Fairmount InSights
Nicole Meyenberg

We live in a unique moment of disruption that, while buffeted by uncertainty, is poised for lasting, positive change.

An extraordinary influx of public and philanthropic resources – both committed since 2020, and still pending – will shape our communities for years to come. Combined, the American Rescue, Infrastructure, and Build Back Better Acts hold potential to transform our social system, building on recovery dollars to boost the economy’s capacity while directing life-changing support to families, workers, and local communities. In addition to major federal investments, high risk/high reward funding competitions are increasing, and here to stay. Trends point towards a continued interest in “big-bet” style grantmaking as corporations look to fulfill their public commitments to advancing social, racial, and environmental justice, and private foundations at national and regional levels are follow suit. Competitive grants are prioritizing innovation, job creation, and partnerships (including with local government) and will increasingly focus on centering BIPOC communities, leaders, and providers.

Six-and -seven figure funding opportunities are change-makers for social impact organizations – but preparing for them is a lot of work that requires effective mobilization and engagement across teams. Multiple considerations are required to properly evaluate organizational return on investment when pursuing grants at this level. How can you make sure your organization is prepared to make a strategic decision when transformational opportunity strikes?

Fairmount Ventures is expert at helping our clients vet complex calls for proposals and pursue the right high ROI funding opportunities. Step One in generating a thoughtful, intentional approach to transformational funding starts with identifying and convening a core group of thought leaders from across your organization, including direct service staff, who can commit to quickly reviewing and meeting to discuss emergent grants and RFPs. As opportunities emerge, engage this group to review each and rate how well your organization/proposed program fares against three key factors:

  • Fit: How well does your proposed idea match the call for proposals? Are you currently operating at scale, and/or have you demonstrated impact that meets the funder’s objectives? Is your existing program adaptable to the funder’s focus area, and can it evolve in the future depending on community need? Will your idea make a broader contribution to the field, helping to generate systems-level change?
  • Connection: Do you have a connection with anyone involved in decision making? Do you have a history of support with the funder? Do you anticipate leveraging or generating partnerships to respond to this opportunity, and do they have connections or history with the funder?
  • Capacity: Can you identify a path to long-term financial sustainability, or will this opportunity generate a funding gap in the future without this source of support? How much staff time, internal infrastructure, and/or resources are required to manage the program and/or apply to this opportunity?

When adopting a decision-making process, it’s important to be prepared to move on when an opportunity does not satisfy your standards. If still unclear after initial vetting, consider the following strategy ‘tie-breaker’ questions:

Would this opportunity enable us to advance our mission in a way we haven’t been able to before?

Is the timing right? Will the opportunity be available again next year once we have more resources in place, or is it now or never?

Are there strong benefits to putting an application together, even if we have a lower chance of winning? For example, would it provide an opportunity for needed program design, or strengthen a partnership or relationship with a key stakeholder?

Is it worth the opportunity cost to apply, relative to other work we could be advancing at the same time?

While it’s impossible to eliminate risk from strategic decision making, the key questions and elements above can help your organization more nimbly vet funding opportunities through objective, consensus-based criteria that will foster greater success.

Fairmount regularly advises clients in defining the internal conditions (and go/no-go factors) that can help them make decisions about new funding quickly and efficiently. Our team is expert in structuring and supporting internal culture and process that ensures nonprofits are prepared for smart, opportunity-driven decision making. 

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