Thursday, October 07, 2004

Bring In Donations From Many Different Kinds of Sources

What does your personal stockbroker (or maybe partner, instead) tell you about your personal investments?

They tell you to "Diversify!"

Why? Now, this isn't a blog on investments, and I don't claim to be anything near a financial counselor of any kind, but, to make my point: if you have a stock portfolio that is only invested in grapefruit juice sales and grapefruit futures - you are broke after Hurricanes Ivan and Jean wipe out the entire crop and a good portion of the industry. Had you had some money in grapefruit investments but the rest broken into investments in Coke A Lola, Radio Shook Corporation, and Why Won't It Do What I Want Computers, Inc. - the exposure to risk that your total investment portfolio had would have been much lower.

Same thing with searching for income for a non profit. More to the point, if your agency has income coming only from individual donations, or only from grants; your organization's finances are vulnerable. Why? If that grant donor (or donors) doesn't give your organization the grants it's been giving you for the past four years, or if your donors are hit hard by a sour economy (it happened in 2000 when the economy changed) you could have a severe drop in your agencies only revenue.

Having revenue come into your organization from several types of funding sources is not just safer - it leads to relationships with donors of all kinds, it opens the door to a variety of financial opportunities, and it's balanced so that if some of your revenue stream is slowed by something - your entire revenue sources will not be.

For example:

Let's say that you and I work for Barbecue for the Barbecueless non profit agency. Our mission is to provide barbecue food, implements, information, and assistance to anyone who does not have access to barbecue in Arlen, Texas. Our clients are mostly the homeless. Our donor constituency is made up mostly of men (70%) who barbecue constantly and as a hobby, or corporations that make barbecue equipment, cookbooks, and sauces, etc.

Here's one possible diversified revenue scenario:

Our revenue has come mostly from individual donors and some from corporations during the past five years, since Barbecue for the Barbecueless was started. We're expanding - the need for excellent barbecue is before us.

If we add a grant seeking program to the revenue stream (after we're sure we can afford to add a grant writer to the staff) we must make sure that we balance the amount of income we're working to get from all three sources. Grants are not a 'magic cure all' for fundraising woes. Grants are safest thought of as a one time donation with no guarantee of another donation from the donor. In other words, if you hire a staff member and have a grant to pay for that staff member for one year - where is the next year's pay for that staff member going to come from? Don't EXPECT it to come from that grant source. Be sure that you can increase your individual and corporate donation amounts to be able to cover that payroll - AND attempt to get another grant to cover the employee's pay. It's safest, fiscally.

So, here's what you and I decide is a good safe set of revenue sources for the five year old agency:

Cash Donations (Individuals and Corporations)
Services for Fees
Fundraising Events
Educational Programs for Fees
Major Donor Solicitation (soliciting large donations from donors who give larger amounts)
Endowment Interest (having an endowment in savings and using the interest from it as income)
Selling donated barbecue supplies, (or whatever) etc. for profit in a retail store or online
Becoming a United Way agency
Require Annual Minimum Board Member Donations
Working with another organization on a specific program/project and sharing the costs
Gather Sponsors
Raise In Kind donations

Which revenue source works for your agency and how much to expect from each revenue source must be determined based on resources available and time allowed for success. The options are out there. Diversify.

Monday, September 27, 2004

What Amount of Money Should I Ask For?

This is a common question among those new to grant writing.

We work for non profit organizations which, by their definition, need as much financial support as can be raised. So, don't we all just want to ask for $50,000, on each grant proposal that we submit?

Wanting $50,000 and being able to raise $50,000 or more are two different but complimentary realities.

Most non profit organizations that are ready to be successful grant raisers could raise $50,000 if they need to. This concept is the key to knowing how much to ask for.

To be ready a non profit organization needs to be a 501 (c)(3), filing its taxes and form 990 regularly, auditing its accounting with an outside auditor, following its charter, have buy in from its own board and volunteers, be receiving support from the community (volunteer, in kind, financial, etc.), and have its proposals well researched, informed, current, factual, accurate, etc.

In order to decide, though, how much money to ask for from each and every foundation that your organization is going to approach - you have to have accurate budgets pulled together for every program, project, or capital item (etc.) that you are requesting grant support for.

Be sure that the foundations you are going to approach are interested in funding your cause, in the geographic region that you serve, and like to give support to whatever you're asking for grant money for. You can check foundations' guidelines to know whether your org and its needs match a foundation's interests.

