Photo by Aly Ko via Unsplash

By The Joining Vision and Action Resource Development Team

The Colorado Common Grant Application was released in 2008 with the goal of reducing the burden on grantseekers by having a template proposal that could be submitted to many foundations. However, the utopian dream that many of us had for simplifying grantwriting has faded.

Over the past 13 years, Colorado’s foundations have updated their grant applications to reflect changing priorities and needs, e.g., intentional promotion of racial equity, workplaces that support staff, the COVID-19-related financial realities that impact programming, etc.

But all of that tinkering with the common grant application—and without the coordination of foundations working to preserve its intent—has led to so many variations to a “common” application that submitting grant proposals has once again become an extremely time-consuming process.

DEI questions

Some of the most notable changes include A LOT of new questions related to how your nonprofit embraces and exemplifies topics related to diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI).

You may have seen that Candid (formerly Foundation Center and GuideStar) recently expanded its definition of “racial equity grantmaking” to better reflect the intent of funders and foster additional support. The new definition is now: “grantmaking explicitly awarded to benefit people of color broadly or to organizations that explicitly serve these populations. This grantmaking specifies a focus on people of color but may focus on any number of issues (e.g., arts, education, health) or use any number of approaches (e.g., service delivery, research, advocacy.)”

Here are a few examples of how Colorado’s foundations are asking about these important DEI-related topics:

  • In what ways does the community you serve lead, direct and/or inform the design and implementation of your work and programs?
  • Please describe what steps your organization is taking to ensure leadership at all levels of your organization is reflective of the community you serve.
  • What percentage of your board and staff identifies as BIPOC?
  • What efforts has your organization made to advance racial equity?
  • Describe how the values and practices of DEI are integrated into the work of your organization and this program.

Financial management questions

Colorado foundations are also asking a lot more questions around program sustainability and how nonprofits manage their finances. For example:

  • What is the long-term funding strategy for this proposed work?
  • Describe your organization’s financial model.
  • Identify any financial opportunities and challenges for the organization and/or proposed work.
  • Describe partnerships and collaborations for obtaining additional funding for the project.
  • Describe your agency’s overall fiscal controls and structure.

Questions about staff support

New (important!) questions are also popping up around how nonprofits treat staff, e.g., how you ensure staff wages are equitable, what your existing staff capacity is, how you provide staff with training opportunities, and what policies you follow to support staff well-being.

Colorado’s foundations are also asking new questions related to nonprofits’ current priorities and their accomplishments and proudest moments, as well as their program’s innovativeness and uniqueness.

Application structure

The structure of the application itself has also radically changed. No longer do applicants have to package their proposal in an envelope and (gasp) mail it!

That’s a positive change, in our opinion. But the less exciting part of electronic applications is the maddening array of word and character counts every foundation requires (many state grants have shifted to word/character counts, too). I swear we sometimes spend more time cutting answers to fit prescribed content limits than we do actually writing answers. For a hilarious discussion on this topic, see this article.

Updated training dives deeper

So, all of these changes got us thinking that it’s time to revamp JVA’s premier grantwriting training, Write a Grant in a Day. The updated version of this training—where we really dive deep into all of these changes—is going live on November 16–17.

Register here to join us!

Senior Resource Development Associate Lisa Cirincione will lead the training, but on the second morning, you’ll be treated to the entire JVA grantwriting team for a robust discussion on how to grapple with some of the new questions challenging many of us.

It is our sincere hope that at the end of this training, you’ll have all the information you need to make the foundation grantwriting process a little bit easier.

What JVA Clients are Saying

“JVA’s grant writing workshop helped me to understand more accurately what funders are looking for, and how to provide the right kind of information that is relevant and better able to meet their expectations.”—Kris Lindsey, Grants Manager at Volunteers of America

“Lisa is so awesome and one of the nicest people I know. Thanks to her grant writing workshop with JVA, I’ve been able to build on my communication skills in ways that’ve been really practical for me as a research and program evaluator. It’s definitely helped with my confidence and clarity during rapport with clients … for example, when articulating the types of evaluation methodologies I’ve used to effectively determine which viable solutions are necessary to improve our education system.”—Ana León, Senior Research Analyst at Denver Public Schools

“Before taking the JVA grant writing workshop, I was spread thin as a grant writer and never felt like I had enough time because I was applying for every funding opportunity left and right. I was aware that this manic hustle energy wasn’t healthy, but told myself being super fast-paced was ‘normal’ if I wanted to be productive. It wasn’t a sustainable approach, but it was the only one I knew. The JVA workshop made me realize that things will often take longer than expected, and to prioritize time management so I can avoid this scarcity mentality where everything has such frenetic urgency attached to it. Realistically speaking, the reason things were piling up and why I lacked control was because I didn’t know how to say no. Now I have the right tools when researching which grants make the most sense for me to apply for, and how to determine what an organization’s funding priorities and long-term strategies are.”—Stephen Clements, Chief Creative Office at Y Media Labs