What Makes a Good Grant Proposal? Part II: Decision-making Variables

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In keeping with the theme of what makes a good grant proposal, I want to share with you some of the variables we consider in our decision-making. Those variables can be categorized into five broad areas: alignment, organization overview, finances, administration, and strength of the proposal.  But first, let’s address some grant proposal basics.

Every applicant should make sure that the application is complete before submitting the proposal. Every question should be answered, even if the answer is ‘not applicable.’ All required attachments should be included and budget summaries should provide sufficient detail to support the goals and methods of the project. In the case of operating grants, those attachments and summaries should support the mission of the organization. Regarding attachments — please limit these to the specific documents we have requested because we will not consider any additional information that does not support our grant-making activity. Now that we have the basics covered, let’s examine the first decision-making category—alignment.    

The Foundation has listed its goals and strategies in its Strategic Plan. So, the first pass in reviewing a proposal is whether or not the proposal is in alignment with those goals and strategies.  By alignment, we are referring to whether or not the mission of an organization or a proposal specifically addresses one or more of the Foundation’s goals or how well an organization is positioned to provide programs and services that are aimed at one or more of our strategies.

Another important consideration is the extent to which the proposal serves a vulnerable population. We expand upon the definition from the Urban Institute, which defines vulnerable populations as groups who are not well integrated into the health system because of ethnic, cultural, economic, geographic, or health characteristics. This isolation puts members of these groups at risk for not obtaining necessary medical care, and thus constitutes a potential threat to their health. Similarly, another prime objective for the Foundation is determining whether the proposal or the proposing organization strengthens the health system. Does it provide linkages and connection to a system on behalf of its clients? This is a significant characteristic of healthy communities.

In the organization overview, we are interested in whether and how the applicant organization has a history of service, reputational capital in the community, and whether the applicant has identified and/or works well with community partners. This is important because we know the work to impact community health is broader than any one organization. Understanding how that organization is regarded in the community helps us know if it can garner support for its programs and services to meet the needs and desires of the community.  

The third and fourth categories of finance and administration are central to the notion of a strong organizational infrastructure that enables sound and strategic management of the agency’s financial resources and prudent oversight of essential operating departments. Moreover, a strong infrastructure provides some assurance as to the sustainability of the organization and opportunities to attract additional resources.

Last but definitely not least, is the strength of the proposal. We consider questions such as: does the proposal respond to critical community issue(s) not adequately addressed?  Is there potential for scale and replication? Have clients or community members been included in the development and/or implementation of the program? Does the organization demonstrate cultural competency in relation to the population served? Does the proposed work relate to an existing strategic plan and is there a specific plan to measure identified outcomes or evaluate the progress and capture lessons learned?

We hope that understanding some of the factors the Foundation considers in reviewing proposals will help prospective applicants develop strong applications aligned with our goals and strategies. Visit our Apply for a Grant page to learn even more.

Strong proposals turn into solid partnerships that can facilitate the Foundation’s vision to transform the people, institutions, and places in our region to create healthy communities.