Look outside the box: Tap into all your region’s expertise to develop a successful global grant

By Karen Parkhurst, member of the Victor-Farmington Rotary Club and District Resource Network, District 7120 (New York, United States)

For the past four years, I’ve served as a global grant advisor in District 7120’s Resource Network (DRN). I’ve had the opportunity to not only mentor club members in my own district, but other clubs in Zone 32 as well. In 2019, my District International Service Chair (DISC), Bill Gormont, invited me to share my first-hand experience as a panelist during the Zone 32 DISC meeting in Niagara Falls, Canada. There, I was able to share my experience from writing and managing four global grants in Nicaragua and helping develop the application for one in Paraguay.

During the meeting, I met Dr. Sung Lee from the East Lansing Michigan Rotary Club in District 6360.  Lee mentioned to me that his club had never done a global grant and that his district consistently has district designated funds (DDF) remaining at the end of the Rotary year. So, I encouraged him to pursue a global grant to support a club project and offered my help.

A year later, Lee took me up on my offer and sent me an outline of a US $265,000 project in Ghana. This was too large for a global grant, so I encouraged him to scale it down and contact a Rotary Regional Grants officer for advice. To my surprise, he contacted me a short time later to say he was giving up – he couldn’t raise the money needed, and it was just too complicated.

I told him he absolutely should not give up. Instead, he could focus on a smaller portion of the project for a grant application. After consulting with the local partner clubs in Ghana who work closely with the community members, they identified a smaller scope project. He then sent me a US $45,000 outline to review.  

The revised grant involved working with women to establish a method to provide sustenance for their family and to bring their product to market. The grant, though relatively small, was complex. I helped them word their grant activities and let them know what pieces are absolutely needed for a successful application – such as a strongly written needs assessment led by the local community and an achievable training program. Lee, his co-lead Rotarians in Ghana, and their team jumped in and put together an engaging application.

I recommended that Lee ask his district for DDF, and his district immediately allocated $15,000 to his project. At that time, DDF was matched dollar-per-dollar, so his club only needed to raise the remaining $15,000 – a more doable amount. I helped them develop a presentation to ask for support from other clubs and helped their club Foundation chair and treasurer collect the funds, figure out the administrative fee, and send the money to The Rotary Foundation.

Throughout the process of working on a grant, I always recommend passion. Passion is the driving force behind any project. Develop a passion for this work and you will succeed. And this East Lansing Michigan club did succeed. The grant was submitted in February 2021, was approved by The Rotary Foundation in April 2021, and is currently moving forward in Ghana. Lee is currently serving as DISC, in the first year of his term. With his club’s first global grant under his belt, he’s gained valuable experience and is on his way to motivating even more clubs in District 6360 to participate in global grants.

There are so many people out there that can help your club design more impactful projects. The District Resource Network, a group of mentors with expertise in project planning, Rotary’s areas of focus, and Rotary grants, is a great place to start. This network is what you make it, the people you contact, the experts you already know. Start with your District International Service Chair (DISC) and your District Rotary Foundation Chair (DRFC). Talk to Rotary members who have been to other countries – Friendship Exchange participants, Peace Fellows, former Youth Exchange students. You can even work with local businesses, research firms, or colleges and universities.

And if you find a resource in another district, use it! I am a member of District 7120’s District Resource Network, but it has always been my goal to give help wherever it is needed. Even though the East Lansing Michigan Rotary Club is in another district, I was glad to lend my expertise to help make their project a reality. So next time you are working on a project, don’t be afraid to look and think outside the box, or in this case, district.

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