We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of GrantStation by interviewing some of our longstanding Members. Maria Machado at Shared Housing Center, Inc. of Dallas, TX, has been a Member since 2006, so I wanted to gain insights from her years in grantseeking.
David: Thank you for participating in our series of interviews, Maria! Tell me about your organization.
Maria: Shared Housing Center provides housing solutions along with supportive services targeting homeless single individuals and homeless single parents. We offer a roommate service to address the single individuals and a group residence shelter for homeless single parent families. Since 2009 we have provided some form of rapid rehousing program, based on vouchers, public housing placement, and most recently direct rental assistance.
Most of our supportive services are done in partnerships with other nonprofits. We have a financial partner who provides money management and one-on-one budget coaching. We have an employment coach who provides assistance with job resumes, online applications, and getting dressed for the interview.
We also offer children’s programs with another agency. They provide weekly classes on self-confidence, anti-bullying, and dealing with being homeless at such tender ages.
David: It is interesting how you partner with other agencies. Collaboration is a growing trend in the nonprofit sector and something that we encourage in our education offerings.
What is your role in the organization?
Maria: I am actually the Executive Director for Shared Housing but my job includes grantwriting since we have a small staff. I have an assistant, but I have been doing the majority of the grantwriting for over 30 years.
David: You have a wealth of experience then. About how many proposals do you think you write each year?
Maria: I write about 25 full grant requests along with another six government proposals. (I treat government grants totally differently and hence count them separately.) However, I will research and make inquiries on another 25 or so funding opportunities.
David: Government grants are definitely their own undertaking. Can you elaborate on how you handle them differently?
Maria: I think working on government grants requires a dictionary for acronyms, definitions, and terms that come up when you are applying for a grant. I know that most city grants come with a list of definitions! And you need to be referring to it at all times.
You also need to review the current requirements of each agency upfront before you spend too much time on their grant program. For example, HUD is constantly reinventing itself during every administration. The HUD Housing First Model states that housing a client is the top priority and then offering supportive services is secondary, but not mandatory. My staff believes that we should require our clients to participate in certain activities. So first we make sure our core mission is aligned before we spend time on a government grant request.
Government grantwriting is also all about data and comparing your agency to the national/local statistics. Writing government grant requests has more data categories. After your brief introduction on the programs you offer, you are off to the races on data. It will feel like there is a duplication of information at times, but there is a purpose to the madness with these applications. While many public and private foundation applications have areas where you can tell your story and the impact you have made, government grants are mainly about numbers served and accomplishing their goals.
David: It does require a different approach and mindset with government grants. Your point on definitions is well made, and I can see how we could have more resources on our site for guidance.
What other approaches have you picked up in your experience in grantseeking?
Maria: When we learn about a new foundation opportunity, often through GrantStation, we understand that it will be rare to get support the first time around. The funder doesn’t know us and has to spend some time doing their own research about who we are, what services we offer, and our standing in the nonprofit community. Sometimes trying to find that common connection to support the request does not surface early and it is then easier for them to decline the request upfront. We have had that experience where they actually made contact to dig deeper about our application but can’t find a comfort level for the first go around. It happens.
So, in one case, I went back to the funder’s website and reviewed their annual reports to learn who they funded in the past. If I find a colleague or competitor in their list of grantees, then when I send my follow-up letter thanking them for their time, I also provide a section highlighting the comparisons with those grantees. For one of those foundations, the next time we were provided a grant!
David: That is an interesting step to your process, comparing and contrasting your work with other organizations. Tell me more about that.
Maria: We know that foundations love to compare potential grantees. So I feel that if they took the time to review our application, it is in my best interest to identify the similarities as well as identify where we differ. We ourselves have two niches. First, our supportive services (financial literacy, employment, etc.) are outsourced to other nonprofits who are better at doing that service. This gives us a broader perspective and allows us to have more resources in working with our clients. Second, we follow our clients for a much longer period. We know that the children are breaking the cycle of homelessness – we are witnessing former homeless children in our programs now going to college! We treat our clients as extended family.
I believe that the foundation’s annual report is as important as the grant guidelines. It gives you a better picture of where they put their community dollars, volunteers, etc.
David: Indeed, thank you for calling that out. That is why we have started providing links to annual reports on our grantmaker profile pages as we find them. Those have more current information than the IRS 990s. It’s definitely worth our Members’ time to review those annual reports.
What are some challenges you are noticing in grantseeking these days?
Maria: The limitations for online grant submissions can be challenging when it comes to explaining what your organization provides, what you offer, and the results or outcomes of your services. While you don’t want to eat up the word count on comparisons, sometimes you have to sacrifice that space to show the potential funder that you are working in the same area as others they’ve funded, and that you are not working alone or in a bubble.
David: So even with the limited space of a grant application, it is still worthwhile making those comparisons to others serving in the same space.
Maria: I would like to say that most grant applications are tricky! You have to be determined and be smart on how you respond to the information requested. It is not enough to toot your horn – you have to know your competitors, whom grantmakers have funded, make the comparison, and find that one element that makes them want to give to you.
David: That is some solid advice, Maria. Any final tips you can share with our readers?
Maria: I will say one more thing: grantmakers look at websites. I am guilty of not updating mine and keeping it fresh. I would love it if GrantStation could provide more training on how to keep us up front and center in the media world.
David: Okay, you just gave me an idea for another education module! We love input from our Members on that front. And we love their insights, and you have given us many. Thank you so much for sharing!
Action steps you can take today
- Review the annual reports from the grantmakers that you are researching. Many grantmakers post them on their website.
- Perform an analysis of other organizations in your area working in similar spaces so that you are ready to speak to the similarities and differences.
ABOUT MARIA MACHADO
Maria has been a grants professional for 34 years at Shared Housing Center, Inc. of Dallas, TX. It is a 35-year-old agency serving the homeless population, including special programs for children. Maria is the Executive Director. She has previously worked for the City of San Antonio in program administration and implementation, and started her work as a grant writer for a national organization for Hispanic programs as a procurement officer.