Defensible Decision Making for Grants: The Strategic No

In the world of corporate contributions, an approved request for funding to a nonprofit partner is often the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. The nonprofit receives much needed resources to carry out their good works, and the corporation is able to demonstrate that they care about the communities where they’re doing business and impacting social and environmental change. A strategic “YES” can ultimately improve the company’s reputation.

Unfortunately, a declined request for funding can have an equal but negative impact on reputation, usually when the organization that has received a “NO” perceives that they have been declined unfairly. The following are several tips to prevent that unfavorable perception:

Identify your funding focus areas and communicate them clearly.

Help potential nonprofit partners understand exactly what kinds of programs and initiatives your company is looking to fund before they ever apply for funding. Time is a precious commodity, and this will allow nonprofits to prioritize the opportunities that they are the best candidate for.

Define your criteria and establish how you will “score” requests.

Once you’ve defined your focus areas, take the time to establish the criteria for which will make decisions. Determine what attributes make an ideal fit in addition to the focus areas.

  • Geographic proximity?
  • Demographics?
  • Number of people impacted?
  • Relationship with an executive at your company or a specific affinity group within your organization?

It’s not necessary to make the criteria public, but it is important to know why you’re making the decisions you’re making, and it will help you if you’re ever challenged on a “NO”.

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Make sure you have the right group making decisions.

Building an appropriate review group and structure is a critical part of defensible decision making for grants. It’s very tempting to build this group exclusively of team members who work directly with nonprofits in their communities. Or, with people who are directly responsible for administering the funds. Consider casting a wider net, which might include:

  • Legislative or government affairs
  • Human resources
  • Public relations
  • Marketing
  • Plant Leads (for manufacturing companies)

Be intentional with the questions you ask on your grant applications.

Each and every question on your grant application should be there for one of two reasons: 1) You will be making a decision based on the answer to that question, or 2) You want to be able to report on results (if the application is approved). There may come a time when you have to defend if a grant was declined because of a specific question on your application. If the question is there, nonprofits will rightfully make the assumption that they are being evaluated on it.

Communicate your decisions quickly.

Once a decision has been made about whether or not to fund a program or initiative, that decision should be communicated quickly. Nonprofits need to make program decisions based on budgets, bad news never gets better with age, even if the answer is “NO” it’s better for them to know that sooner rather than later.

Following these tips will go a long way towards protecting your organization when you decline requests for funding. So what do you do if you take all the right steps and an organization still posts on social media or other forums that they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly in not receiving funding? Let other advocates speak on your behalf first. It’s likely, that the organizations that have received funding will come to your defense. If that doesn’t happen, by following these tips you will have the information that you need to defend your company’s decision.