A Grant Proposal Isn’t An Investment Pitch

Last week Vu Le made a tweet that revealed a very troubling picture of corporations misunderstanding how non-profits operate and work that they do. This seems to be the “non-profits should be run like a business” taken to the extreme.

The goal of Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Mental Health grant program is to:

“…specifically addresses the lack of both private and public investment in children’s mental health and of effective ways to connect innovative ideas with capital.

The resulting systemic funding gap has only increased with the deepening crisis in children’s mental health due to COVID-19 and ongoing social injustice issues.”

That sounds like it is a mix of a venture capital opportunity and a grant program. They do specifically say they applicants can receive up to $100,000 in grants, but as Vu Le notes, they also have to spend six weeks working on their pitches:

Early October: Finalists announced; six-week program commences, during which finalists learn from industry experts, enhance their proposals and develop their pitches.

Which makes it sound like applicants will be judged on the slickness of presentation rather than on quality of their solutions.

I do think a lot of organizations suffer from not having access to a skilled grant writer and can benefit from help and coaching, but that isn’t a problem it takes six weeks to solve.

While the program acknowledges there is a “systemic funding gap,” since there is no guarantee of funding, the only groups that can afford to invest time in generating innovative approaches to mental health services and have staff attend six weeks of pitch coaching are those who are already well-resourced enough to absorb that cost. Those at the other end of the funding gap will have had to make a heroic superheroic effort and leap of faith just to submit to the first round.

I will say that despite all the focus on new, innovative ideas, I didn’t see anything that disqualified existing programs as Vu Le’s post suggests. There is a question about whether the program is a new pilot or an existing program, but immediately follows asking how it is innovative and transformative. Pretty much every other description of the ideas they are looking for indicates a bias toward brand new rather than under recognized and underfunded.

I could hold forth at length about all the problematic dynamics operating here, but want avoid having casual readers tune out and move on. A lot of the language from the commercial sector has been creeping into non-profits and this grant program is really replete with it. The fact there is so much money at stake is sure to influence the vocabulary used by non-profit organizations going forward.

A few months back I had tweeted about my discomfort with the use of “deliverables” in the non-profit because so much of the work done does not result in discrete commodities. I think it is even less appropriate to be applying that concept and attendant time lines to addressing mental health.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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