CONNECT Project Spotlight: Developing a Grant Evaluation Tool for Nonprofits

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June 25, 2024
Graphic with Muhammad's headshot and degree information, overlaid on a photo of the Austin skyline

LBJ student Muhammad Qasim worked with the City of Austin’s Office of Innovation to develop a Grant Funding Opportunity Evaluation tool through the CONNECT program last spring. The tool, which is to be released this summer, can be used by potential grantees to assess whether a funding opportunity is the right fit for their organization.  

“A lot of people are excited about it, so it’s really filling a need,” said Grace Bazzi, the Grants for Innovation Manager at the City of Austin.  

Last fall, Bazzi interviewed about 30 local organizations to identify their pain points when applying for grants through the city. One common theme she heard was that it was difficult for grant-seekers to determine whether a grant was worth the time and effort it took to apply. Bazzi wanted to develop an easier, faster way for organizations to walk through the strategic thinking process and determine if a grant was a good fit for the organization and their long-term goals. She brought this project to the CONNECT program and was matched with Qasim for the spring 2024 cohort.  

“Muhammad was awesome,” said Bazzi. “He has this depth of knowledge and willingness to learn and take feedback really well.” 

Qasim was drawn to the CONNECT program after participating in the LIFT consulting program at McCombs. He enjoyed the consulting opportunity and wanted further experience developing data management skills and working for an organization in the nonprofit or public sector. 

A student in the DC Concentration at the LBJ School, Qasim’s area of interest is socio-economic development for state and city-level governments, specifically monitoring and evaluation. Through CONNECT, he was able to work on a short-term consulting project with the City of Austin, something that is typically difficult to do as an international student.   

“The [CONNECT] program allowed me to get more experience in that area and use my expertise,” said Qasim, who previously worked for a think tank in Pakistan that was often applying for grants.  

“I was able to look at it from both angles, not just like for someone who's developing the tool, but also from someone who could potentially use the tool,” said Qasim.  

During his first year at the LBJ School, Qasim completed courses in applied microeconomics and empirical methods for policy analysis, which he said prepared him for the work he did in his CONNECT project.  

“Even though this wasn’t as quantitative as those courses were, the basic premise of evaluating was the same, so those courses allowed me to develop a better model,” he said. 

The evaluation tool is comprised of about 20 questions that guides the grant-seeker through an assessment of their organization's capacity, infrastructure, and financial resources to help determine if the organization is a good fit for a funding opportunity from the City of Austin’s Office of Innovation.  

After completing the survey, the grant seeker will receive a score that indicates how prepared their organization is to apply for the grant at that time, along with recommendations, next steps, and, if applicable, resources to help the organization build capacity in the area(s) where they scored lower in the evaluation. 

Qasim is currently completing his final degree requirements in Washington D.C., where he is interning with The African Think Tank, a nonprofit, community-focused initiative that hosts monthly meetups for Africans and friends of Africa in major US cities.  

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