Preparing to Win Larger Grant Awards


By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA, and Sheldon Bart

The “voice” of the New York Yankees, broadcaster John Sterling, is famous for saying, “You can’t predict baseball.” You can’t predict grants either.

Grant opportunities pop up like bubbles and burst like bubbles as funders reappraise their priorities or circulate new RFPs.

Even though you can’t predict funding opportunities, you can be alert for them and pounce.

Turning $5,000 Into $200,000

Advent Health, a faith-based nonprofit health care system operating across nine states, had previously sponsored the Orlando, Florida, nonprofit Pathlight HOME’s Culinary Training Program with a $5,000 grant. Suddenly, in the spring of 2021, Advent issued a Community Impact RFP offering an award of six figures.

We jumped on it and, after submitting a written narrative in the fall of that year, were among the finalists in the competition. That meant we had to prepare a live Zoom presentation to the funder.

Thankfully, we had a good, solid program to begin with. Pathlight has been a pioneer in the field of affordable housing, turning cast-off motel properties into comfortable, single-room occupancy units for Orlando’s homeless population.

Building on its success as a provider of supportive housing, Pathlight turned the commercial kitchen of one of its reborn motels into the Culinary Skills Training Center to provide residents and nonresidents alike with the skills needed to obtain jobs in the food service industry, the most readily available type of employment in the Orlando area. The Advent grant would enable Pathlight to double the number of students it can train.

But winning the award didn’t come easy.

First, we were obliged to do a trial presentation for an Advent program officer. We rehearsed to get the details right — and listened carefully to the program officer’s critique of a few points. We made the suggested adjustments.

Then came showtime.

We rehearsed again before taking the virtual stage before the Advent review panel in November 2021.

We did well, but for several reasons, the panel put off its final decision until March 2022. That necessitated one more Zoom presentation. Rather than taking a chance of having gone stale, we rehearsed again, making sure we had the right photographic backdrop (the kitchen/classroom) and incorporating into the script our program officer’s last-minute instructions.

The reviews were great. We wowed the audience, we were told. Not a single follow-up question was posed by a normally inquisitive panel.

Largest Award Ever

Pathlight HOME was awarded $200,000 — the largest nongovernment grant its workforce development program has yet received. Notice the award moved from a previous $5,000 to $200,000. That’s a testimony to having refined a Big Hairy Audacious Program Goal, an approach Laurence explains in detail in Chapter 8 of his book Fundraising 401. LAPA Fundraising offers this case as an example of what our outsourcing services do differently to produce a higher return on investment for our clients.

Lessons learned? America’s greatest polar explorer, Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, famously told The New York Times before taking off on his 1927 transatlantic flight that “expeditions, like wars, are won by preparations.”

Everything is won by preparations.

Would you let us know what you did to secure your most significant foundation grant in the comments section below, and also please forward this post to a colleague who may benefit from it?

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