One of the criteria that funders use to evaluate an applicant for a grant is whether the organization has community support. Community support can be defined in a number of ways, typically in the amount of in-kind (volunteer labor & materials, equipment, etc.) and financial resources committed. And the latter (the $) is by far the easiest to measure.
Why do funders value community support? Largely because the possession of this attribute by an applicant greatly increases the probability of success — that their investment will achieve the stated objective. Generally, foundations invest in nonprofit/ community-based organizations to achieve a return on investment that can be measured in public value. What they expect back is not a financial return but a benefit to the community that they are indirectly investing in via that organization — be that better schools, more services for those in need, a cleaner environment, etc. The same can be said about government agencies that invest in certain business ventures. While there are far fewer grant opportunities available to businesses, those that do exist often focus on job creation or increased affordable housing. When investing in a company as opposed to a nonprofit — even though the company may be evaluating the effect on their profit margin — the funding agency is considering the measurable positive impact to the community.
Risk is implicit in any investment — whether socially or profit- motivated — therefore the entity giving out the money wants to limit risk of failure by investing in organizations with a strong track-record of success. Success is often predicated on, especially in the nonprofit sector, community support, because, these organizations accomplish more by leveraging all available resources.
20 years ago when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal I was charged with helping communities in arid regions of the mountains to build low-cost water supply systems. UNICEF, who was providing the funds, told me to identify ~20 communities where we would build the systems. Out of the hundreds of communities in need, we had to select 20. Part of our selection process was to visit each of the interested sites, hold a community meeting, inform the villagers about the requirements and benefits of the program, and gauge their support. Among the requirements was that each village contribute financially (I think the equivalent was about 1 day’s pay, or 100 rupees, per household) to setup a maintenance fund. This fund would be set aside before the project started, for future use when the system needed to be fixed or maintained. They also had to designate an individual from the community to serve as the technician so they would have the capacity on-site for future repairs. And, they would need to commit to all the unskilled manual labor to build the project.
This process increased the implementation timeline by 3-6 months. So why did we do all this? We did not want our investment to be wasted. If the community could not demonstrate that they were willing to build it, and able to take care of the water source, tank, tapstand and supply lines, then we knew the system would fail in 2-3 years. This was a documented fact. The 20 sites we selected were those that demonstrated the highest commitment to the project. This determination was based on quantitative factors — the amount of funds raised by the deadline, selection of a qualified/ motivated technician candidate, and number of families that contributed to the fund. And there were qualitative factors as well — how badly did they want and need the water system and how well did they articulate this need? Were they excited and passionate? Had they completed other community projects in the past?
Juxtapose this example with your own organization and the project for which you are seeking to fundraise. Have you lined up community support — in a way that can be documented? Does your community/ organization have a successful track record of completing similar projects? Have you raised funds for projects like this in the past? Are other organizations and individuals in your community willing to contribute time and money to enable the project to succeed? If you can answer “yes” to all these questions, your group is well-positioned to seek institutional funding. If you answered “no” to the majority then you could be viewed as asking for a handout. Keep in mind that for every funding opportunity there are $10 in requests for each available dollar. To succeed, you need to set your organization apart from the field and have a documented track-record to stand on.