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The Chameleon Proposal: Leveraging Project Support for Operating Priorities


At some point, every grant writer, nonprofit leader, and program director wonders: Why do funders prefer to fund innovation and new initiatives? Why can't they just fund what we do already? Grant professionals often find themselves fielding tempting RFPs, offering large multi-year commitments - with one big caveat: innovation required.
For even the most courageous nonprofits, innovation appears at best, intimidating, at worst, impossible. Where money, people, and infrastructure are limited or under pressure, finding the bandwidth to try new things is tricky. Getting buy-in for new initiatives from program staff and leadership takes time - and deadlines loom large.
What if you could secure support for your organization's strategic priorities, needs, and ongoing activities AND innovate? With the right inputs and tools and an adaptive approach to your proposal writing, it is possible to develop a compelling new initiative that will also support core operating priorities.
As a chameleon adapts to match the environment, successful project proposals adapt the organization's mission and strategic goals to match the funder's RFP objectives. As a chameleon under its camouflage remains the same animal, an effective project proposal must serve the organization's core activities. While the narrative adapts, the mission remains the same. 
Drawing on real-world examples, session participants will learn practical tips and strategies for:
1. Planning for Innovation. Collaborate with program staff to identify pain points, needs, and wish lists before the RFP arrives.
2. Building an Innovation Toolkit. Create and keep current, a vision for the future (strategic plan, theory of change, thought leadership).
3. Adapting to New Environments. Tailor the case for support, understand the competitive landscape, nudge change, and learn to speak new languages.
4. Preparing for Innovation. Leverage existing resources and budget for complementary partners, technology, and tool
GPC Competencies Addressed:
How to craft, construct, and submit an effective grant application 
Strategies for effective program and project design and development 
How to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Kerri Kilbane is Assistant Director, Foundation Relations for Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, where she leads grant development for national arts and education programs. Her experience includes annual and leadership giving, corporate relations, and donor communications in advocacy, healthcare, education, and the arts. Kerri previously worked as a banker and business development officer for Chase and Citi. She has served on several boards in community health and arts organizations.