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Grant Development and Decision-Making: Comparison of Funding Agencies and Community-Based Minority Organizations

Research to Practice 17

Originally published: 5/1998

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Our nation's growing diversity prescribes that services for individuals with disabilities who are also members of diverse cultures be more culturally responsive. However, racial and ethnic minorities still remain outside the perimeters of service provision and leadership. Although national and state initiatives have been implemented to dispel these barriers, progressive systems change requires a comprehensive, cooperative endeavor, which is being addressed by the Capacity Interchange Project.

The Capacity Interchange Project is a training and technical assistance project funded through the US Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), in collaboration with Latino Health Institute, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, and Evaluation Family Counseling, Haitians and Minorities, Inc., began the 3-year project in September, 1996. The project focuses on two main goals to increase services to individuals with disabilities from diverse cultural backgrounds:

  1. To build capacity of minority agencies to obtain state and federal funding.
  2. To change policy and practices within and between funding and minority agencies that result in culturally responsive information dissemination and service provision.

This report compares the perspectives of funding agencies and community-based minority organizations (CBMOs) on the grant development and decision-making process. Also included are recommendations for how these two groups can more effectively work together in the funding process.


A survey was developed to represent a systematic effort to identify needs in existing grant development and service capacity as well as to collect information on existing practices.

Surveys were sent to CBMOs along with Massachusetts state funding agencies and federal funding agencies (e.g. Department of Mental Retardation, Rehabilitation Services Administration). CBMOs were defined as non-profit or for-profit organizations that serve under-represented populations from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds and/or predominantly owned, managed, or staffed by individuals from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds. These findings represent the 41 responses received from funding agencies and 81 responses received from CBMOs.


1. Funding Opportunities

Funding agencies were asked how they share information on the availability of funds while CBMOs were asked how they learn about these funds. Findings indicated that:

2. Successful Grants

To increase the number of grants awarded to CBMOs, both funding agencies and CBMOs need to have a common understanding of what is needed for a successful proposal. Personnel from both parties were asked to give their opinions on which factors determine whether a grant proposal is awarded or rejected. Table 1 lists the five most frequently reported characteristics of successful and unsuccessful grants by both CBMOs and funding agencies. As seen in the table:

Table 1.1: Characteristics of Successful Grants

In successful grants, the Funding Agency Characteristics are: consistent with funder's mission - addresses significant problem - clear statement of problem - realistic time frame - adherence to funder's policies. The CBMO's characteristics are: adherence to funder's policies - consistent with funder's mission - reputation in community - administrative and fiscal stability - understanding of the funder's mandate.

Table 1.2 Characteristics of Unsuccessful Grants

The Funding Agency Characteristics are: objectives not measurable-inappropriate method of addressing the problem-no track record-methods do not suit scope of the problem - no evaluation plan. The CBMO characteristics are: staffing, evaluation (listed as "other" on survey) - objectives not measurable - community not involved in planning - unrealistic time frame - no track record.

3. Efforts to Expand Capacities

The questionnaire asked funding agencies and CBMOs which strategies their organizations employ to assist CBMOs in building capacities. Both parties emphasized the importance of bidders' conferences. In addition, funding agencies reported that points for minority status are awarded in the review process. Funding agencies also provide examples of successful proposals upon request. CBMOs reported attending presentations on serving diverse cultural groups and collaborating on proposals with other organizations. It is interesting to note that the capacity building strategies employed by funding agencies and CBMOs represent different themes. The strategies reported by funding agencies are not interactive in that organizations gain points for their minority status or have the responsibility to request successful proposals. In contrast, CBMOs emphasize collaboration and relationship-building with other agencies and the community.


Survey findings suggest that while there is some agreement on how information on funding opportunities are shared, what makes a successful proposal, and ways to enhance grant development capacities, there are also ways in which funding agencies and CBMOs differ from one another. For example, funding agencies emphasize technological methods for disseminating information while CBMOs report a significant deficit in internet and computer resources. It appears that CBMOs currently use more interactive approaches to capacity building. CBMOs see community and relationship building as integral to the grant development process. In order for funding agencies to be effective in reaching CBMOs and in order for CBMOs to be more successful in the funding process, both parties should consider the following recommendations:

  1. Be aware of and use all available mechanisms to learn about or publicize funding opportunities: Despite the appeal of computerized dissemination, limited resources mean limited access for many organizations, so funding agencies should use multiple strategies for disseminating funding opportunities. Similarly, CBMOs should become aware of and use the bulletins and publications that are available to the public.
  2. Grant development and decision-making should consider both the written quality as well as collaborative relationships in the proposals: CBMOs are obligated to produce a procedurally clear and high quality proposal. However, funding agencies should recognize that sharing resources and collaborating with other organizations can build capacities and enhance the quality of the proposal.
  3. Capacity-building efforts should include systems change to bring funding agencies and CBMOs together: CBMO conferences and competition-specific technical assistance are useful but limited. Long term capacity building involves relationship building, multi-stakeholder involvement in the development of standards, and opportunities to expand skills and resources.


This brief reflects the contributions of staff at the Institute for Community Inclusion, in particular Rooshey Hasnain and Cindy Thomas, as well as Margaret Van Gelder of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation.

For more information on The Capacity Interchange Project, please contact Paula Sotnik, Program Director: 617-287-4300, 617-287-4350 (TTY), paula.sotnik@umb.edu

Institute for Community Inclusion (UCEDD)
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Promoting Employment
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125

This project was supported, in part, through cooperative agreement CFDA #84315A with the Rehabilitation Services Administration. The opinions contained in this article are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities