What Makes a Good Grant?


We're a lucky organization. 

We've got a talented research team and an effective communications crew.

But as our name tells we also give away money (the "extra lucky" part). The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation has granted on average about $2.1 million a year since its inception. The Greenbelt Fund has granted over $6.3 million since it started in 2010. 

Each funding application­­ goes through a rigorous process­—one that starts with a detailed proposal outlining objectives, deliverables, outcomes, and budgets. That proposal is then reviewed by my staff, examined by outside experts, and scrutinized by our Board of Directors who make the final decisions.

But what makes a funding application successful? Or, more pointedly, what makes a grant good? Well, in my opinion, three main criteria are uniform guideposts for any funding application, Greenbelt or otherwise.


First, and most importantly, the person leading the proposed effort should have the talent, connections, skill-set, knowledge, and ambition to get the outcomes they propose. Leadership here goes beyond the organization they work for. Exceptional leadership is invariably driven by capable individuals.


Second, the outcome must be clearly defined and realistic. This is where some applications can fall short. They confuse outputs with outcomes, thinking producing something is the same as accomplishing it. For example, an applicant might want to create a web site about selling more local food and put that down as the outcome. Yet, the real outcome is about selling X dollars of more local food in Y months (using a website as a vehicle to accomplish this outcome).

Realistic outcomes are a key part of a grant. Some applications are either too ambitious or not so at all. Being realistic doesn’t mean that all outcomes have to be low-hanging fruits. After all, ambitious goals and dreaming big is a key driver in achieving change. Rather, it means being realistic about the likely chances of success during the time period of the grant and thinking strategically.  


Finally, progressive learning is critical. What can we and other groups learn once a grant is completed? Why did certain things happen and others not? Successful grants are easier to evaluate than those that were not. However, even if the grant recipient is unsuccessful in accomplishing the outcome they sought, it’s not the end of the world. As long as they conduct their own, honest assessment and use the process to learn from those learnings, then the grant still contributes to the grander scheme of things.

People work hard on funding applications—I know that. They invest a great deal of time into them and have hopes of success. I'll be honest: saying "no" to funding applications is the hardest part of the job. But I remind applicants that there is always the next grant round. It's like the Stanley Cup playoffs: once a team is in, everyone has a chance to win the Cup.


Burkhard Mausberg
-- CEO

By entering my email above I consent to receive emails containing information about the Greenbelt and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. I may revoke my consent by unsubscribing.