarks articulated in the spring 2014 survey report to help you grow your own grants program.

GrantStation uses the report to help illustrate the current state of grantseeking and to stay out in front of trends that will affect grantmakers and grantseekers. We use this information as a steering mechanism for growth, and as a real-word lens, to ensure that we continue to provide the tools and resources organizations need to stay competitive in the world of philanthropy.

Our participation goal for the fall 2014 State of Grantseeking survey is 1,500. The survey is open until the end of September. Please participate in this very revealing snapshot of what is happening in grantmaking today! And more important, begin to use this information to help guide the development of your grantseeking program. The resulting reports and associated webinars are always free, because we believe that this information is imperative to creating healthy, sustainable organizations.

To take the survey simply go to our home page for an overview, or go directly to the survey itself!

Benchmarks-to-Guide-Your-Grantseeking_Cynthia-Adams.pngCynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Topics: Fundraising