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What do funders want?


Scoutby Scout, Ph.D.
Director, Network for LGBT Health Equity
At The Fenway Institute

Lessons Grow as Disparity Networks in Minnesota Collaborate Over Years

Pakou, Sarah, and Ditra giving us the inside line

Today I’m in an brightly painted basement room underneath an old Sears Corporation midcentury “skyscraper” – listening in on an interesting microcosm of how the world has changed and picking up a big nuggets of wisdom en route.

The skyscraper above me used to be a magnet for consumers all around Minneapolis, now it’s been repurposed as a thriving mélange of restaurants and vendors representing cultures spanning the globe. Underneath this “Global Market”, the diverse tobacco and disparity networks working in Minnesota are gathering today to consider sustainability.

There is much to tell from the lessons we’ve learned in our long journey together. Most of us have worked together for four years, and reps from half of the national tobacco disparity networks are part of the technical assistance team helping support the four local disparity networks.

I’ll write more on this collaboration over time, but today let me focus on the chewy lessons just shared about what funders really want.

3 Funders Break It Down For Us

“Let me tell you a story” says Sarah Senseman, Program Manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Center for Prevention, the funder of these networks. “I go to other funders and I start telling them about all the good work you’re doing. You’ve gone to this event, you’ve built that new partnership — and they just stop me ‘Yes, so how many policies have been changed?'” Sarah cautions it’s not always that stark, but in her experience, “Grantees often don’t understand how much it’s all about outcomes.”

Pakou Hang, one of the new breed of external consultants funders turn to to manage portfolios, sums it up, “What are funders interested in? They are really interested in impact. What has your project changed?”

Yes, like so many of us, the Minnesota health disparity networks have lived through the recent evolution to prioritize policy changes. But this message is about any project goal. Many steps are taken en route to the changes that funders want. The point is – for a funder, these steps aren’t very valuable unless you’ve hit the final goal.

Ditra Edwards, a project director for the Praxis Project, brings up one more important point “You are the only one who can tell your own story well. You need to take control of that story.” Sarah adds “Don’t be limited by what the funder asks for in reporting, consider what you want them to know. If you are doing a process step, something that builds towards your goal, talk about how it relates to that goal directly. Don’t report ‘we educated 500 people’, instead report ‘we added 500 people to our mobilization list by educating them about our disparities.’ Again, you are the experts.”

So above all – keep that project goal in mind and ask yourself if you’re telling your most important story to your funder. Are you just telling them you’re working hard, or are you really giving them the news of the impacts they care about?

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