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Identifying High Potential Grantees

Since 2019, Gitcoin Grants has empowered communities to fund the projects and initiatives they care about. To date, we've helped fund over 3,715 unique, ambitious projects and championed public goods with our community of 270,000+ donors. One often overlooked aspect of the process? Grantees! In this article, we’ll cover certain qualities that help potential grantees stand out during a round. As a program manager, you might be asking: what makes a grantee profile shine in a sea of applications? Or, what's the magic formula when reviewing these applications for a grants round?

Before opening your round for applications, creating an application process that's inviting yet comprehensive is crucial. It should be designed to encourage early-stage builders to apply, yet rigorous enough to weed out low-quality projects. Once you've refined your application process, you'll start to see the top-notch grantees roll in.

Now, let’s delve into some of the key insights from our own grants program team here at Gitcoin, who've been in the trenches with grantees and are the heartbeat of the review process. Here are a few thought starters along with noteworthy qualities they’ve observed to help you identify stellar grantees that stand out from the crowd:

A Perfect Puzzle Piece

  • What is the purpose of your grants round?
  • Which sorts of initiatives would you like to fund?
  • What challenges are your ideal grantees trying to solve?

Standout grantees are those whose projects align with the mission of your grants program, the ecosystem, and the specific grant round. They understand the 'why' behind the grants program, internalize it, and let it shape their projects. Every grants round has a specific intention, and it's pivotal that grantees connect with it and craft their projects accordingly. An excellent example of this is Reefi, a team of biologists using Metaverse technology to create a digital twin of the Great Barrier Reef. Their project not only addresses the real-world issue of climate change but also fits within the web3 space, connecting both worlds harmoniously.

Spellbinding Storytelling and Eye-Candy Visuals

  • Can you follow the narrative of a grantee’s project? Is it compelling to you?
  • Do their visuals engage you and bring clarity to the project?
  • How well do you understand the purpose of the project and its alignment with your goals?

Here's a secret: it's not all about cold, hard facts and plans. What often makes a grant application glow is the power of its story. Projects that spin a captivating tale create a deeper bond with donors. Pair this with stunning, attention-grabbing visuals, and you've got an application that’s hard to ignore. Top-notch visuals aren't just about being pretty – they're a language in their own right that can simplify even the most complex ideas. A good example is Lenster, from the OSS round – with their clear mission, vivid visuals, and genuine expertise – they had it all. Their captivating narrative and sleek, evocative visuals were attention grabbing, and more importantly, they helped us and our community understand their mission more profoundly.

Track Record with a Pinch of Flexibility

  • How long has the team been working on the project?
  • Do they have a track record that demonstrates hitting impactful milestones?
  • Does the team seem agile enough to pivot when necessary?

A history of home runs can be a solid hint of more to come. Although, it's crucial to remember the past isn't a crystal ball. Each case is unique, and past performance shouldn’t become an unfair gatekeeper. Breakthroughs often spring from the most unlikely places, so staying open to the potential of fresh, untried ideas is equally important. While it’s awesome when potential grantees can show a record of delivering on their promises, it can be equally exciting to see those who, even without a sprawling resume, show they've got what it takes through their passion, commitment, and radical ideas. Return Protocol is a prime example– they were building functionality into wallets, allowing users to set up carbon offsets automatically; so for every transaction, users could calculate greenhouse gas footprint and purchase these offsets automatically along with their transactions. In their grant application, they did a really good job of outlining their past, present and future to show their journey, strategy and roadmap to achieve their goals. 

Not Afraid to Shout from the Rooftops

  • How engaged is a grantee’s community?
  • What channels are they using to share information about their project?
  • Do they have a team or point person that serves as a positive face for the project?

The cream of the crop when it comes to grantees are those who actively wave their project flag both before and during the grants round. Their passion extends beyond the project and becomes a desire for genuine community connection. These grantees love to get out there in public spaces, like Twitter Spaces, to discuss their project and interact with the wider ecosystem. This self-driven enthusiasm is a beacon for the community and shows the fire behind the project, a driving force that can propel it to success.

They Really Need a Helping Hand

  • What funding sources, if any, have they had access to previously?
  • Do they have a roadmap and clear plan for the funding?

An important part of evaluating grantees is considering how much they would actually benefit from the grant money and what impact it could have. If they're already swimming in venture capital, they might not need grants funding. It’s important to focus on finding those projects where grants support can make waves.

The Return Protocol project was a perfect example of this. They built wallet functionality to set up automatic carbon offsets, reducing friction and making a positive change. With the grant money, they were able to innovate and reduce carbon footprints in the real world.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, running an impactful grants program isn't a one-size-fits-all task. Managing an impactful grants program involves seeing beyond the application, understanding the broader context, and considering the diverse factors from alignment with your grant objectives to the genuine need for funding. 

With practice and a thorough understanding of your program's mission, you can hone your eye for potential. You are the crucial element in unlocking the next wave of innovative projects, by accurately identifying high-potential grantees.

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