Grant writing experiment
After determining that we wanted to try out fundraising, we did some research to determine which type was the best.
The trick was to find a form of fundraising that would not interfere with the charity's existing donor base, could be done as an independent organization, and had a high return on investment.
Grant writing was the ideal fit. It could be done completely independently from the charities we were supporting and had one of the highest returns on investment around.
According to our research, grant writing on average raised $8 for every dollar invested. This was pretty exciting.
However, things were far from perfect. There were some issues with this research. For example, there was a strong possibility of survivorship bias. The grant writers involved in the study only came from relatively large organizations. It's possible that there were plenty of unsuccessful grant writers who never participated in the study.
Given the promising yet inconclusive evidence, we decided the only way to tell whether grant writing was truly effective was to put it to the test. You can find more information on why we chose to experiment with grant writing here and see our shallow review of grant writing here.
Following the Lean Startup philosophy, we ran the experiment as a bare bones model on a shoestring budget.
From a small house in Oxford, we, with the help of our wonderful team of volunteers and donors, applied for dozens of grants over a period of 6 months.
We applied on behalf of top recommended charities from GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators. These charities were the Against Malaria Foundation and The Humane League respectively. See here for our rationale for choosing these particular charities.
We mainly targeted private foundations, but did apply for a single government grant. The full cost of running the experiment was $7,000. We published monthly updates so that both the charities and others could see our progress in detail.
Our hypothesis was that independently helping effective charities with grant writing could be an effective way to get them more funding. We aimed to raise $25,000 over 6 months for highly effective charities.
We set this as a hypothesis before running the experiment. We did this to make sure that we would not come up with rationalizations for negative results later on.
In 6 months we raised $10,000 of grant money and $240,000 of Google adwords grants. We were only successful in 1 out of the 31 grants we sent off, although we did find a useful way of helping charities by getting them Google Grants.
While this technically met our $25,000 goal, we did not count the Google Grants. They are a unique type of grant with very low rejection rates, so they cannot be used to infer future grant success.
Our full and detailed 6 month review is available here.
This experiment was not a success and we currently think it's more effective to test out other fundraising methods. However, we do think it's possible that grant writing could be effective in different circumstances. Our more detailed conclusions are available here.
Progress on grants