Don't expect a foundation to give your org a grant to cover total expenses. That happens under special circumstances, so assume that your circumstance is not special if you aren't sure. It is really rare for a single foundation to pay for the whole enchilada. So, you will have to assume that you will have to go to many foundations to pay for a single project, program, or capital item.

The way that I determine how much to ask for from a foundation is I look at their giving history to other organizations in my region, that focus on the same kind of work that my org does, and for the kind of project/program/item that we're looking to fund. This gives me a ballpark number of how much they would give to my non profit's item/service/project. This number is a strong indication of how much you should be asking for your own request. Knowing what they gave to a similar org as yours' for a similar project gives you something to place 'next to' the budget you have for that item/project that you're looking for grant support for. The foundations that you're going to approach that tend to give more historically are who you're going to ask for larger grant donations from. The foundations that tend to give lower amounts will be who you approach for small portions to fulfill the budget needs.

For instance:

You and I work for a paranormal research non profit and we need a new ghostbusters ray gun. The budget looks like this:

Ghostbusters Public Meet and Greet - $5,000
Ghost detection service fees - $15,000

One ghostbusters ray gun - $3,000
Ghostbusters ray gun fuel - $1,500 x 2 loadings - $3,000
One ray gun handler's class - $500
One ray gun vest - $500
One employee to operate ray gun - $40,000

Total: -$27,000

Then, you and I reassess our local foundations and find the following foundations are interested in funding paranormal research, in our city, and have paid for capital items for other orgs like ours' in the past.

Here's the list:

Hitchock Family Trust - has given $100,000 to the PhantomFinders organization in 2000 for a similar ghost implement.

Mystery Machine Foundation - has given $10,000 to two different paranomal groups in two separate years for payroll expense.

Vlad Dracul Community organization - gives $3,000 annually to local groups who work with the community to better ghost/human rapport.

Ok, from the above we know that we will be submitting the larger grant request to the Hitchock Trust. We won't be asking for a full $100,000 because our budget doesn't warrant that kind of need. We need $27,000 - we could approach Hitchcock with a request for the largest amount of a portion of the total $27k necessary. If we're going to ask Mystery Machine for a medium size amount of the total needed and Vlad for a smaller grant then I'll guestimate that we ask for:

Hitchcock $15,000
Mystery $10,000
Vlad $5,000

We will also need to ask other foundations for grant support, too, but of these three foundations for this particular request this is a fair breakdown of how to come to what amounts to request from each foundation.

What if we get less than we were 'counting on' or don't get a grant at all from one of the foundations?

First, no one said you were guaranteed anything from soliciting grants (every fundraising plan should be diverse and include raising money from other sources beyond grants).

Second, if at first you do not succeed, try again, and succeed the third or fifth try.

Third, only ask for what you need - if you ask for some large amount randomly and don't have the budget/planning/bookkeeping to back up that request - you'll appear greedy and unprofessional - an image that you don't want.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Americans See Non Profits as "Somewhat Good"

You may have seen in the press lately on the August 2004 Brookings Institute survey of 1,417 respondents about Americans' views of charities. (

The findings were:
Spending money wisely:
Very good 11%
Somewhat good 51%
Not too good 19%
Not good at all 7%

Helping people:
Very good 31%
Somewhat good 51%
Not too good 8%
Not good at all 2%

Being fair in their decisions:
Very good 17%
Somewhat good 56%
Not too good 9%
Not good at all 3%

Running their programs and services:
Very good 19%
Somewhat good 57%
Not too good 11%
Not good at all 2%
(Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy , Vol. XVI, No. 23; September 16, 2004; pg. 35 graphic)

For each story that is bad publicity about a well known non profit agency, all non profit agencies take a hard hit to their credibility, too.

As grant writers we face public perception each time we interact with a grant donor.

Above, respondents were most concern about "Spending money wisely". Second to spending money, Americans were concerned about how well non profits "run their programs and services". Interestingly, Americans responded that non profits are pretty good at helping people.

There are non profit agencies that we could each think of that we know have not spent their money wisely or did not run their programs well. Public perception is probably tainted by those same news stories that you and I would point to. For each of us orgs that do run our programs well and spend money very well - perhaps we should ask ourselves, 'well, maybe we need to be making this known about our organization?'. Perhaps more than the damage bad press does to us, it is worse that our non profits are not getting air time for great operations and successful management.

