A decade ago, when someone referred to something as "knowledge based," they were talking about technology—basically how to store complex structured and unstructured information used by a computer.
Over the next several years, that term evolved to encompass the entire Internet.
But today, I'm using it as a way to distinguish between writing a grant proposal that is based on the topic or issue at hand and one based on knowing and understanding the leading-edge trends in the world of philanthropy.
Let me begin by saying that I'm fairly confident that by the year 2020 philanthropy, not only in the United States but throughout the world, will wear a new face. These changes will expand opportunities in the area of grantseeking for nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and regional governments.
A global sensibility combined with an array of innovative technologies and attitudinal changes on the part of philanthropists will birth a new way, and perhaps a new wave, of giving. We are witnessing the beginning of many of these changes today.
Whether you are a professional grantwriter or a novice just dipping your toes into the world of grantwriting, it is now important to stay abreast of trends that may be able to provide you with that special edge you need to secure grant awards.
Two of the most predominant changes are in the area of technology (no surprise there) and attitude on the part of grantmakers.
Technology: Opening Doors and Changing Processes
More and more grantmakers are engaging in social media, sharing information with grantseekers that has previously been only for the privileged few. This is a positive trend, demonstrating the grantmakers' inclination towards transparency, and giving those of us seeking funding more information.
This means you now have the opportunity to learn more about what the grantmakers are trying to achieve. These social media posts provide an inside look at what the grantmakers are thinking and what interests them. Reviewing the grantmakers' social media—be it Facebook, Twitter, or blogs—plays an important role in researching and analyzing grantmakers to see if they are, indeed, the right ones to approach.
A variety of technologies has also begun to crop up, everything from online eligibility quizzes to submitting letters of inquiry and full grant requests via the Internet. Online grantee reporting is almost commonplace, and communication with the grantmaker via e-mail has never been as easy, or as productive. Having a staff member or volunteer who can help you develop Web grant applications is going to become more and more important.
If you want an example of where this trend is going, check out the application for the New Music USA awards. Instead of filling out a grant application, they ask you to create a simple project page on their site with all of your artistic work samples and project information. These pages remain invisible to the public through the course of the review and decision processes. Nonetheless, you are building a Web page as your grant application!
I have also noticed that the IT person is getting a seat at the table when it comes to reviewing grant requests, simply because there are so many requests with technology components. Reviewers feel they need advice from someone who can analyze these pieces of the proposal.
This means you need to develop the IT part of any grant request carefully, as a knowledgeable person will be analyzing it on the other end! Budget detail and budget justification are very important in this section of a grant request.
While the increased use of social media and a variety of technologies is the most noticeable change, there are also numerous attitudinal changes happening within the field of philanthropy.
Changes in Attitude
More and more grantmakers want to see that the outcomes of your program or project strengthen your community. This idea of positioning the outcomes of your grant request as community assets isn't necessarily a new trend, especially for those of us working in the area of community and economic development, but it has taken on more importance and is now being applied throughout the grantmaking world.
If you want to understand this trend better, you can download a workbook called Shifting Focus: Alternative Pathways for Communities and Economies. The workbook helps you think through this idea that people, not industries or government or social service agencies, not buildings or even natural beauty, are the assets of a region. It is the people, their energy and skills, that make a community grow. The workbook gives practical, hands-on examples of how people can come together and learn to see themselves as the main resource of a community. It was published in 2001, but much of what it offers is helpful today. And it's free.
But there are also other changes in grantmaker attitudes. Many leading grantmakers are aware that high-performing nonprofits are data driven, and effective nonprofits use data for improvement.
The good news is there are a number of new websites that provide the ability to add your own data (about your organization or about your community or neighborhood), which is then linked to other data, allowing you to compare your statistics with others. This kind of self-fed, accessible information is the new starting line for developing a robust need statement and helping to paint a clear picture of your organization's particular situation.
These are just a few trends that you need to be aware of as you develop grant requests. There are many others that I cover in my webinar Knowledge-Based Grantmaking: Tips, Trends, and Tools, which we offer through GrantStation every few months!
Cynthia 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.