Last night, after chowing down on some great Cambodian food from the West Side Market, the Neighborhood Connections Grant-Making and Monitoring Committee met again for the first round of grant proposal analysis. Our sub-group had 39 proposals submitted and 24 slots to fill, and it took us about three hours to get through them all. I learned quite a bit about the kind of grants that tend to be a success and how to identify budgeting problems, which can tell you at a glance if people are trying to line their own pockets [2 people affiliated with the group and $3k in “personnel costs”, for example];
Many of the grant proposals were for new programs that would provide services that already exist and are freely open to anyone, many of which are even available at local library branches. Some were community based but not neighborhood based, a subtle distinction, but an important one as far as the Neighborhood Connections program is concerned. Some grant proposals were from 501 3©s or other businesses requesting money for projects that should be a normal part of their operating capital, and a few seemed to be looking for venture capital.
And then there were the proposals with no fiscal agency, letters of support, or decent project descriptions…
Throughout the process of reading through these grant proposals I realized that what many of these grassroots ad hoc groups need is a way to network with each other. I wonder if this is a problem for many volunteer-based organizations. If it is, I wonder how much more effective some of their actions would be if small groups of like minded people, like the 5 or 6 different groups that submitted nearly identical grant proposals, were able to get together on their own and reach a critical mass that way. I think that Neighborhood Connections might be a good place to start that networking, since the like-minded people come to us. I know it isn’t even close to being a part of the mission of the GMMC, but it seems like it would be an appropriate addition.
If you notice, I didn’t talk about the many excellent proposals we received. And we received many. This is intentional. Since we’re interviewing them, I need to hold off and have something to write about in the future. The three-hour interview sessions start a week from today.