Strategic Planning & Grant Writing

In the years of the pandemic and continued racial reckoning, we’ve noticed that grantors have become more specific in what they are looking for from organizations seeking funding. I asked my Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library colleague, Institutional Relations Manager Julia Ruther, to share some observations.  Julia and I have worked together on grants for our programming, and she has managed many successful grants for the Saint Paul Public Library.

We are seeing changes in funding offered and alterations in the means of securing that funding. First off, there was a shift to unrestricted support. Initially, this was framed as Covid-response to allow grantees flexibility, but many granters have noticed that they can remain in their stated lane (say: education) while still offering funding that can be used by schools, libraries, and community centers in many different ways.

Another shift in the granting landscape has been a very specific eye toward racial equity. It is no longer enough to say, “this program will serve the entire community.” It has become vital that grantees understand and can communicate the ways in which programming will connect with and meet the needs of historically excluded populations. In addition, it is helpful to have awareness of your own institutional racial equity processes.

One of the funders that The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library approaches each year has become more pointed about the information they seek. The prompts offered clearly state the desire for evidence that the programs to be funded are deeply integrated into our organization’s mission, that the mission itself is a good fit for the kind of equitable activity the funder wants to support, and that the organization itself embeds equity and inclusion across the board.

This kind of specificity requires us to think more clearly about our storytelling around both our organization’s mission and the way our programming forwards that mission. (This is the part where I will point out – if you don’t have some solid vision statements, this is much more difficult. Call us.)

But also – know your community. This is twofold: knowing who is using your library, of course, and also digging into the more quantifiable aspects of library-community relations. Bear with me, this is not as clinical as it might first sound.

To use a hometown example, Saint Paul Public Library received funding to support after school programs. In partnership with schools, the Library had access to demographic information of those served by the programs to supplement the observations of library staff. We were able to tell a story about programming that directly benefited kids of color with significant overlap among those who needed school-provided meals.

This type of connection storytelling is made possible by having the right kind of data. You can drill down into those and lift out individual stories observed by library staff and achieve the kind of web of impact that grants, like the one mentioned in passing above, are looking for.

Libraries are uniquely suited to the kind of funding that is being offered by many community foundations right now. Interest in public spaces as social connectors, leadership in the area of digital equity and inclusion, and the neighborhood-focused nature of most library programming makes educational partnerships and community learning an obvious step. And should you have recently undergone, say, a strategic planning process, well, you probably have the community connections, data, and vision you need at your fingertips.

For in-depth reading, check out the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

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