You’ve Raised It – Now What? Good Grant-making at an Association Foundation

By Jenny Lai, Consultant, Doing Good Things

There is nothing more exciting than building a grant making program. Trust me, you will be the most popular kid on the block.  One might say that raising money is the toughest part of an association foundation manager’s job, but I would argue that giving the money away is even harder.  Let’s take a look at the top considerations when developing a grant program for an association foundation.

The number one consideration must be ensuring that you are working within the parameters of the foundation’s stated mission.  Sounds like a no brainer right?  One of most difficult things I have had to do as an officer of an association foundation is to tell the president of the association “no” when he requested that a grant be made to a cause unrelated to the foundation’s mission.  As the steward of the foundation it is your job to protect the foundation’s nonprofit status and reputation even if it means saying “no” to very important stakeholders.

Another important consideration is balancing the mission of the foundation with the needs of the association and its members.  Most association foundations are formed to further the interests of the industry or profession, and must fundraise from within those constituencies.  It is important to keep these stakeholders in mind when creating your program and reviewing grant applications.  Involving key association officers in program development and proposal review is crucial for collaboration.

And, finally, when you are building your grant making program, be sure to include these great considerations in your grant proposal review process:

  • the reputation and experience of the applying organization
  • employee turnover (will the project fall through the cracks without certain employees?)
  • sustainability (does the organization have plans to support the project once your grant ends?)
  • measurements of success (does the proposal provide a method in which they will measure success of project?)
  • creativity of the project (has this been done before?)

Grant making is one of the most satisfying and challenging activities for an association foundation.  The delicate balance between foundation and association/industry needs requires careful review and strategic planning. The goal of successful grant making is to ensure donors and other key constituencies feel that there is a return on investment while working within the stated parameters of the foundation’s mission.


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