As a part of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s (PCSE) “Fundraising Bootcamp” series, students gathered in Albritton 311 on Tuesday, Feb. 17, to learn the craft of grant writing. Sonya Behnke ’03, currently Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Massachusetts General Hospital, delivered the presentation, titled “Grant Writing 101.”
PCSE Director Michaela Kingsley ’98 coordinated the event, which also included a catered dinner for participants.
“It’s a nice story,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus. “I posted on the Wesleyan Alumni in Philanthropy and Public Service LinkedIn group that PCSE was looking for alumni to present workshops for our occasional ‘Fundraising Bootcamp’ series. Sonya was one of a few alumni who replied, and we were thrilled that she was willing to donate her time and talents to offer this program for Wesleyan students. She even dug her car out of the Boston snow and gave up her parking spot to get to campus!”
After sharing a few fond memories of her time at the University, Behnke told the audience how she got her start in the non-profit world. After graduating with a double major in English and American Studies, she worked for a brief period as a teacher before obtaining a graduate degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University, and at the suggestion of a professor, became involved with DC Central Kitchen. She has since worked for Catholic Charities, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Behnke credits her time at Georgetown with sparking her interest in the nonprofit sector.
“I had no idea how critical the nonprofit sector is to the American economy,” she said. “I was so excited about that.”
She then transitioned into an explanation of the key terms associated with nonprofit work and grant writing in particular. Participants were briefed on the benefits received by both the nonprofits and the grantmakers, particularly the ways in which grantmakers can gain an elevated status by supporting certain nonprofits.
Behnke also defined the different varieties of grantmaking institutions: public and private foundations, which are more process-oriented and have a formal board of directors; family foundations, which have smaller boards (often family only) and may expect more personal involvement; and corporate foundations, which are also process-oriented and generally seeking benefits that boost their public image. While corporate grantmakers may seem more impersonal than the others, Behnke discussed how mutually beneficial such a relationship can be.
“But really, they’re looking for some emotional connection, but more so there’s this aspect of tangible benefits,” she said. “You’re probably never going to approach a corporate foundation, unless you can come back and say to them, ‘If you give this money, this is what you’ll get back.’ There’s going to be some sort of trade-off. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, because it’s also going to get your nonprofit a lot more press.”
Behnke also added that when the specifications or expectations of a grant are unrealizable or unmaintainable, it is okay for nonprofits to not accept it.
The presentation then transitioned into a discussion of what a grant proposal entails. Using a guide provided to all attendees, Bhenke discussed the different sections and their importance to the grantmakers.
A typical grant proposal will contain several sections, including the history of the nonprofit, its organizational goals and objectives, a description of its programs and services, a description of need, a description of the program or project needing funding, specific activities (in which the grantmaker can participate if they so choose), and the objective goals of the project. In most proposals, the crucial element—the one that grantmakers will consider the most—is the description of need.
“I think that this is the most important part of any grant that you can write,” Behnke said. “You need hard data and evidence to back this up.”
The group considered a variety of questions in this section: Is this a growing problem? What are we doing to address it? If your program didn’t exist, what would people do instead?
Also important to the grantwriting process is what Behnke refers to as “finding your voice.” She suggests teaming up with nonprofits with a similar mission and being skeptical about selling a nonprofit as one-of-a-kind, as most are not.
“Foundations will eat that up,” she said. “They want to know that you are a willing partner with other nonprofits. [If you want to claim your nonprofit is unique…] just be sure that you’ve done your homework and make sure that that service doesn’t already exist.”
Following this explanation, each table participated in an activity where they were given one of three nonprofits to “work for” and had to figure out how to best approach the grantwriting process.
Elisa Greenberg ’18 participated in the bootcamp and found the experience to be beneficial.
“I really liked how the presentation showed a new side to the non-profit world, because the behind-the-scenes work of grant-writing isn’t usually visible to students,” Greenberg said. “It was interesting to hear about who donates to organizations and how you need to tailor your grant-approach when speaking to a private corporation versus a larger business.”
While students may not have considered a career in grantwriting before, Kingsley feels that this skill can be applied in many different fields and is a beneficial one for students to learn.
“Grant writing is really about (1) knowing your audience, (2) building relationships, and (3) telling a coherent, convincing story that garners support[—]financial or otherwise,” she wrote. “These are critical skills that can be applied to everything from job and internship seeking, to securing funding from on-campus grantmaking organizations like SBC [Student Budget Committee] and The Green Fund, to grassroots organizing and activism, and so much more.”