A Review of the Foundation Center's Grant Seeker Training Institute

Product and service reviews run rampant on the Internet. If only the same could be true of educational opportunities. When companies and nonprofits advertise educational seminars that cost more than $100, nonprofit staff ought to be able to read people's thoughts on whether the event was worth the expense. When the opportunity in question costs $795, as is true of the Foundation Center’s Grantseeker Training Institute, people should be able to determine whether the benefits outweigh the cost.

The Grantseeker Training Institute is a complete preparatory course in grant writing. It runs for five consecutive days and is offered periodically at the Foundation Center’s multiple locations. I happened to attend the March 2011 session in Washington DC and can say with full confidence that the course lived up to its promise.

At a glance, the course title would lead one to believe that the course is tailored for the novice grant writer. Coming into the class with five years of experience I will confess to having felt a little unsure about the return on my employer’s investment. Yet during the first round of introductions I was pleasantly surprised to note there were several seasoned executive directors looking for a unique opportunity to hone their grant writing prowess. There were a handful of newcomers to the field, but the atmosphere was truly designed to capture the attention of professionals at every level.

What I found most beneficial is that the course kicked off with a two-day discussion of nonprofit sustainability. Too many people forget to view grant proposals as products of a cohesive development plan. An organization with a solid fundraising strategy will find grant proposals easier to compose if they can view the request in the context of a larger operational framework. Richard Brewster of the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise deftly guided the class through an examination of program types, funding categories, and budget compositions and how to wrap these into a sturdy fundraising plan. It was an excellent reminder of how to evaluate one’s programmatic assets and how to arrange them in such a way as to yield better results.

Halfway through the training the class is shown the ins and outs of the Center’s massive grant database. Familiar users of the Foundation Directory Online know there is a payment structure to the system, but honestly, if you have a Foundation Center in your city or are fortunate to have a public library that features access to the database, you’re better off enjoying the tool in all its unrestricted glory. Unlike its competitors, the database allows you the ability to export results into a convenient spreadsheet or PDF you can take home with you. The class was never coaxed into purchasing the product. One could argue that the free 30-day access they grant you to their Power Search after the course is a sales pitch, but I viewed it as an excellent bonus and tangible evidence of the return for the class fee.

Jane Geever of J.C. Geever, Inc. led the second half of the training with clear advice on proposal writing. Among other valuable information, she offered excerpts from interviews with officers of popular foundations around the country. The collection of quotations gave us all a peak into their thinking process at every stage of the application process as well as some of their quirks. Foundations vary in the level of instructions they provide to applicants on their websites, assuming the foundations they represent even have websites. I will not recount every little thing that came out of these insightful bits, lest I ruin your experience, but I will say that perhaps the greatest wisdom I took away from her lessons was this: Thank often. Gratitude is hard to come by when you’re staring at a rejection, but so much of foundation success is contingent on cultivating a relationship. And, according to Geever, the foundations do talk to each other.

Note: If for whatever reason you cannot attend one of these training sessions, you will find Geever’s behind-the-scenes data woven into The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing, now in its 5th edition.

The experience was very satisfactory. The program was punctual, thorough, and the knowledge participants take away from the course is complemented by a wealth of hard copy material that can be brought home to share with colleagues. Come prepared to take copious notes, as the presenters love using real world examples and engaging audience participation to guide the flow of the discussions.

If I were going to make a suggestion, it would be a subsequent and equally in-depth course to teach us all a thing or two about government and corporate proposals. (Yes, it is not lost on me that the "Foundation" Center is called such for a reason.) Still, having written my decent share of the latter, I would think I knew everything there is to know, but just as with foundations, I was reminded of how much more there is to stay on top of. This course definitely delivered, and at 30 CFRE credits, it delivers on multiple fronts.

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