June 25th, 2024

An Inside Look: The Lifecycle of a Grant Cycle

The Community Foundation of Tompkins County plays a pivotal role in supporting our local mission-aligned organizations and community initiatives. We are honored and proud to support the community that we love and cherish. We want to take a moment to express our heartfelt gratitude for the incredible work each organization does within our community. Their dedication, passion, and tireless efforts are truly inspiring, and they make a profound difference in the lives of so many. We recognize and value the immense impact of the initiatives and programs provided. This spring cycle, we celebrated 74 organizations through 115 grants, totaling $506,750! Have you ever wondered what it takes to hold a grant cycle? Well, here it is! 

  1. Pre-Application Phase

The grant cycle begins with thorough planning and preparation. We announce grant opportunities on our website and through community outreach. During this phase, organizations are always welcome to meet with staff to determine eligibility and learn more about the application process. There is also an information session and a grant writing workshop available. 

  1. Application Submission

We understand that the grant application process can be challenging, competitive, stressful…among other things. That is why we offer many resources to help support organizations along the way. Resources include a grant writing workshop and drop-in office hours. Our one-on-one grant consultations were the biggest hit: Here is what one participant had to say about it:  

“I participated in this resource because I am new to writing grants and I wanted to learn as much as I could about what makes a good application. I had so much access to sound advice. Gloria is a person I trust. I am aiming for full funding, and I respect and appreciate her perspectives in hopes that full funding is granted. I appreciated most the accessibility to sound information and expertise of the individual’s sharing info.” 

This phase involves assistance with development of the application, confirming eligibility, securing a fiscal sponsor, etc: 

We acknowledge the exceptional quality of submissions we receive. The level of creativity, innovation, and thoughtfulness demonstrated is truly remarkable. At the same time, we recognize the difficulty of our position of power. As with every cycle, we receive high quality applications which make our funding decisions undoubtedly tough. The need always far exceeds our capacity for grantmaking. This has always been our challenge to navigate, and we do our absolute best to be fair, equitable, and respectful while adhering to our guidelines, values, and philanthropic mission. 

  1. Review Process

After submission, the foundation’s review process begins: After a complete ‘due diligence’ process, the review begins! Grant review teams, composed of community volunteers (like you and me), evaluate the proposals based on a socially just and equitable scoring rubric. Criteria such as impact, feasibility, and alignment with our mission is key.  

Our grant review team process goes beyond engagement. We collaborate with you; we enable you to participate in the planning and decision-making process as members of a grant review team. You are a key, active, and present player to build social capital across our community. Our review teams represent our community’s demographic characteristics. Here is what Amber Ward of Tompkins Financial had to say about her experience:

As a first-time reviewer truthfully, it felt overwhelming at first, but I knew in the long-run this all had a purpose. I understood the need to be versed and I appreciated the thoroughness of your communication. Some resources I could gage the significance right away, like the attention to introduce all reviewers to un-biased trainings and guidance on appropriate language and feedback. It is imperative that we view all individuals, organizations, etc. with the same amount of care and empathy, and prepping everyone with training materials, group check-in and forums is a great way to do so. I appreciated seeing other takeaways. 

But the levity of why your grant process was created the way it is did not truly come to fruition until I started to connect with people. You give the opportunity for reviewers to build community in so many ways, it is difficult not to learn and grow as an individual during this experience. Speaking with our lead orgs was my “Ah Ha” moment, and I wish we as funders did that more. I felt a certain sense of comradery and genuine joy when listening to other stories and what they are passionate about. I had some great conversations with individuals that I would not have had the pleasure of connecting with if not for this experience, and it was fascinating to see how these organizations play a role in the overall goal of supporting those in need. And once you join your review group and share, you learn so much about a community you call home. I have been a part of Tompkins County for 8 years, and through this review process I’ve realized that the depth of good work and efforts for sustainable change done by people in our community is bigger than anyone could know without this experience. And each group only reviews a chunk of applications! 

All this to say, this kind of attention to detail, relationship building, and cultivated experience does not come to fruition overnight. It is extremely evident how much time, effort, and care the Community Foundation has put into the community and people they serve, and that you will do everything in your power to provide equitable and intentional support. 

While I wish I could have provided more engage and focus (due to my need to prioritize other external engagements) during my time as a reviewer, I am truly grateful for the opportunity and experience, and hope to be a part of the review process in the future when I am able.” 

  1. Decision Making

The most difficult part of this process is arriving at final funding decisions that are fair, equitable, transparent, and that we feel good about. We take our time and do as many iterations as we need to until it is right. We consider many factors such as amount requested, overall application scores, review team scores, and other DEI principles. We understand that building an organizational culture around DEI is an ongoing process. Sharing what we learn along the way is a priority for us. At a fundamental level, we want to prevent harm from happening and redress harm when it occurs. Our grantees know we are serious about our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year, we prioritized BIPOC-led organizations and supported every single one that applied at an appropriate level. 

  1. Post-Award Phase

Once grants are awarded, the post-award phase includes less exciting things like grant agreements and grant reports. We see and recognize the value of our community organizations. We remain committed to supporting and uplifting them in any way we can, outside of grants. After the grant cycle, we offer an opportunity to sign up for a capacity-building consultation with staff to learn how we can better support organizations outside of a grant cycle request and going beyond a check. Additionally, our review teams provide feedback to applicants to help improve future applications and program implementation. 

Our grant awards reverberate far beyond the organizations we serve, and we are honored to stand alongside them in our shared pursuit of a stronger, more vibrant community. Won’t you join us in this process and be on a review team? Contact Gloria Coicou at