The Grassroots Funds (Northern California Environmental Grassroots Fund and Puget Sound Grassroots Grants Program) usually receive about twice as many applications from very worthy projects than they have the resources to fund. Use these suggestions to help craft a clear, compelling proposal.
Define the goals of the group or project, and how they can be achieved. Why are the goals important both in a big picture sense and to the communities and the environment immediately affected?
Clear and Reasonable Work Plan
The work plan is the specific actions or steps to be undertaken in order to achieve the goals. When writing a work plan it is important to clearly spell out exactly what the group plans to do over the grant period. Be specific.
We consider whether the group has the capacity and resources to carry out the work plan. If a group has a great idea, but no track record, then we consider the skills and experiences of the staff, volunteers and board members. Does a group have the knowledge, skills (or access to others who have the knowledge and skills) and ability to raise the amount of money that is needed to implement the proposed work?
Measurement of Success
Tell us how the success of the group will be measured. What are the quantifiable goals or outcomes (i.e. distribution of 1000 newsletters, table at 5 events, protection of 200 acres, generation of 100 comment letters or 250 postcards…), and how will hard-to-measure goals be evaluated (i.e. change how community members think about environmental protection or environmental health)?
Financial Need and Urgency
One factor that we consider is the degree of financial need and the urgency. If a group seems to have plenty of other opportunities to secure funding, then we may consider that group’s need to be less of a priority. Is there an urgent need for the money or is there a window of opportunity that makes the need especially urgent?
Review Grassroots Funds Grantee Lists
Take a minute or two to look at our list of Grassroots Funds grantees. This will give you an idea of the types of groups and projects that we support. You can view the list here.
A central tenant of the Grassroots Funds is supporting small groups and first time grantseekers. The $100,000 cutoff is primarily based on the applicant’s actual income and expenses for the previous year. However, we also consider the budget for the current year, and whether there was a one-time income/expense that inflated the budget. Additionally, we consider whether a group is actually independent from a larger group that would not have qualified due to their large size.
We are looking for the maximum strategic impact or the “most bang for the buck,” which means that programs with a small area of impact are not as high a priority. We consider how a project affects not only the immediate area, but how it affects the broader community and whether it can be used as a model for others.
The grassroots nature of a project may be measured in terms of group composition or outcomes. If the group is controlled by an individual or has received most of its monetary support from one individual, then the group may not have a grassroots composition. Or if the program outcomes don’t include grassroots type activities (activities that reach out to or involve lots of people), then the work done by the group may not be considered to be grassroots in nature. Groups that provide services to other groups may not be thought of as having a direct grassroots outcome
Events and Festivals
While there are always exceptions, the Fund has been reluctant to fund one-day or weekend events and festivals because of the short-term nature of events, and difficulty in measuring the long-term impact. Festival applicants need to demonstrate the educational value and long-term impact of their event.
Groups often ask for money for a specific reason (which is fine), but are sometimes unable to articulate the importance of using the money that way. If you ask for money for a study or report, tell us how it will be used to produce a specific outcome. If you ask for money for a website, tell us how that website will motivate people to take action. If you ask for money for office space, tell us why it is important to further the mission of the organization.
Diversity and Working with Underserved Communities
Do the group’s volunteers, staff and board reflect the ethnic, economic, and gender diversity of those that are impacted by the project/issue? What efforts have been made to diversify the group, and to reach out to affected communities? Sometimes the only way we can measure this is if it is clearly spelled out on the application. Tell us about people of color on your board, staff or volunteers. What is the socio-economic composition of your group? Don’t assume that we know the ethnic or economic composition of a neighborhood or city, tell us. Also tell us about people who are involved with your organization who are in a category of people who are commonly discriminated against: like people in the gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered community, disabled people, elderly, people of color, and people who are under-employed or unemployed.
How does your group reach out to the people to inform them and motivate them to take action? Events, newsletters, press releases, tabling, writing articles in the local paper, getting people to sign petitions or mail postcards are all examples of outreach tools.
Don’t be an Island
The grassroots movement is stronger when it works together, avoiding duplication and collaborating on policy issues. How is your group reaching out to other groups in your area and to groups who are doing similar work around the state or country? Can you demonstrate community support for your work?
Can’t Support or Oppose Political Candidates
Nonprofits are banned from supporting or opposing any candidate running for elected office, nor may nonprofits support or be affiliated with any political parties. Applications for any candidate-related or partisan activity will be rejected.
When in Doubt, Try Again!
If your application was not funded last time and you feel that your organization did well on all the above mentioned points, then it may simply have been a case of not enough money to go around. We are forced to make some really tough decisions, so we want to encourage groups to try again. Each group is eligible to reapply one year after an application is submitted to the Fund. Groups are often funded the second time because they can show a stronger track record and/or their application is better crafted. Feel free to give staff a call for feedback on your last application and to strategize about submitting a new one.