The Mittenthal Principle – Too Complicated For the Average Grantmaker?

Program delivery and organization capacity building together? A reader suggests my Mittenthal principle is perhaps too complicated for the average grant maker, or the average nonprofit applicant.  I don’t think so.  True, it asks the applicant to focus on two things: on how best to deliver a valuable service to its constituents, and also on how to ratchet up the capabilities of its organization at the same time.  Developing these simultaneously actually saves both the applicant and the grantmaker time and energy, and allows it to put the organization on a firmer footing.

Consider a charity that provides hot meals.  Maybe it could design a project that not only provides hot meals but also, in the process of developing this project, allows it to create stronger connections with local food sources it didn’t have before, that can be drawn on in the future.  Or maybe it could be done in ways that give it another card to play in its communications and fund-raising efforts, or its board development efforts.  These “outcomes” strengthen the organization above and beyond what a simple grant to provide hot meals in its usual way achieves.

Or consider an advocacy organization that wants to grade its state legislature’s work – creating a legislative report card while at the same time using the grant to train legislative aides, to attract new donors who care about legislative issues, and to create stronger advocacy efforts.  Such a grant yields much greater benefit per charitable dollar spent.

The Mittenthal principle encourages grantmakers to coax multiple benefits from their grants and grantees, and helps grow the organizational capacities of the nonprofits it cares about.

A project that delivers something important can be designed to strengthen at least one of these important organizational capacities:

  • Increasing board and/or staff skills
  • Creating efficiencies in program or financial administration
  • Raising financial or political capital
  • Strengthening connections with allied organizations or agencies
  • Communications with key stakeholders
  • Positioning and marketing the organization

Maybe we could host a competition, the next version of Effective Communities Project‘s  Effies (TM) Award for Effective Philanthropic Practice.  We could award prizes to organizations that maximize organizational gains from a single grant.  The most organizational strengthening from a project grant gets first prize.  If someone would step up with prize money, we could award more than just publicity to notable efforts.