Inside the Grantmaker's Black Box:


Course description

This is an anytime, anywhere online video training - As soon as you enroll, you will have instant access to the recorded training and can watch from any Internet connection, on your own schedule, as often as you like.

You know that feeling on deadline day ...

... when you finally push the SUBMIT button and say goodbye to your lovingly-crafted, mission-critical grant proposal as it disappears … vanishing entirely for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes even forever … as you wait to find out whether it’s going to be funded or not.

What's that like while you're waiting?

Are you anxious? ... Frustrated? ... Curious? ... Resigned? ... Relieved? ... Excited?

That space between "submit" on one side … and "notification" on the other … is what we call the Grantmaker’s Black Box.

That’s where all the work goes on for the grantmaking team – the program officer, reviewers, decision-makers. That’s where everything happens to decide which proposals are awarded ... and which aren’t.

Yet for those of us on the grantseeking side, what happens inside the Black Box is virtually invisible.

It’s as if our proposal has vanished into an alternate universe … a deep mysterious world we can’t see, can’t influence, can’t even begin to understand.


But what if you could?

What if you could hop inside a real-life Grantmaker’s Black Box and get an up-close look at what goes on there?

What if you had an insider’s view of the in-the-trenches challenges, stresses, frustrations, surprises, internal timelines, twists and turns the grantmaking team experiences at each step of the way, as it works hard to invest this year’s grant dollars wisely and well?

Would understanding more about the grantmaker’s world make a difference in your own grants work?

Can you imagine how the insights and takeaways from this experience might give you an edge in your own grants success?


If your answer is yes ...

If your answer is yes, then I invite you to join me – Maryn – for a unique journey into the heart of the Grantmaker's Black Box as we venture into one grantmaker's funding process.

It's territory that I inhabit every day in my role as a grantmaking program officer.

And it's territory that 98% of all people who write grant proposals have never seen from the inside.

In Inside the Grantmaker’s Black Box we’ll travel through an actual grants review and decision-making process. As a longtime resident of the grants world and a grantmaking program officer for 12+ years, I’ll be your trusted safari guide. Together we’ll venture deep inside my organization’s recent real-life grantmaking round on our way to awarding a total of $600,000.

Along the way:

  • You’ll track our proposals through the 8 key “checkpoints,” or observation stations, of the grant decision process, so you can observe exactly what happened at every step of the way. 
  • You’ll see the RFP, the scoring criteria the reviewers used, the actual scores the reviewers awarded … even their comments on key proposal elements.
  • You’ll eavesdrop on my conversations with proposers and review team members.
  • You’ll see our mistakes and near-misses, challenges and celebrations, what was surprisingly easy, what really came hard.
  • And you’ll experience plenty of surprises, aha!s and hmm’s as I share story after story about real life inside this particular Grantmaker’s Black Box - and tons of takeaways you can carry home and put to work immediately on behalf of your own nonprofit and community.

How the course works - our travel itinerary:

Inside the Grantmaker’s Black Box: A Wildlife Safari includes 11 sessions, each containing a series of brief video lessons.  You can it watch any time, on your own schedule, as often as you like.

In each session we'll visit a different safari “checkpoint” or observation station, where we settle in, put on our field glasses, and take a close look at what's going on there. 

