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Kathy Szenda Wilson: Grant Limits and Size of Grant Requests

Kathy Szenda Wilson, Director of Neighborhood Grantmaking at the Battle Creek Community Foundation, shared this insight in response to one of our weekly update’s “question of the week”.

For several years, the Battle Creek Community Foundation‘s (BCCF) robust neighborhood grantmaking program invested on the premise that setting a maximum level of financial support was necessary in order to a)manage payout and b)provide parameters for many first-time grantseekers.  But while reviewing our grant portfolio and looking at the level of investment for each individual grant, it became apparent that when you set a cap on funding, a very significant percentage (90%?) will come in at that maximum amount, regardless of the needs of the group or proposed project.  While digging a bit deeper, it became apparent that groups would artificially (although not with malice) make sure that they added things to the budget simply to get to that “magic number.”

So BCCF decided (in January 2008) to do away with budget restrictions.  It was at this time that we integrated a mandatory grantseeker orientation and very deliberate technical assistance and coaching for groups as they proceeded through the funding process.  What we have discovered, happily, is that the proposals submitted since this change have budgets more reflective of the scope and scale of the projects their meant to support.

And most interesting?  The past maximum for grants was set at $2,500.  And since removing that requirement, our average grant award hovers around $2,300.  Many were skeptical, assuming if we “opened the flood gates” that we’d have huge requests that would be unmanageable and that we’d have to decline many.  That hasn’t been the case. But what it has proven, is that when those artificial boundaries are removed, it allows for much deeper, more meaningful dialogue around what is really necessary.  And it helps resident-led groups have a better relationship with the investment itself, understanding very well the importance of scope and scale.

This is what we’ve learned in Battle Creek and I’d argue that it would most likely be the case in other communities willing to risk it as well.

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