Pilot grant writing program helps diversify nonprofit funding

a hand dropping a coin into a glass jar with a plant growing out of it

by Kylie Gibson, VP of Finance

As Natrona Collective Health Trust (NCHT) launched its grantmaking program, they quickly discovered that it is important for a nonprofit organization to have diverse funding sources. In a small community with limited funding options, diverse streams of revenue add to the financial strength of a nonprofit, protecting it from swings related to economic changes or the loss of a major donor.

Non-profit organizations classified as public charities must meet the IRS public support test to sustain their status. This means they cannot receive the bulk of their funding from one private foundation. As a private foundation, NCHT did not want to jeopardize the nonprofit status of its partners, and in some cases, this meant reducing funding to some organizations with smaller revenue streams.

In navigating this issue, NCHT staff wondered how they could help non-profits find additional funding sources. It was then that Kylie Gibson, VP of Finance, started looking into what other health conversion foundations were doing.

Tapping into the peer universe, Gibson found that the phrase “there is money left on the table at the federal and state level” was a common refrain. ”How could we secure that funding for our non-profits?” Gibson wondered. Some foundations offered funding for organizations to hire a grant writing consultant, others had grant writers on retainer for their programs. What would work best for Natrona County?

At this point, NCHT had only been through one grant cycle with 27 partners and didn’t know where to start, so they hosted an informational session to see if anyone was interested in being a part of a pilot to help NCHT build this program. Seven non-profit executive directors volunteered to partner in building a grant writing program for Natrona County.

Gibson could not find a grant writing consultant in Wyoming willing to participate. Wanting to stay as close to Wyoming as possible, the search was expanded into neighboring states. After interviewing over a dozen grant writers, four were selected.

Gibson developed guardrails to ensure that, regardless of the grant writer, each participant in the pilot program would get similar services.  Each of the seven participating nonprofits were given two grant writers to interview and then choose who they wanted to work with. The nonprofits were each allotted up to $10,000 to use in their engagement with the grant writing consultant.

Throughout the six-month pilot phase, the participants began to settle with one grant writing consultant organization, and NCHT decided to work exclusively with that consultant, The Dotted i. The firm is based in Montana with a team of eight grant writing professionals. CEO Breanna Polacik was drawn to grant writing after working many years in the non-profit sector.

The passion for their work was evident to the nonprofit participants. “This grant writing program has helped our organization’s work come into focus,” said Mallory Pollock of Casper Pride. “This is due to the Dotted i asking us the hard questions about the work we’ve done, are doing, and want to do in this community, but also the relief that a grant writer provides so that we can all give our full attention to what’s at hand.”

Seeing results

At the conclusion of a 6-month trial, the pilot grew to include eight nonprofits who were each at different phases of the grant writing process. NCHT staff decided to extend the program to explore the impact of a twelve-month commitment to a grant writer, to compare against an engagement of six months.

As NCHT wrapped up the pilot, they looked at how best to measure the success of the program through quantitative measures such as the return on investment (ROI).

As of today, more than 97 grant submissions were completed as part of the pilot program, resulting in more than $333,000 in secured funding, with a potential for another $300,000 in pending applications. This brings an overall return on investment of $3.79 per $1 put into the program by NCHT.  But Jeremy Jones, Executive Director of the 12-24 Club, believes the success goes beyond grant dollars. “The team at Dotted-i provided us with more than just assistance; they brought depth, creativity, and passion to our cause,” he said. “Through their expertise, our programs were given a voice—a vivid and compelling one that resonated with potential donors on a profound level. Their ability to articulate the essence of our services was nothing short of remarkable. Our organization, once struggling to convey the full scope of our mission, was now represented eloquently and clearly.”

What’s next?

Based on the outcomes and the success of this pilot program, the Trust is committed to making this an ongoing funded program offered to Natrona County non-profits. Beginning 2024, nonprofits will be able to apply for grant writing assistance funding through a new resource grant program. More information on this opportunity will be announced in the new year.