Best Practices

What Funders Want

Published May 19, 2015

While communities can’t wholly rely on grant funds to seed their entrepreneurial ecosystems, such funds can play an integral part in building robust programs and filling gaps in resources. At this year’s U.S.SourceLink conference, we hosted a panel of experts to share what funders look for in grant proposals that target economic development. Here’s what they had to say.

Mark Rigdon, JPMorgan Chase Foundation

JPMorgan Chase’s approach has evolved over the past eight years from charitable giving to strategic catalytic philanthropy.

“We’re trying to do a fewer number of things, with larger dollars focused on more impactful opportunities with measureable outcomes.”

Their philanthropic priorities focus on economic development, specifically around small business to organizations with proven impact.  As a firm, they want to play an active role in growing metro and regional economies through workforce development, skills training, and financial capability with an end goal of helping create stable families and communities.

JPMorgan Chase has several signature initiatives including Small Business Forward that supports resource providers who are building ecosystems and five-year programs focused on workforce development and financial training.

Geographically, JPMorgan Chase focuses its dollars where it has significant market presence. He admits it’s a brand self-interested philanthropy: “If a community does well, our business thrives.”

Deidre Firth, City of Albuquerque

From large corporate foundations to city economic development departments, Deirdre Firth represented another type of funding institution. She is responsible for the Albuquerque Economic Development’s recruitment and expansion projects and programs.

The key difference between the city and a foundation like JP Morgan Chase: the city of Albuquerque doesn’t make grants, it contracts for services. That means awards are not granted up front, but as services are rendered.

Working in and with a community, Firth has contracted with a large set of resource partners, but the focus entrepreneurship, she says, is relatively new.

“Many of the entities working with startups are startups themselves, and so we evaluate them as we would a startup. Have they defined their market and their product? Everything doesn’t have to be 100 percent baked, but it needs to at least be 80 percent before you ask tax payers to fund it.”

Firth also looks for how organizations will define success and they will track their metrics.

Nathan Kurtz, Kauffman Foundation

Ewing Kauffman advised his associates to look for opportunities to promote positive education and accelerate entrepreneurship in America. The Kauffman Foundation considers its grants to be investments, and look for a return on the grant investments they make. The majority of its funding is proactive and made to U.S. tax-exempt organizations that are independently identified by its staff.

On alignment

MR: “Just because there is a fit, that’s a necessary, but not sufficient, condition” for a grant award.

MR: “Know what the funder cares about. If there’s not a strong alignment, save yourself time and energy. We’re not interested in making Cinderella’s shoe fit on a stepsister.”

MR: “When you see alignment, “focus on articulating the value proposition you want the funder to understand.”

NK: “We will get to know an organization for three months to year prior. The ones that make it really understand goals and values and what trying to achieve.”

NK: “I’d discourage you from submitting a full proposal without understanding our objectives and outcomes. Ask others that received funding what outcomes they are achieving.”

On writing your proposal

DF: “Read the RFP. Answer the questions. Respond to what’s there.”

MR: “Get to the point in your opening sentence. Organizational history is important, but you have a short-time window to get my attention. Talk about how your organization has the relationships that will allow you to access clients that you can help, demonstrate your staff is well-positioned and can do this work.”

MR: “Be transparent to win good will.”

DF: “Most organizations—90 percent of them—are willing to review drafts of your application. I offer it every time.”

NK: “It’s a collaborative process. We have to understand their process if we’re going to understand how they help entrepreneurs grow and succeed.”

On collaborations

DF: “Collaborations are important. We want to minimize the duplication of services and add value in new ways.”

On including marketing in your proposal

DF: “It doesn’t do us any good to support programs no one knows about. Sometimes we can help in addition to the marketing the organization is putting forth. Marketing budgets can’t be 50 percent of your funding proposal, but you can include them.”

NK: “Very few organizations write marketing into their proposals, but we have no stated purpose against that.”

On metrics

MR: “Data is king. If it’s not a part of your program’s DNA, it needs to become a part of it. That’s what funders with big dollars are looking for.”

After the ask

MR: “Understand that funders can do a lot more than just give you money.”

MR: “If you get a ‘no,’ it’s not a forever ‘no’. It’s today, right now, given what we’re doing we don’t see a great fit, but keep us updated. Maybe it’s just too early stage in terms of innovative programs and we’re just not ready yet.”

DF: “Don’t ask the question unless you’re willing to hear the answer. People often ask for feedback and then argue with us. Take the constructive criticism to write a stronger proposal next time.”

NK: “A ‘no’ is never a ‘no’ unless someone is not being respectful of our time and effort.”