Qualifying grant writing prospects in two easy steps

oopsHappy Friday morning, DonorDreams blog readers! I owe you an apology because I missed my mark yesterday and didn’t publish a post. I had good intentions, but my day started fast and snowballed unexpectedly from that point onward. Needless to say, I didn’t even have time to reach into my bag of guest bloggers and share something from them with you. So, I’m going to rectify my Thursday mistake with a Friday morning bonus.
A few weeks ago, a dear old friend of mine — Karen Dove — reach out via LinkedIn to catch me up on where in the world she is. 
I first met Karen when she was working as a grant writer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Rockford, Illinois. Our paths crossed again when she was the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Wisconsin Rapids, and I was assigned to help her agency plan and implement its first annual campaign pledge drive. 
Karen finally got smart and fled the Midwest for the warmer weather of Florida where she consults with Boys & Girls Clubs on things like grant writing and social media.
This morning I am sharing a guest blog post from Karen (with her permission, of course) on the subject of grant writing and letters of inquiry.

How Not To Get A Grant — Letters Of Inquiry

By Karen Dove
Originally published on May 12, 2014
Re-posted with permission from KD Consulting Blog
grant writing1I had an interesting chat today with a new client who told me their last grant writer didn’t have any luck using a costly search engine tool for finding new foundations.  After a year, they ended the contract on the search engine and now he is no longer with the organization.  The moral of this story?  Tools don’t make the worker…the worker must really know how to get the most from their tools.
At this organization, the grant writer would identify a group of foundations that funded youth services and send them each a letter asking for funding.  There were no responses.  Why?  Because a simple letter sent out in shotgun approach does not yield funding.  Chances are you know of an organization that has utilized this approach to funding, whether through grants or letters sent to donors.  Just send a letter and you get less than 3% return in most cases!
So if you don’t use research to just identify foundations and send them letters, then what must you do to be successful?
My first step is identifying the foundations closest to my geographic proximity.
Grant writing should occur in concentric circles, starting with those closest to you, then further away….county….state…. region….nation.  Most novice grant writers are ready to write to the Gates or Oprah Winfrey Foundation right off. Slow your roll…. and start close to home, where funders know you and have a real vested interest in your success.  Over time, you may get to Bill and Oprah, but that’s not the place to start.
My second step is most often to make a simple telephone call  (or less desirable…an email) to the foundation to help clarify what they fund and what their process is to apply for funding.
Some have their own set of forms, and will likely offer to send you a copy so you can apply.  Others have specific grant cycles, and might direct you to their website for more information.  Still others do not accept grant proposals at all, but only take advice of their family or board members, in disbursing the foundation’s grant funds (these usually are identified as not accepting unsolicited proposals).
If you want to call, but you can’t find a telephone number for a foundation, chances are they don’t want to be found.  Just strike them off your list and move to the next prospect.  Grant writing is a science and an art.  The research is the science of a successful proposal.

What have you done to increase individual giving?

Events, Grants and Individual Giving

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofitevolution blog
eventI was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants. By now I’m sure you are well aware, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events. Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.
I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!” And they are, at least some of them are.
One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources. However, more than one signature event is too much.
More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.
Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced. Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work. Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.
The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.
Events are often 5% to 15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.
grantsGrants, which are often 30% to 50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way. Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50% to 80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20% to 50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost. For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.
As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5% to 10%) to the organization. It is also the largest post of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage special event income in most agencies’ budgets. In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10% to 15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”
Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated — and later, stewarded — and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.
Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post:

“If you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls.”

There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others. Nonprofit leaders are busy. Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path. It will be scary, and also worth it!
What have you done to increase individual giving?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.
A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

Does your non-profit organization have policies about grant writing?

grant writing1This morning I am asking for your help with a small project I am working on. A few weeks ago I agreed to help one of my favorite non-profit organizations with a staff transition. Not only did their development director move on to greener pastures at the end of the summer, but their executive director also recently resigned. So, the board asked me to step into the void and help their management team with a variety of year-end miscellaneous projects (e.g. year-end holiday mailing, 2013 budget construction, resource development plan, etc).

One of the projects with which I provide a little assistance is grant writing. I am part of the review team that proofreads, edits and asks questions before any proposal is allowed to go out the door. I am not the only person involved in this agency’s grant writing process . . . there is a grant writer (who is an independent contractor), a program/operations person and a board member. I kind of like the process they’ve designed. It feels comprehensive, responsible and serious.

The other day someone brought another grant opportunity to the team. It was a RFP that would’ve brought $2,000 in the door that wouldn’t have supplemented existing programming . . . it was an “add-on” proposition. Here is a list of questions that the grant writing team started asking itself:

  • Is this grant opportunity “budget relieving”?
  • Are the program costs totally off-set by the grant? Or will the $2,000 grant only partially cover the expenses of the add-on programming?
  • Are there other reasons (e.g. political, relationship building, etc) for the agency to consider writing this proposal?

