I was recently asked to be part of a grants committee for the Women’s Funding Alliance (WFA). This foundation invests in Puget Sound area nonprofits which focus on health, justice, and opportunity for women in Washington State.
So, in the midst of getting hired by Landesa, and being consumed with this imminent change in my life, I suddenly realized I had 60 (yes, you read that right) Letters of Inquiry (LOI) to read in a week. Luckily, I only had to rank 20 of them.
Nevertheless, I am thrilled about this opportunity because:
– I get to read about some amazing nonprofits helping women and girls in the Puget Sound area.
– I will learn so much about the grant-making process.
– I get to work with 7 interesting committee members who come from all walks of life.
– The best part: I get to have a say in which grants will get accepted.
So, the first step is to read letters of inquiry, which organizations often must craft before writing a full proposal. These letters are usually brief: a one page description of the project and how the funds will be used, followed by a detailed budget. If these letters of inquiry are deemed satisfactory, these groups will be invited to submit a full grant proposal, which goes into more detail about the activities and expected outcomes.
Our LOI meeting lasted 3 hours. Thankfully, the WFA grants manager had prepared a chart with the average ranking of each LOI, which helped us immediately weed out low-scoring ones.
NOTE: Due to confidentiality agreements, I cannot talk about specific organizations and projects.
It was a fascinating process, learning what other people had to say in favor or against a particular LOI. What amazed me was that some of the organizations didn’t even answer the questions they were supposed to (i.e. what specifically do you want to FUND?) and were obviously not a good fit with WFA’s criteria (providing access to health services and information, leadership development, and freedom from violence). I saw a wide range in the quality of the LOIs– some were excellently written and others left me with a lot of questions.
In the end, we mostly agreed on which ones needed to be tossed and which ones made the cut. There were a few that we spent a few minutes haggling over whether or not to invite for the full proposal submission. We were reminded by one committee member that we should be absolutely certain we were interested in a project before we asked an organization to spend an incredible amount of time and resources crafting the larger proposal.
At our second meeting, we will discuss the full proposals and choose a number of organizations that will use WFA funds wisely to make difference (we hope!) in the lives of women and girls in Washington State. It feels gratifying to be making a difference in this way, however small.