For Impact


100 Beautiful New Projects Every Year

For Impact Ideas | | Nick Fellers

“Foundations always want to support a new program. We don’t have anything new so we are now getting denied.”

This thought was shared with me by the founder of a Foster Care Agency that places about 100 children into loving homes each year. She had just been denied funding. The reason – the foundation officer said – was that the foundation wanted to fund new projects (read: programs started from scratch).

I’m not sure foundations always want to support something new. I believe it SOUNDS like they do. I believe some foundations officers chase ‘new programs’ because the perceived upside FOR IMPACT is greater. However, it helps to keep this perspective. Foundations (most) and funders in general (all) want to have the biggest possible impact. What they usually see are hundreds of grant applications from organizations with the same message: WE NEED MONEY.

This is not an apologist post on behalf of foundations. It’s encouragement to this foster care agency to be stronger. To stand up for its impact.

If I were this foster care agency, I would be enraged. I would be disgusted with the foundation but also disgusted with myself for failing to communicate the impact. I would call the foundation and communicate the disgust. “I’ve failed you, I’ve failed us and most of all I’ve failed 100 families. Somehow it was communicated that we don’t have any new projects this year. WE HAVE 100 BEAUTIFUL NEW PROJECTS THIS YEAR!”


Two notes:

  • Last year a foundation officer said to me, “We usually only like to start projects but not fund them beyond 2-3 years. We don’t want organizations to become dependent upon us for funding for programs.”

    I then asked this foundation officer a question, “What if we could demonstrate to you how your funding changed 13 lives? Could we come back the next year and ask you to change 13 more lives?” He said, “ABSOLUTELY!”

    WOW! Think about how many organizations must be saying – WE NEED FUNDING FOR PROGRAMS – for him to institutionalize that thought process. Think about how easy it was to change once we went back to the IMPACT!

  • I’ve recently heard two foundations use this term: PAY FOR PERFORMANCE. They were tired of funding new, unproven programs and wanted to start backing PROVEN IMPACT. (A very very good thing for all.) They were saying, in essence, do the math around your impact then let us know the cost to impact one life. I hope this framework spreads.

– Nick