Somewhere in the middle of this discussion, the board member blurted out the following really good question:

“How many more $2,000 grants are we going to write?”

ROIThis question was inspired by a string of two or three grants in a row that this organization had just written. As a businessman, he asked this question because he is accustom to looking at everything through a “return on investment” (ROI) lens.  In hindsight, this is what he saw:

  • The grant writer was putting in three to six hours researching and writing the proposal.
  • The program/operations person was putting in a few hours pull together outcomes data and proofreading the final proposal to make sure we weren’t over-promising anything.
  • The board member, who serves on the management team as the agency searches for a new executive director, is investing a few hours in proofreading and asking tough questions to ensure the organization isn’t over-promising and under-delivering. This is essentially the same role that the executive director would play if there was one on the payroll.
  • I was back stopping the entire process and doing some same.

WOW! It shouldn’t be a surprise after a few small grant writing opportunities he’d ask such a question.

Of course, this touched off an interesting conversation on many different fronts including a discussion about non-profit fundraising policies.

I promised the group that I would blog about this topic and ask the readership of DonorDreams blog for their best possible world-class coaching and advice.

So, I have a holiday season favor to ask each of you this morning:

Would you please take a minute or two out of your busy schedule this morning and use the comment box below to do one of the following two things?

  1. share your agency’s grant writing policy/policies, or
  2. share how your organization makes decisions on when to write or pass on a grant writing opportunity.

pay it forwardSeriously, your feedback this morning will directly help another organization in its pursuit of developing fundraising best practices. Your participation will take all of a minute or two this morning. Please weigh-in. Your collective wisdom is massive and will bring tremendous value to this organization’s discussion. You can consider the few minutes that you invest in responding to this request as your “good turn” this holiday season. Please pay it forward!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Who should be “driving the bus” at your non-profit agency?

In my travels, I’ve seen hundreds of non-profit organizations, and I must admit that they come in all sorts of different sizes and shapes . . .  Big ones, little ones, short ones, tall ones, skinny ones, fat ones . . . you get the picture.

However, one question has haunted me for as long as I’ve worked in the non-profit sector and it is the title of this morning’s blog post:

“Who is responsible for driving the bus?”

Yes, I’ve heard all of the “best practices” and expert advice. I’ve sat through too many training events. Heck . . . I’ve even been the trainer for a number of those training events and sounded very much like the expert on this subject.

However, this question still haunts me because I see everyone answering it differently.

For example, staff are obviously responsible for day-to-day operations, but who gets to decide:

  • Which programs get run?
  • What impact and program outcomes get measured?
  • What new BIG grants (that might require new programming and new things to be measured) should be written?

I suspect that many of you have answers for these questions. I also suspect that there are many different answers. Some of you might see this as a question of “micro-management” and others of you might see “policy implications” all over the place.

Many moons ago, when I worked at my local Boys & Girls Club, I was presented with an opportunity to apply for a very large state grant. Many of you have probably heard of 21st Century Community Learning Center grants (this opportunity is part of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation). When I was presented with this opportunity, these were some of the facts I was facing:

  • The grant (if received) would increase the agency’s budget by more than 25 percent,
  • We would need to open a new site by asking a local school to share some of their space with us after-school (aka new collaboration with memorandum of understanding spelling out responsibilities of all parties)
  • The grant would result in hiring more staff (e.g. increasing overall staff size by 25 to 50 percent) and serving more kids (expanding membership by approximately 25 percent)
  • The type of staff we were accustom to hiring would change because the school district obvious wanted us to hire their teachers (and pay them the after-school stipend rate negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement)
  • The grant would require some different programming and outcome measurements.
  • The grant also required that some serious thought be put into “sustainability planning”. How would we continue serving those kids after the five-year grant expired. How would we fund it? Where would we provide service?

I was in favor of applying for this grant. It was a game changer for the organization. However . . . how much authority did I have as the executive director to make this decision. Sure, at first blush, the question was simple . . . “Apply for this one grant? Or don’t apply?” . . . but one question leads to another and then another.

So, what parts of this decision belong to the board of directors and what parts belong to staff? AND what parts needed to be shared between board and staff? AND what happens if there wasn’t agreement?

In the end, I engaged the Program Committee and came to the table with my “case for change”. We talked about it, agreed on all fronts and made the recommendation to the board of directors. The grant was written. We were selected to receive funds. We signed the contract with the state board of education. And the rest, as they say, is history.

That was easy . . .  Right? NOPE!  Because I see everyone making similar decisions in very different ways. Why? Because it isn’t easy and every non-profit organization has a different culture with different levels of organization capacity.

