Each type of funder has priorities and often a formal process that guides their decision making. Understanding how how funders make these decisions can help a project understand how they fit in. Below, we will unpack our experience of federal funder and private philanthropy decision making processes, and break down how to read a funders website, to demystify this aspect of fundraising.
Some agencies are more formal in their process. E.g., NIH assembles a set of experts and has them make decisions about funding. NSF assembles experts, and asks for their opinion and recommendations, but the NSF teams ultimately make the decision. DOE asks for general expert opinions but often plays a more active role in making decisions, using the expert opinions as inputs. DoE is often less interested in asking for "recommendations" from experts, they only want "information". DARPA program officers have more decision making authority and are more results-driven, less interested in "process".
UK research councils and similar agencies in some other countries are even more expert-dependent than NIH, where program officers are there to facilitate the "expert decision-making process" but they shouldn't actually be technically knowledgeable about the area.
A philanthropic organization is directed by a Board. The board sets the vision for the foundation. Board composition of the board may change over time, impacting the focus of the organization. Understanding the current make up of a foundation's board can help you understand their motivations and priorities.
The Executive Director is hired to execute the Board's vision. They coordinate with a Program team to come up with specific instantiations of this vision.
Program Directors/Officers interpret the board's vision. Program officers find projects and inititaives in line with the board's vision and bring them to the board for funding consideration. Program directors and officers may also project ideas upwards (to the board) to insert new ways of thinking and elevate ideas from the community.
Each foundation has a different hierarchy and way of making decisions. Figure out who the key gatekeepers are and where points of leverage exist.
In academia, a good way to get a paper published in a specific journal is to read other papers that are published in that journal and look for commone themes. In this way, one can learn what a journal prioritizes and then try to copy the tone/style/topics of those papers.
When approaching grant-making entities (public or private), this approach can also be fruitful. But there is no journal of funded grant applications. Often, limited public facing material leaves prospective aplicants facing the funder's website trying to figure out how they might fit in. To demystify what funders are looking for, Chris Holgraf (Jupyter) sat down with Laura Maher (Siegel Family Endowment) to discuss issues that come up when Chris looked at Siegel's website.
Funder websites are great soures of information about their people and priorities. Things to look for on a funder website:
Agencies have goals, and if you want funding, you have to show how your pitch fits in with them. Don't assume that they'll just find you if your project is interesting enough - Their job isn't just to fund "good stuff" but to make sure you (and your project) fit in with their mission.
The impact of a project can happen at many different levels - individual, profession, geographic, even the global community. At Mozilla we have realized that there is a lot of power and value in being able to tell a story around the impact of a project or activity that can be just as impactful as the project or activity itself.
One of our granting programs is the Science Mini-Grant Awards. These are short-term (6-8 mos), small amount ($3-10K) grants for open science projects. All awardees get an "onboarding" call to discuss timelines, logistics, and workflows. Our interim reports are conducted over videoconferencing, just to check-in and address blockers or look for opportunities for promotion. Final reports are conducted as hour-long interviews where the final goal is to write up a story from the interview that can be published in a public blogpost linked to community member profiles on our website.
The idea for this originated with a pilot program Mozilla undertook with StoryEngine. Stories were collected from individuals that participated in various Mozilla programs and activities. These stories provided more information on which aspects of these activities worked well and indicated which pieces had the most impact for different people. Our hope for publishing stories around our grant awardees is that they will provide concrete examples of exactly how open science happens, identify where challenges can arise, and how different teams addressed those challenges. These stories can provide relevance and context to others as we attempt to transform the culture of "open science" to that of "science".
Many projects share their grants openly - if you know where to look. As prospective applicants, look to find success stories somehow to better understand how ideas are pitched.
We'd like to collect links to open grant applications - do you share your grant applications openly? If so, get in touch at [email protected].
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