There’s nothing quite like the thrill of your first successful, transformative ask. Just ask Lindsay McIver and Kate Dalgliesh, 2012 graduates of the Fundraising and Volunteer Management Program at Humber College. Their research and grant writing for Sojourn House, a refugee resettlement agency in Toronto, garnered $150,000 for a brand new program aimed at 16- to 24-year-old newcomers, traditionally an underserved segment of the refugee population.
The team also secured another $24,000 to renovate the Sojourn House kitchen to increase the health, safety and efficiency of food preparation for refugee and immigrant clients.
“I couldn’t believe it had all paid off,” Dalgliesh recalls. “Knowing we’d give people a chance to start a new life here felt amazing.”
Same project, different angles
The two young fundraisers did everything a grant seeker should do – and even more. McIver affirms careful prospect research as the first step for successful grant writing. She found that Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) offers funding for “newcomer settlement” services; it doesn’t specifically highlight refugee programs. Neither do most foundations.
That called for a different approach. So, during her student internship at Sojourn House, McIver focused on the proposed program’s target population (young people who happened to be refugees) and its outcomes (successful transition, including independent housing). As well as the MCI, she honed in on foundation supporters of housing initiatives and child and youth services.
With the executive director of Sojourn House, McIver prepared an application to the Catherine Donnelly Foundation. She recommended adding Dalgliesh to the team for her “powerhouse writing skills” when the MCI application was prepared. And when the team moved on to the Ontario Trillium Foundation application, says McIver, “We were really in the groove.”
Highlight project’s unique features
Other research strengthened the applications too. Looking at similar programs with successful track records helped both of them identify and highlight what was unique about the Sojourn House project, and how it lived up to best practices in refugee services.
Grant applications have an undeserved reputation for being stuffy, jargon-ridden and dry, McIver observes. But she’s adamant that creativity is just as important in grant applications as it is in a direct mail appeal. Though the applications didn’t ask for specific stories, she included a description of one young Somali man’s harrowing experience escaping from his war-torn land, making his way to Sojourn House, and struggling with the trauma of his experiences.
“It would have taken years to acquire this research and grant writing knowledge in other ways,” McIver muses when asked about the value of her student experience. “It helps so much that the [Humber] program includes hands-on involvement with charities at every step.”
The final tally: $20,000 from the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, $130,000 from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, and $24,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. But more important than the amount is the lesson that research, emphasizing uniqueness, and thinking about your project from many different angles are the essential keys to success in the world of grants.