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07 Dec

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Where Preparation Meets Opportunity: Getting the 100K Grant

December 7, 2016

One declined proposal, a chance meeting at a summit, a few long discussions, et voila:

“Congratulations! The board of the Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund a grant of $100,000 to support the Empowering Women Through Education program.”

My staff and I were over-the-moon excited. We had just received a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola Foundation as part of their #5by20 initiative. The grant has allowed us to give out an additional 40 scholarships during this fiscal year, for a total of 100—the most we have ever awarded in one year. And, it is the very first major grant from a national corporation ever received by the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (JRF).

Our scholarships provide $2000 a year for up to five years for low income women over the age of 35 to complete post-secondary education. The recipients can use the scholarships for living expenses providing them critical support for expenses not covered by traditional scholarships.

How did we get there? It was a moment where preparation meets opportunity.

During 2013 and 2014, former Executive Director, Sue Lawrence, led the process of creating a new Strategic Plan for JRF. The committee met multiple times and boiled it all down to the three pillars:

  • Create a sustainable organization
  • Grow the scholarship program
  • Develop a national presence/identity

To achieve this, we contracted with a development consultant that helped our team draft a proposal for the Coca-Cola Foundation. A month after submitting the well-written proposal, we received an automated decline.

As is true to the nature of a women’s fund, we decided to regroup, revise, and, eventually, ask again.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Funding Network Economic Security Summit in New Orleans was approaching. I considered staying home because of the ongoing pull between being in the office with a new team, or out and about, looking for new opportunities. I went.

The first day of the conference, I came back from lunch early to an empty room except for a woman sitting in the seat right next to mine. It turned out to be Linda Brigham, Senior Community Manager at Coca-Cola Foundation who was there to speak that afternoon.

I told her that we had submitted a grant proposal to the Coca-Cola Foundation and had been turned down. She had never heard of us. Immediately, she called her office and confirmed that we had submitted a proposal. Linda explained to me that if no one goes into the system to confirm receipt of the proposal it automatically gets declined. Counterintuitive to my understanding of what grantors want, she told me I should have called her before submitting.

We spent that afternoon getting to know each other. At a subsequent follow-up meeting in Atlanta, we continued to talk for over an hour about Coca-Cola’s initiatives supporting women and how JRF’s mission aligned with their funding priorities. As a result of these meetings, Linda said she would submit the application in the next round of funding with her recommendation.

And here we are: A congratulatory note and a check for $100,000.

How did we do it? Summing it all up, the critical factors included:

  • A solid strategic plan
  • A well-written proposal
  • Membership and participation in the Women’s Funding Network
  • A connection to and relationship with the funder

The Women’s Funding Network connected us to Coca-Cola Foundation—many, many, many, many, thanks to Women’s Funding Network!

—Karen Sterk, Executive Director, Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund


Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund is a member of the Women’s Funding Network. The Fund is a national organization that provides scholarships and support for low-income women 35 and older to build better lives through college completion.