Is there a RIGHT answer to this question? I think so.

I believe there are A LOT of policy questions wrapped up in aforementioned example, and all policy issues clearly belong to the board of directors. Additionally, I see grants the same way I see “contracts,” and every non-profit bylaws document that I’ve ever looked at has clearly stated that entering into a contract is the responsibility of the board.

So, why do I see so many non-profit and fundraising professionals working alone on identifying grant writing opportunities, writing the grant proposals and committing the agency to the terms of the grant agreement (or asking their board after-the-fact to rubber stamp the grant agreement)?

Why do staff let this happen? Is it because we really don’t want the headache of having to build consensus? Or is it because of time constraints? Why do boards let this happen? Is it because they don’t know what the right answer is and in the end would rely on staff to inform their opinion? Or is it that they don’t understand their roles & responsibilities as board members? Or is it simply lack of time? And regardless of how you answer these questions, does it really change the fact that there is a “right answer” to the big picture question and our responses to these smaller questions really just amount to nothing more than rationalization and justification for doing something we know is wrong?

Today’s post really does raise some serious governance issues that most non-profits of all sizes and shapes struggle with on a daily basis. Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts as well as examples of how your agency has dealt with this issue. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

How “The Cloud” Can Make Your Life Easier

Remember when computers were basically glorified word processors for many businesses? Documents were created, saved on floppy disk, and printed. That was the extent of it. Then email came along. If you were working on a project with someone, you could send it to them instantly. However, you and your colleague had to keep track of the ‘active’ copy in order to make changes.

Now, documents can live in ‘the cloud’, eliminating the panic that comes along with sending an email and asking yourself, “Did I attach it?”.

Let’s take a look at cloud computing and a few different applications that can make your life easier by utilizing the cloud.

What is the cloud?

Spoiler Alert: there really aren’t computers in the clouds storing your information. But ‘the cloud’ really does exist. When referring to ‘the cloud’ just think of it as a public server to which you have access. So, instead of saving files locally, you can save them on this public server and access them from any device with an internet connection.

The Pros of Cloud Computing

  • Using cloud apps cuts down on costs. One of the largest costs to a non-profit organization was purchasing a server. The cloud eliminates the need for this. Also, cloud applications work regardless of which operating system you’re using because most of them are accessed through web browsers. As a result, some IT costs are eliminated or reduced.
  • Files can be accessed from anywhere. This allows people to work remotely. Today, more and more companies are hiring employees to work from home or remote locations (aka telecommuters). Having files available in the cloud makes this human resources trend more possible.

The Cons of Cloud Computing

  • No local files. When you use the cloud to save your documents you are relying on a third-party to store your files. If something happens to their servers, you run the risk of loosing your files. Additionally, you will temporarily lose access to your files if your local internet service is interrupted.
  • Privacy can be an issue. Again, because files will be stored on a third-party server, they will have access to your files. Your agency will need to decide what type of files can be stored in the ‘cloud’ and which ones should remained locally. Unfortunately, having multiple storage areas might be confusing for employees or volunteers who need to access the files.

The Best Cloud Apps

Google Docs – Google has done a great job with it’s Google Docs product. Not only can you save files and allow multiple people to view them, but you can also create documents online using this application. Google makes it possible to create text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, drawing and tables. Documents can be shared with an email link  or downloaded by the user.

What sets Google Docs apart is that it allows for multiple users to work on a document at the same time. Everyone can see what changes each person is making in real-time. Also, Google Docs has a chat box associated with each document so people who are viewing the document can have a chat about any changes that need to be made.

Dropbox – Running a close second to Google Docs as my favorite cloud application is Dropbox because it is so simple. Dropbox simply gives you space on a server that allows you to share files with other people. You can upload whichever type of file you’d like to share, and others will be able to easily access it. A free account gives the user 2 gigabytes of storage, but if you get a friend to sign up for an account, Dropbox gives you more space.

What sets Dropbox apart is that you can add a “Dropbox folder” to your computer. This makes it possible to have documents stored locally and in the cloud at the same time. Dropbox also allows you to also share folders with other users. This works great for people working on the same project. While Dropbox does not allow for collaboration in the same way that Google Docs does, it’s simple approach makes using the cloud second nature.

Other Worthy Cloud Applications

  • Evernote – a note taking application that can capture photos and handwritten notes and make them searchable.
  • Basecamp – a project management and collaboration application
  • Backpack – an easy way to create a wiki or internal website for sharing information with your team
  • Carbonite – automated computer backup

Many of you might already be fans of the cloud. If so, let us know how you use cloud applications in your day-to-day non-profit work life. It would be great to hear how you might be using ‘the cloud’ to collaborate on grantwriting. Or are you using ‘the cloud’ to make your annual campaign prospect assignment process feel seamless? Please use the comment box below and share your best practices!