I know you've heard me talk about the Causality Brand Grant before. In case you missed it, let me refresh your memory. Causality offers full (pro bono) and matching (partial, funding requirement of 50%) service grants to help nonprofits have access to their services at no or low cost. "Causality can help you build your “toolbox” of dynamic and sustainable communications elements and empower you to use them—elevating your brand and enhancing your ability to serve."
Check out my interview with Terri Gaines, President of Causality.
Can you tell me about your organization?
My husband Steve and I started a small branding firm in the late 90s and grew it to an award-winning advertising agency with a staff of 15+. We had clients large and small, from insurance to banking to small businesses and we were very successful.
Over time, we found that our work for nonprofits was the work that we enjoyed most. In 2009, we rebranded to Causality to work exclusively with nonprofits and good causes. We have a core staff of designers and web developers who have been with us since the early days who all embrace our mission. We are grateful to be able to do our part to help make a difference. It is the motivation behind our tag line: Do good, help others, go home happy.
In the 10 years we've been Causality, we’ve also added government agencies and education clients to the mix. We found that their needs and our solutions are very similar to those of nonprofits.
We now provide our branding, marketing, graphic design and web site design services exclusively for nonprofits, government agencies and education clients across the U.S.
Where did the idea for a service grant come from?
Even before we were Causality we had always done pro bono work whenever we could. We found that much of our pro bono work was repeat work. It’s great to develop long term relationships, that’s very important to us, but we also wanted a means to offer our pro bono services to a more diverse audience of nonprofits and to contribute to help solve their branding challenges.
Shortly after we rebranded to Causality, we launched the first Brand Grant offering Full Grants to qualifying nonprofits through an application process. We received 50 applications that first time and we awarded two pro bono projects. We continued by doing this twice a year.
During that first year, we received input from medium to larger organizations who were interested in the program but felt they their needs were different from those of the smaller nonprofits. They typically had some level of funding or the capacity to raise funding for certain projects but were looking ways to extend that funding. In 2011, we added the Matching Grant program which is a partial pro bono grant.
Through the Matching Grant, organizations can receive a project with a 50% reduction in cost. When a Matching Grant is awarded, we discuss the project and put together a proposal that details the project, the deliverables and the full cost for the project. We apply the 50% reduction for the pro bono portion of the Matching Grant and the remaining balance is what is required from the organization to proceed with the project.
Over time, both grant options have become very popular. We now offer the grant four times a year and receive an average of 100 applications, awarding 2-3 full grants and 6+ matching grants each quarter.
Can you tell me about one of your most recent projects?
Rebranding Crisis Clinic is one of our recent favorites. They had been Crisis Clinic since 1964 and had a longstanding history and excellent reputation in the community. However, their 20 year old brand was becoming increasingly irrelevant. The logo had a rotary dial phone and the word “clinic” was being use to describe phone and online services.
Over time, Crisis Clinic’s programs and services evolved and expanded to better meet the needs of people living in Seattle and the surrounding areas. This included the role that smartphones and text messages have in communication.
We dug in and conducted a brand assessment of their Board of Trustees, staff, volunteers and greater community to learn what the perception of their role was in the community. Common key words that people chose were “connector” and “connections.” We initiated the name change to Crisis Connections and visually represented connections with the hand and device forming a heart. This new branding better supports their mission and embraces the ways people connect.
What are three tips for submitting a strong application?
- Always have a compelling challenge related to branding. The last and most important question asks what branding or communications challenge your organization faces. For example: Is there a stigma surrounding the work you do or the people you serve? Is your organization being confused with another or is your mission being misunderstood? Do you lack awareness in your community? Lack of funding or shortage of staff is not considered a compelling challenge for this grant, it needs to be something branding or communications related so that we can envision a solution with the services we provide.
- Be sure to ask for projects that fall under our areas of expertise. The Causality Brand Grant is not a funding grant, but rather a services grant providing branding, marketing graphic design and web site services. We don’t fund supplies or vehicles or other tangible items (we’ve been asked for a van!). The grant also does not cover hard costs such as the cost to print materials. However, just about any branding or communications service is included.
- Be specific about your project. When we evaluate grant applications each cycle, we work to align requests with our predicted capacity for the next three months. It is helpful to know “project specific” details. If your request is for “marketing materials” it is helpful to quantify this as “a series of four program brochures and a pocket folder” so that we can have a good idea of scope. It helps us to not under or over estimate the projects we award that quarter. To be fair, we realize that sometimes, an organization may not know what they need and could benefit from consultation towards identifying needs. That is a valid project request, as well.
Should an applicant only ask for one service?
An applicant may ask for one or more services. It is helpful for us to know the breadth of the needs. We do ask that the organization identify each project and list them in priority order. As mentioned above, when we evaluate grant applications we work to align requests with our predicted capacity for the next three months. So if we have a finalist organization whose first item is something we won’t have capacity to handle, we can move down to the next item in the list to make the award happen.
If awarded a grant, what are the obligations of the recipients? The obligations are really no different from any other type of project engagement. We consider these to be highly collaborative projects where we partner with each client to work towards a mutual solution/result. We ask that we have a consistent point of contact within the organization, that the organization is responsive to requests for feedback, content or any other needs and we ask that once we begin a project that the organization commits to maintaining a reasonable project pace. These are really essential to any successful project.
Is there anything else we should know about the grant process?
It’s a very competitive process. We receive so many applications from great organizations who have interesting projects and compelling challenges. But as a smaller firm, we just don’t have the capacity to award more at this time. We know it can be discouraging to apply and be turned down. Making cuts is the hardest part of the process for us.
We do encourage folks to reapply and are happy to provide feedback on an application. We also keep the questions the same each time to make it easier to reapply. This grant was designed to be accessible for organizations that may not have a grant writer or whose staff may be stretched thin.
To apply for the Causality Brand Grant, click the link to review upcoming deadlines.