  • Session 1 -  Getting Ready: The Grantmaker's Black Box: Whose game is it, anyway? The obstacle course - and three big myths about grantmaking.
  • Session 2 - Our Wildlife Safari: What You Need to Know Before We Set Out:  Previewing our journey. Understanding the environment. The grantmaker's ecosystem, lifecycle, and people. What to watch out for. How to get the most from your safari experience.
  • Session 3 - Deadline/Receipt: What “deadline day” looks like from the other side. Time stamps. Elimination round. Sorting through it all. The tale of the almost-AWOL proposal.
  • Session 4 - Technical Review: Creating a level playing field. Another elimination round. Why “character counts” count. Don’t mess with the statutory guidelines! A dilemma. Judgment calls.
  • Session 5 - Individual Review: Apples, oranges and pears. Essay test vs math test. The myth of the objective review process. Jill’s real-life “12-12-12” reviewer experience.
  • Session 6  - Compiling the Scores: Making sense of all those numbers. Color-coding makes life easier for my review team. The first head-to-head comparison. More judgment calls.
  • Session 7 - Group Review and Recommendations:Clarity trumps everything – absolutely everything. More head-to-head comparison. Why “non-competitive” factors matter. Another elimination round.
  • Session 8 - Official Approval: Here’s where summaries become mission-critical. It ain’t over till the director says it’s over. The gameboard shifts and surprises emerge. Could be an elimination round.
  • Session 9 - Award Negotiations: Finally – we find out how much money we have. Shaving the budgets. Shaving the budgets some more. How much shaving can we do without compromising the program? Could be an elimination round.
  • Session 10 - Award Notifications: Whew - It’s official! – Going public. The “decline” email. Feedback? – Nobody even asked. What happens next? 
  • Session 11 - Review, Reflections, Takeaways: … Our safari is over – let’s talk about it. Important notes as we wrap up. Back to our big myths. Putting it into action. 

An important note before you enroll:

Every safari has its disclaimers - and Inside the Grantmaker's Black Box is no different. Before you sign up, it's important to be completely clear on two points. 

First, in this course, as your trusted safari guide I'm doing a lot less teaching and a lot more showing.

That means I'll be pointing out interesting sights, suggesting what you might want to pay attention to, helping you focus on what I think is most interesting or valuable for you to notice ... Just as a real safari guide would, as in, for example: "Look ... there are three grant reviewers hiding in that stand of trees. Let's take a closer look at them."

What I don't do (or at least not very much) is tell you everything there is to know about this specific grants process, or other grants processes, or the habits, habitats and life styles of grant reviewers, grantmakers, and grantmaking organizations as a species ... For this adventure I show you what's there, let you see what's going on ... and leave the rest to you!

And second, just as would be true on a real wildlife safari - what you'll be seeing are "snapshots" from one trip across one snippet of the territory on one particular safari-day.

There's so much you can learn from what you see here ... but it isn't all there is to see.

My grantmaking organization is unique - but so is every grantmaking organization. We're also alike in many ways. And everything I point out to you is relevant to your overall understanding of the grantmaking process, and can be valuable for you in your own grants success.

Even the point of understanding that every grantmaking organization is unique!

(In other words, on this safari there's really no such thing as "Yeah, but that doesn't apply to my situation" ... because anything can, if you're prepared to see it clearly.) 

Ready? Let's get started!

Just click the green ENROLL button at the top of this page to sign up right away. You'll receive a welcome email with all the details.

Can't wait to get started! Hope to see you soon -

Five-star reviews for "Inside the Grantmaker's Black Box!

Reviews (1)

by Mary Tewksbury

by Mary Tewksbury
Maryn Boess
Maryn Boess
Chief Magic-Maker

Over her 20+-year career in the nonprofit world, Maryn has been an on-staff program developer and grantwriter; a independent grants consultant (winning more than $42 million for her clients over 10 years); a grants project manager; a grants trainer; a grants reviewer, author, speaker, mentor and coach; and - for the past 10 years - even a grantmaker.

This done-it-all background gives her the unique 3-D "insider's" perspective she brings to the practical and inspiring trainings on healthy, successful grantsmanship that she has been blessed to share with thousands of nonprofits of every size, nationally and internationally as well.

GrantsMagic U, launched in fall 2015, is the "virtual academy" she created to make her extensive portfolio of grantsmanship trainings available (and affordable!) for anyone, anytime, anywhere.

GrantsMagic U is an Approved Continuing Education Provider for both the Grant Professionals Certification (GPC) and Certified Fund-Raising Executive (CFRE) credentials.

Since 2006 Maryn has also been “in the grantmaker’s chair,” managing up to $2 million annually in grantmaking for K-12 education in the Southwest.

She considers herself a dual citizen in the grants world, and may be the only person currently holding membership in both GPA (Grant Professionals Association, for grantseekers) and GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, for grantmakers).

Every hour of GrantsMagic U training qualifies as 1 credit toward CFRE and GPC continuing-education and certification requirements.