Can’t Compete With the Big Guys? Build a Bigger Footprint

We all know the feeling.  The community college or small university that can’t compete with the state university for grant dollars.  The community-based organization that watches larger competitors win mega grant after mega grant.  How do we get ourselves into the game?

This post begins a series of posts with the theme “Building a Bigger Footprint.”  We will look at some very distinct strategies that may help your smaller, effective nonprofit become known to larger grantmakers.  We will explore some interesting territory which includes

  • Rebuilding your case for support around multi-site programming
  • Framing the impact of your work to change context
  • Building strategic alliances with other similar organizations

So, for starters, what is the concept of a “bigger footprint.”  Quite simply, its all about finding a way to leverage the excellence of your nonprofit — be it a school, a hospital, a college, a community based organization, an arts group . . . anything.  Here are two key considerations that I take into mind in situations where I might advise a client to consider the strategy:

  • Does 1+1 = 3?  It only makes sense to present a bigger footprint if you can convince the grantmaker – and deliver on your promised program – if the footprint promises a return that is greater than the sum of the parts that make up your delivery mechanism.  If you are telling a funder that you are leveraging yoru resources across five satellite sites, then the perceived return on investment needs to be greater than the combined operating expense of those sites.
  • Does a bigger footprint leverage excellence or dilute it?  I have certainly come across alliances where the combined resources bring amazing depth and benefits to participants. And I have worked with collaborative projects where maintaining an alliance proved to be an incredible drain on time, energy and financial resources to the point that the project became inefficient and ineffective — two things that add up to a “kiss of death” for a grant.

Building a bigger footprint is a worthwhile strategy if your organization has the resources, experience, talent, skills and connections to make it work.  I look forward to sharing additional strategies and examples in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned!


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