Recently, my son applied for a scholarship. On the questionnaire he had to fill out, he was asked why he thought he was more deserving than other students to receive this financial gift.

We struggled with that question, more than any of the others, because we both know that there is always someone more “deserving” of a gift than we are. There are people who get better grades, there are people who do more community service, there are people who have a more tragic story.

We ended up saying something to the effect that we didn’t know if he was the most deserving applicant, but that if the committee chose to award the gift to my son, he would promise to honor that decision by showing his sincere appreciation through his actions. That means working his hardest, giving his best effort, sharing his gifts with others the best he could, and so on. He would truly honor the spirit of the award.

All this got me wondering about how non-profit organizations position themselves when competing for grants.

Is it really about showing why your non-profit is the most deserving?

I used to work for a non-profit summer camp. We applied for many foundation grants. But our campers were mainly from the suburbs, indicating a certain socio-economic status. Of course, we did offer a scholarship program ourselves and awarded thousands of dollars of tuition aid each year, but there were other camps that had more of a reputation of serving either the inner-city or the rural poor. So, were they more deserving of a grant than we were? Would our camp have been more deserving than a non-profit program that taught upper middle class kids how to yacht? Or horse jumping?

What does “deserving” really mean? I’m trying to think of the most “deserving” charities in existence. I think a battered women’s center would be right up there. So too would a treatment program for babies born addicted to drugs. I’m sure that you could come up with a few more that are this rock-bottom deserving.

But does that mean that these kinds of non-profits should be the only groups ever to receive a donation? Of course not.

So, what then, should deserving actually mean? I think that it’s important for us to really understand this word, if we are in the business of both receiving and making grants. Should “deserving” be defined as the result of something bad that has happened to you and therefore you are in a disadvantaged situation? Or, should it mean that you have a proven track record of making the most of what you have been given? Or is it something else?

I’d like to know what you think. Please share your thoughts with us in your comment section.

Photo by: kevinspencer

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Posted on 26 May 2011

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