In the last 6 years, The Helen J. Serini Foundation has worked diligently to build programs and processes that are designed to ensure that we stay focused on our strategy and mission while also allowing room to be responsive to community needs. This responsiveness led to the development of our Leadership Development Grants process. A desire to streamline the paperwork burden on grantseekers led us to establish a Letter of Inquiry as a first step for potential applicants. A continued desire to reduce redundancy drove our decision to implement Guidestar for Grant Applications (G4G) fields in our online application materials. And we continue to request feedback from grantseekers, and aim to learn from and respond to that feedback as much as possible.
One thing we hear, time and time again, is how hard it can be to find funders who don’t operate on an invite-only basis, which is why, despite the increasing number of LOIs we receive each grant cycle, we’ve remained committed to keeping our cycles open to new applicants. We can’t pretend we know every organization working in our communities, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to learn about the incredible things happening at the local level that we might otherwise never hear of.
At the same time, we are a small-staffed organization (with less than two full-time staff), and we’re finding the increasing number of inquiries received overwhelming on our end. It means that we’re not able to go as in-depth on many of the LOIs as we’d like, and that we’re not able to provide useful, constructive feedback to hopeful applicants as frequently as we’d like.
We also aim to operate by non-profit best practices wherever possible, despite our lean operations—and in 2019, that looks like offering our one full-time employee the opportunity to take parental leave. Smack dab in the middle of our typical fall grants cycle.
After discussing these two factors internally, we’ve decided to try something new this year. We’ll be piloting a new timeline for our 2019 grants program: our Spring 2019 cycle operated as usual, with LOIs accepted from any eligible organization. Our Fall 2019 grant cycle will operate by invitation only (and most invitations will be extended to renewing grant partners from previous years). If this year proves successful, we plan to maintain this process—with one open and one invite-only grant cycle--into 2020 and beyond. The timeline on our Major Grants page has been updated to reflect this.
Our hope is that this process will allow us to keep communication open with as many organizations in our community as possible, while also balancing realistic expectations of our (small) staff and our own internal capacity. At this time, we do not anticipate transitioning to an entirely invite-only process in future years; we believe that there are more benefits than we could possible list in a 500-word blog post to keeping at least one of our grant cycles open each year.