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How to Win a Grant: A Q&A with the Winner of the 2019 Mighty Big Grant

Mighty Citizen turned 20 this year, thanks to the support and trust of our clients. So to celebrate our first two decades, we decided to offer the Mighty Big Grant—a $25,000 package of free marketing and design services.

After sifting through nearly 500 excellent applications from across the country (and after plenty of hand-wringing and internal debating), we cut our list down to around 60 applicants. As you might imagine, it only got harder from there. After careful consideration and deliberation, we had our final eight.

At this point, the phrase “splitting hairs” had never felt more real. We had eight deserving organizations spanning across the United States that did vastly different work—from a national park land conservancy to a nonprofit that focuses on bringing STEM education to students who would otherwise be removed from the opportunity. We interviewed, asked questions, and listened. And now, we are honored to announce the winner of the Mighty Big Grant:

humanity and inclusion logo

Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is an international not-for-profit organization acting “on the front lines of the world’s most pressing emergencies to promote disability rights, provide rehabilitation, and ensure people live safely after conflict.” Their passionate pursuit of advocacy for vulnerable people—along with their work helping remove millions of unexploded land mines—helped earn them the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

And yet, Humanity & Inclusion is barely known in the U.S.—e.g., a mere 4% of Americans recognize their brand, compared to 65% in France and elsewhere. That’s what we’ll help them with: designing a campaign to both expand awareness and set the foundation for American fundraising.

HI was an early frontrunner for the Mighty Big Grant. And while there were countless other deserving organizations, HI’s application was a masterclass. It should be reprinted in grant writing textbooks. In their application, they shared the story of Nirmala. Nirmala lost her leg at the age of seven when she was a victim of the Nepal earthquake. But thanks to the work of HI, Nirmala has regained her strength through physical therapy and the use of a new artificial leg.

Nirmala, a child helped by Humanity & Inclusion, smiling and laughing
Nirmala is just one of the millions of people Humanity & Inclusion has helped worldwide.

This emotive storytelling combined with clear-eyed data spoke to our hearts and brains in equal measure. They had a concrete vision and keen understanding of what a marketing project requires.

To learn more, we sat down for a Q&A with Mica Bevington, U.S. Director of Marketing and Communications for Humanity & Inclusion:

Hi, Mica. Thanks for taking time to talk. Can you start by telling us a bit about Humanity & Inclusion?

Humanity & Inclusion ensures that people who are all too often left on the sidelines get brought to the heart of the action. In an emergency situation, we’re literally going tent to tent looking for people with disabilities, older people who might have limited mobility, or people with new injuries, and we make the process accessible for them. We make sure they have access to basic aid like food, water, the ability to cook or stay clean.

We also make sure that they have the specific aid they need. Maybe that’s a special mattress, a wheelchair, or a walking frame. Sometimes, it’s even giving a child with a limb difference or a recent amputation their very first (of many) prosthetic leg. We do things like walk into a classroom and find out which kids are missing, and then we go out and find them in the community. We break down the barriers so they can go to school. But that’s just one example.

Humanity & Inclusion is an international organization, but there isn’t much recognition here in the United States compared to other countries. Can you talk a little about that?

Our organization was co-founded by two French doctors while they were working along the Thai-Cambodian border in 1982. They established Humanity & Inclusion—then called Handicap International—because they were outraged about the civilians falling victim to landmines in Cambodia. They knew they had to bear witness to the injustices they saw there. They wanted the people of France, and eventually the world, to know the suffering going on in other parts of the globe.

They did a lot of public advocacy in France in the ‘80s. In fact, they still use the name Handicap International in part because they have that brand recognition. Our office in the United States opened in 2006, so in the global network, we’re the baby.

We also often say that France is the size of Texas, so if we were working out of Austin and doing what we’re doing, I think it would be safe to say that we could get a lot of people in Texas to know us and love us. But doing it in the United States, we have a lot of people to reach—and we’re in a competitive market. There’s a very busy news cycle and a lot of things that are happening here that create a lot of noise. So it’s hard to get your voice heard in that mix, and it’s really hard if you don’t have a big budget. One of the beauties of HI is that we are very keen on getting as much money into our projects in the field as possible. That means we’re not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ad campaigns.

We presented Humanity & Inclusion with a mighty check at the 2019 Mighty Big Day!

Why did you apply for the Mighty Big Grant?

Mighty Insights

Insights, delivered.

We were drawn in by the idea of getting some fresh creative energy to take a look at our work and help us come up with new ideas to reach Americans.

We wouldn’t have applied if we weren’t excited about the things Mighty Citizen does. One of the first things that impressed us was the Butter Half campaign. You felt a little bit like us: a diamond in the rough. Edgy and not afraid to take risks.

We also looked at your clients and were excited to see that you had already worked with some big disability groups in Texas. That just showed us that you would be close to having the lens that we do around accessibility and inclusion. We’re a small team with a relatively small budget for the task that we face, and the opportunity to have so much creative brainpower for free is enticing. In any small organization, you try things and you iterate, but after a while, there’s only so much a team of two can bring.

What is the size and structure of your US marketing team?

We’re a small (but mighty) team of two! Our job is to help more globally-minded Americans get to know the work we do and see value in it.

What are you hoping this grant will help you achieve?

We love what we do. We feel deeply proud of the work our teams can get done in 60 countries. When you know us, you love us, and we have such a broad canvas of work. We like to say there’s something for everyone.

But the truth is we don’t have the marketing budget to reach the number of Americans we’d like to. The opportunity to learn from Mighty Citizen’s creative experts, their digital mavens, and their messaging masters is something that our usual budget wouldn’t support.

So while we’re a household name in a place like France, here in the United States, not many people know about the specific work we do and the vulnerable populations we work alongside. If we can get, with this collaboration, more Americans to lean in and take a look at the work we’re doing and to see the needs that we’re trying to meet for 2 million people worldwide, then we’ll feel like that’s a success.

What value do you see in working with Mighty Citizen?

It gets back to bringing in diverse thought and fresh ideas. My colleague, Michele, and I work really hard to get on people’s radars and to come up with new ways to catch more people, but our knowledge only goes so far. When you bring a creative agency to the table, they see things you miss. They can pick up on a nugget and turn it into something spectacular. When we rebranded to Humanity & Inclusion, we saw that new perspective and approach.

We were drawn in by the idea of getting some fresh creative energy to take a look at our work and help us come up with new ideas to reach Americans.

Mighty Citizen has some skill sets that we don’t have—like really strong creative and knowing the latest and greatest levers to pull on digital. We feel that together we can create a good avenue to reach the right Americans. Along those lines, we recognize our geographic limitations. We bring an East Coast perspective, which can be quite different from other parts of the U.S. where many of our supporters (and potential supporters!) live. The advice of experts outside of our northeast bubble will definitely help broaden our reach to Main Street America!

What was your reaction when you found out you were the recipient of our grant?

A lot of jumping up and down, a lot of screaming. A lot of frantic texting to Michele, who was the one who originally saw the grant on NTEN and flagged it. She was the one who ensured that we got to the finish line and got the application in, and she was on the beach on vacation. We were thrilled. We went into the process thinking it could be a good match, and through the interview process, we felt like it was a really good match.

Let’s just say that nobody in our office, no matter what meeting or call they were on, missed the fact that we’d won.

Watch the moment we told Mica and Jeff from Humanity & Inclusion the big news during our Monday staff meeting:

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