Tag Archives: Values

What Foundations Look to Fund

When I worked for a large asset, national Foundation, our staff developed an acronym which we used to evaluate all prospective nonprofit organizations.  The same criteria was applied to any letter of inquiry or full grant proposal that came to our desks, no matter the cause, or the category of service.

That acronym is VISION+.

It stands for the following.

  1. Visionary Leadership.  Leadership is all about the Executive Director and the Board.  What is the reputation of the Executive Director?  A strong leader is the single most effective tool for attracting funders.  That goes the same for an active board, that is engaged in fund raising, and represents the community.  This is at the top of the VISION+ model for a reason.
  2. Impact. An organization must demonstrate effectiveness of the program, project, or service model. Is there potential for systemic change? Impact may be defined as direct, indirect (leverages the effectiveness of other programs and projects), immediate, long-term, best practices.  It is important to demonstrate impact.
  3. Sustainability.   This is important to Foundations.  They will look at 990’s, P&L Statements, and Balance Sheets.  Are the finances strong and stable? Is there a diverse funding base?
  4. Innovation. This is a rather nebulous concept that can be hard to define. It could mean an organization has the potential to change the field, establish a new practice, or simply improve how a specific population is being served. Innovation may also apply to organizational structure and/or partnerships.
  5. Organizational Strength.  Is there strong management & communication systems? Does the staff reflect the diversity of the community it serves?
  6. Network of Partnerships.This is all about collaboration. Is collaboration  ongoing part of  service delivery?  Are there public-private partnerships in place? Is there a network of providers that is integrated into the community? And how instrumental is this organization within the greater network of providers?
  7. +  Population Served. Is the population being served one that  does not have many resources or options available to it? Is the organization serving economically disadvantaged and under-served communities?

I hope this serves as helpful insight for nonprofit organizations who have no clue how Foundations work.  Often they seem like Ivy Towers with fortress walls, impossible to penetrate and even harder to figure out.  And the truth is that every Foundation is different, with their own values and priorities, their own founders and Board members.  So every funder looks for different things, and has their own reasons for supporting different causes.

But on the whole, I can tell you that these values and criteria are universal.  If you can demonstrate impact, effectiveness, and innovation, you will rise above the competition for limited funding dollars. And let me know if you have experiences with Foundations that can help inform this post.


Lots of criteria to weigh




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Values of Grant Making

When visiting with an individual who may be a potential contributor to your organization, it is important to put yourself in their mindset, to walk in their shoes, so to speak.  And when writing a grant proposal, it is important to yourself in the mindset of that grant making organization. What are they looking for?  What do they consider to be strengths of a nonprofit?  What are the values and strategic priorities that they hold dear?.

The Kresge Foundation is large and prominent national funder.  On their website, they lay out the nine core values that they look for in all applicants (Source here).  These are the core values that they hold dear as an institution, and what they want other organizations to reflect:

  1. Creating opportunity – How does your organization’s work expand opportunities and support for low-income people in order to improve their quality of life and enable them to participate more fully in the economic mainstream?
  2. Community impact – How will your organization and the proposed project benefit the larger community?
  3. Institutional transformation – Does your proposed project have the capacity to profoundly influence the overall organization and its operations? How?
  4. Risk – Tell us how your organization is using new and possibly untested approaches for addressing the needs or tensions of communities in flux. For example, have you developed new ways to broaden access to new immigrant communities?
  5. Environmental conservation – Describe how your project incorporates sustainable building practices, embodies the principles of sound land-use planning, and promotes environmental stewardship and/or historic preservation.
  6. Innovation – How might your project advance best practices in a particular field?
  7. Collaboration – Describe your organization’s promise for bringing multi-party, interdisciplinary approaches to problems that defy solution by a single sector.
  8. Under served geography – How has your project addressed locations with high concentrations of need and low financial capacity, such as poor rural areas or cities with a minimal tax base?
  9. Diversity – Describe how your organization’s staff and board reflect the racial, ethnic and gender composition of the population they serve.

These nine values ought to be universal to all nonprofits, no matter what industry or issues you focus on.  One theme that I see common among the nine values is a sense of creativity, or innovation.  What makes your group stand out from the pack?  The other value is impact.  How well do you serve the community that you purport to serve?  How are you making a difference?

Source: Kresge Foundation


Building a foundation for success



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