Reader Question: Starting a new program and convincing foundations to fund?

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I recently did a session on Programs: Developing, Managing, and Evaluating for the Emerging Nonprofit Leadership Network and I was asked a question by a participant about starting a new program. The participant was wondering how does convince a foundation to fund a new program when you have never done it before, and therefore don’t have evaluations showing it was effective?

This question surprised me because I thought most would know the answer, but I found that many at nonprofits were wondering this same thing. The answer is research. You should rarely, if ever, start a new program without research supporting your intervention. So, what if no one has ever done what you want to do – or someone has done it, but there isn’t research supporting it yet? Well, then you find research supporting components of the program.

I’ll take an easy example, say you want to start a program where 10th graders become tutors and mentors for at-risk 6th graders to help them improve academic achievement. Sure, there might not be research on that specific program, but you should definitely be able to find research on whether mentoring is effective, at what ages mentoring has been effective, what research has found to be successful interventions for academic achievement, research on causes for low achievement for at-risk youth, etc. Using this research you should be able to build a case to support the program you want to do.

So, what if you can’t find research or research does not support what you want to do? If you can’t find research to support any component of your program in any way, then it probably isn’t the best choice. If you find research but it doesn’t support your approach – then figure out why and think of ways you can address that.

Where do you find this research? Online, articles, journals, etc. Personally, I use Google Scholar when searching for articles, but you can also use local libraries to access journals and books. Also keep in mind if you find a good article that fits what you are looking for, look at the citations and who the author cited. It is more likely than not you will find a bunch more support or useful information that will help build your case!

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