Begin with the End in Mind

Imagine winning that dream grant with GrantWatch that covers your costs for a fantastic new program. It pays for start-up costs, implementation and even administration. Everything is great until report time, when you realize your program activities and promised goals are miles apart. Your staff did every activity promised, except the most important one – achieving the one goal that the funding source wanted. Suddenly, your dream grant is a nightmare.

All funding sources give out money to accomplish their objectives. Most grant applications and guidelines make it plain. They don’t tell you how to do it (that’s up to you to figure out), but they tell you what they want. That’s why you must begin with the end in mind.

I’m assuming anyone reading this post knows to read the grant application and guidelines thoroughly. Preferably, you read them twice. (Yes, even the federal RFPs that take 10,000 words to relay 1,000 words of useful instruction.) As you read, make special note of

  1. The funder’s overarching goal and
  2. The funder’s perspective on the crisis that motivated them to help.

A follow-up conversation with the funder’s program director can give you more clarification on their goals. You also connect with the person who is the gateway to the review committee. It pays to listen to their jargon, as these are the words that will build credibility in your proposa, and you can bounce your ideas off them to see which ones get traction.

When you understand what the funder’s overarching goal is, you are in a better position to evaluate whether you can deliver. Identify how your actions will create a tangible, measurable change in your target audience that mirrors the funder’s desired outcome. One good outcome is worth a hundred fuzzy ones.

For an example, let’s walk through a process for the Bruening Foundation to drill down to its real goal:

“Connect families to resources to address immediate or crisis needs and assist them to access long-term social service benefits (e.g. child care subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, health insurance, and food stamps).”

Do you see two overarching goals here?

  1. Address immediate or crisis needs.
  2. Assist with gaining long-term social service benefits.

The guidelines should yield an idea of why the funding source chose this focus area. Private grants will often link to or cite research. If the guidelines don’t help you with understanding the funder’s perspective, call the program manager (there’s a theme here.) This information will strengthen your grant and impress the funder in which you are interested.

Bruening says it wants to “address immediate or crisis needs.”

What does that mean to Bruening? Its website helps:

“We know that economic adversity experienced early in life compromises brain development, health and earnings over a lifetime. The ages between 0-3 are the critical years. This short window of time is our opportunity to disrupt the consequences of poverty.”

That language tells us that the foundation wants interventions that will help poor children obtain the same developmental milestones that their more affluent counterparts will obtain. (Yes, it’s in there.)

“We support efforts targeted to young children with the understanding that the benefits of social and educational interventions are strongest in the earliest years.”

Now you know more about what the foundation really wants.

Here’s how your goal might look now:

Address immediate or crisis needs of children in poverty that, if not addressed before age three, will slow their readiness for learning.


Address immediate or crisis needs of very young children in poverty that will impede their development and readiness for school.

There’s even more gold on the Bruening website. When you look at their previous gifts, you learn that it gave money to the Children’s Museum of Cleveland for its service to children aged from newly born to eight years old. The content features a grant to study cost-of-quality for home-child-care providers. Previous gifts a funder makes can tell you more about its goals.

This funding source did not sit down one day and decide it would throw a bunch of money at anything that might help children. Its own language tells us it used research showing why some children don’t do as well in school and what can change that dynamic. That is where Bruening is aiming its investments. When your activities and performance are built around the funder’s specific goal, you can plan your program’s elements specifically to reach those goals. Begin with the end in mind to create the program that achieves the results you promised your funding source and your mission.

About the Author: Cameron began her career with a degree in journalism and spent several years as a news reporter and freelancer. She next obtained an MPA and launched a career as a Senior Program Developer and, over 20 years, as Executive Director of two non-profits. She has extensive experience in grant writing for local, state, federal and private funding.