June 15, 2010

The Numbers Are In! (Mostly)

One of my favorite tasks of the year is in mid to late spring when I start bugging our clients about the outcomes of the grants we’ve written. There are usually several grants awarded that we haven’t yet heard about. Plus, when our clients respond to my inquiry about the outcomes of their grants, they often include morale-boosting tidbits like, “Way to go!” and, “Thanks for all of your hard work!” and one of my favorites, “You rock!!!”

So how did the numbers play out? We are still waiting on a few grant notifications to close out our 2009 grant seeking activity for all clients, but for all of the data dorks like me, here is what we know so far…

First, we wrote five more grants in 2009 than we did in 2008: 104 versus 99.  This represents the number of actual grant applications completed; it does not include award nominations, annual reports, articles, interim or final reports, or any of our other client projects. If we count all writing projects we are looking at closer to 200. We had 18 clients in 2009, a slight increase over 2008’s 14 clients.

Of those 104 grants, 46 of them were funded. This makes our 2009 success rate 44%. While this is a drop from our success rate in 2008, which was 56%, it is still a great rate – meaning almost one in every two proposals written was funded. While there are not national statistics for grant award rates, an often cited ratio is that one-in-three proposals are awarded.

(As a side-note, when the grants funding started to dry up in New Mexico in early 2009, I got nervous; after all, the success of our business is dependent on the resources of our clients. And more importantly, the success of nonprofit endeavors in our state—be it preventing abuse or increasing arts appreciation—is dependent on our clients’ funding levels. At our Team TGP meetings, we had various discussions about our role: How can we improve our writing? How can we reduce the risk of rejection? What is the nature of the financial market and investment earnings? What is the broader effect of the economic downturn on foundations and their endowments? What can we tell about foundation trends? How might professional development opportunities help our team? I could go on and on, but my point is that while the full scope of the grants world is beyond our control, it matters dearly to TGP whether the projects we work on get funded.)

So what did those 104 grants amount to financially? Funds were awarded to the tune of $3,632,507 (with about a half million dollars still pending) and an average award size of $90,812. Here’s what I find interesting about that: In 2008, the total amount we saw awarded was $3,770,907 and the average award size was $80,232. Trend-wise (and at the risk of generalizing), we can say that while fewer foundations are making grants, they are making slightly larger individual awards. It looks to me like we have a cohort of funders stepping up during the downturn, and a cohort of funders seemingly maxed out in terms of the requests rolling in versus the funds available.

The burning question on everyone’s minds is:  What is the bang for the buck? We use a return on investment formula that allows for the amount of money brought in versus the amount of money spent on grant-seeking (again, grants only, not research or other writing projects). Our clients’ average return on investment in 2009 was $45.23. For every dollar they paid us, they saw $45.23 in return. For individual clients, the return on investment ranged from $144 to an embarrassing $0. This is the first year ever that we’ve had more than one client receive no funding.

We find this troubling. I know this article is about our 2009 numbers, but I want to take a moment here to make it perfectly clear that we care about our clients, their programs, and the people they serve. Yes, as grant writers we’ve had to build up our resiliency and ability to deal with rejection. But no, it’s never easy to hear that a proposal is not funded, and it’s crushing to hear that proposal after proposal is not funded, especially when clients are budgeting their dollars so carefully during an economic downturn like this. We hope that the value-added services that professional grant writing offers—things like thinking through strategy, clarifying goals and objectives, designing measurable indicators of success, creating partnerships—continues to benefit and resonate with our clients long after the proposal we’ve worked on, and become vested in mentally and emotionally, is over.

TGP saw some important milestones in 2009. We added two new team members and gained our own office space. We entered the new year by bidding a fond farewell to our first business manager, Elena, and celebrating the two-year anniversary of our director of projects, Aly. 2009 also marked a major funding milestone: TGP surpassed the $10 million dollar mark for funds we’ve helped bring into New Mexico’s nonprofit sector.

And, we’re pleased to report that our efforts resulted in:

  • A mentoring program for youth at risk of entering the juvenile justice system
  • Wraparound supports and scholarships for students who want to attend higher education and become self-sufficient
  • Programming for adults who are developmentally disabled
  • Seed funding for a new midwifery clinic that gives mothers an option outside of home or hospital birth
  • Indian education reform that embraces language and culture as avenues to success
  • A new center in New Mexico focused on public-private partnership
  • A collaboration between a cohort of South Valley service providers to ensure that residents of that neighborhood are able to be healthy and productive
  • A tuition-forgiveness program for New Mexicans who want to improve the health of others by becoming a nurse or advancing in the nursing profession
  • Peer-to-peer and professional-to-survivor support groups for cancer patients
  • Support for a clinic that helps families in which the children have been sexually abused or assaulted
  • And more!

(For information on how to donate to these amazing programs, please contact me.)

As we look back at 2009, we see numbers that are less than ideal in some ways. But, we are buoyed by the fact that the majority of our clients express their gratitude for our work whether or not the grant is awarded—and that the economic downturn appears to be nearing its end.

Moving past the first quarter of 2010, our numbers are encouraging. Our cumulative numbers now amount to more than $11.8 million in funding since 2003, and we’ve already heard that 2010 awards are nearing the $1 million mark.

So, raise a glass with me for a toast:

Here’s to the visionary New Mexicans who are moving our state to the top of the lists, to our clients who so adeptly sidestep (or kick aside!) the economic downturn, to Team TGP who continues to amaze me with their great work under incredible deadline pressure, to the funders who are investing in change whether its systemic or systematic, and to the partnerships we’ve built through the years with some outstanding groups (both for profit and non)!

May 2009’s cloudy economic downturn lead only to a more beautiful New Mexican sunset!

Contact: Tara Gohr, President/CEO, tara@thegrantplantNM.com

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