The Grant Secrets T Shirt Project: How Did The Winners of The NPCC 2015 Nonprofit Excellence Awards Get To The Top?


6 finalists, neck to neck in their scores.

40 grant reviewers, wedged shoulder to shoulder around the table balancing coffee cups on a sea of paper.

And from the head of the table, our esteemed Selection Committee Chair, representatives from The New York Commnunity Trust, Philanthropy New York and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York gazing around the room with one eye on the clock.

We are a mixed crew of people who bring a wide range of expertise to this grant review process that drills down into 8 key areas of nonprofit excellence and, at the end of this day, will decide who the top 3 2015 nonprofit winners are.

At this stage of the game, the finalists have clearly set themselves apart and have demonstrated excellence above the rest of the applicant pool.

Contrary to popular belief, budget size, age and size of an organization has little to do with being an excellent nonprofit.

This group had budgets ranging from $1M to $117M.

Some were founded as far back as 1869 and as recently as 2009.

Some had 0 volunteers, others had over 14,000 volunteers.


Well, what about their management strengths?

Enlightened use of human resources?  

Well, of course!


Strong, transparent financial management?

Who doesn’t?



That, too.


Diverse, culturally competent and responsive?

Let’s just say there’s room for improvement for all.


Effective communication strategy?

Par for course…


How then, do you elbow your way to the top of such a close and competitive group?


Some of you may be thinking this is really like squeezing blood from a rock after putting such a tremendous effort in just being excellent enough to get into the finalist pool.

What else could you possibly do?


People say that when a language fades, its people speak in poetry.


In some ways this is true when there is nothing more that can be said but needs to be communicated.

So after many conversations over a long grant review process spanning many months, my fellow selection committee members and I found ourselves squeezed around a table and pressed for words and finally erupting in metaphors and sound bytes in an attempt to grasp that elusive winning quality.


From this year’s pool of finalists, here are the ones I remember:



There ARE other potatoes in the bin…

The insight here: Avoid arrogance in presentation. Deadly.

Let’s grow the sector

The insight here: Have a vision that is bigger than you and your organization


Comfortable with being uncomfortable

The insight here: Being transparent is part of honest leadership

Are you punching above your weight?

The insight here: Lift as you climb


The insight here: This is a quality that truly illuminates your humanity

Passion maintenance

The insight here is: Not sure how you do this but I like this as an organizational priority


Thought diversity

The insight here: Value creative dissension – I call it brain diversity – as well as all of the usual suspects, race, sex, gender, age… in your mix


Hire hard or manage hard

The insight here: Focus first on thoughtful talent selection

Create conversations

The insight here: How do you differentiate yourself? This is how one group defined true branding





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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.




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