And back to the results that indicate that the American public knows that non profits are helping people. Perhaps our organizations are getting this message out well? Perhaps Americans are altruistic? Maybe they have seen enough from their own interactions or of loved ones who have received assistance from a non profit that they know the work is being done well? I think American non profits have gotten better in the 1990's and the 2000's at explaining our work and our successes. I do think, though, that we have to tell more of the story, now. I think that we should be explaining our agencies' project management processes, (including our studies of outcomes that result in program/services changes because of feedback), and fiscal decision making policies to donors.

If your grant donors are not hearing this information from your organization through your grant proposals - I recommend that you tell them these processes in your 'end of grant report'. It will help them know their grant was a sound investment in a sound organization.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Source of All of This

You and I met in a support group for people who have XYZmia.

XYZmia is a disease that slows down your ability to walk. We can still walk, but XYZmia is progressive and my walking has slowed down to 50 steps a minute and yours' has progressed further - you can only walk 20 steps a minute.

Not being able to walk fast enough in life impairs our ability to be timely at the workplace, it annoys friends and relatives, and it effects our lives in other ways.

XYZmia isn't that economy, either; it's genetically inherited and it strikes women and men at about the same rate. One in ten people in the United States will get XYZmia and there is no cure - though there are a few drugs that improves one's walking speed. Plus, there are roller tennants specially made for people with the disease - but they are expensive.

You and I aren't living the same life as the average American, anymore, since diagnosis and the onset of our symptoms. We have needs that are different than most people. In our city, Metropolis, there are a few doctors who specialize in walking and XYZmia - the local university is considering studying it in the next five years, and there are a few non-profits that deal with other diseases that also slows one's walking - but, there's no assistance that is specific to our disease, XYZmia.

As our livelihood is affected by our slow paces, we have been passed up for promotions. Me, I was denied a managerial position as the head dance teacher at the studio that I work for. You were told to keep working at electric meter information collection and some day, you will be rewarded, while most of your co-workers have moved up to electricity crime detective. Also, we need to ambulate quickly, at times, but neither of us can afford the wheelchair or roller tennis shoes that could improve our quality of life. Really, so far, we have the good will of our loved ones caring for us and the support group we found online. It's not specific to people who have XYZmia, but it is a general support group for people with chronic diseases to talk out their issues.

There are needs among many subsets of a single population of people, land, animals, water, air, etc. that puts them in common with others of their kind.

The non profit organizations that we work for are mandated by our mission statements which usually address a single problem. We then work for these agencies and their missions writing proposals and attempting to acquire grant donations. But, the source can not be lost on us, of where all of the work is stemming from; other in our community need us to fulfill our missions (if our mission statement and org's work is relevant).

Grant writing directly enables the services, programs, projects, and work that our agencies do. In this way, our work is directly related to both the success of the agency, the success of the mission statement, and whether the need in our community is being met.

Monday, August 30, 2004

How Do I Prepare To Find Foundations Who Will Fund Us?

The search for possible grant donors for your organization is called "prospecting" in the grant writing jargon lexicon.

Prospecting is a critical part of successfully making relationships with grant donors and successfully receiving grants. Not only do you need to find organizations who donate grants to apply to, you need to be good at prospecting. It's just like the California Gold Rush or the Frazier River Valley Gold Rush. Cookie and his mining buddies may have known where to go to mine for silver or gold, but if they weren't good at prospecting, they didn't find much of anything.

In order to look for foundations who will give to your organization, you must know your own organization in detail. What does your organization do, precisely? I mean precisely. List all of the services, products, programs (including their time lines, budgets, and details), etc. that your organization provides on a piece of paper. Know what region your organization serves. Who, specifically, or what, specifically, is your organization serving (have stats on the issue, clients, or benefactor of your work). Know what projects and programs you will be looking for grants for (foundations generally do not fund past projects, programs, or debt; they like to fund new programs/projects).

Second, know who else in your local community or region is looking for grant money that does similar work as your organization, and know the difference between your org and theirs' and why what your organization does is relevant (or needed in the community) if theirs' is doing similar work.

Third, what amount range of grants are you going to look for? This is dictated by the cost (via a completed budget) of the program/project/service (s) that you are looking for grant money for.

Here's our hypothetical:
You and I work for Doggy Haven. We house and care for doggies in Kibble County who are or about to be homeless. This is a no kill shelter. Our mission is to care for, keep healthy and happy, and place into safe home each dog that we care for. These dogs are all breeds, 48% male and 52% female, 70% are fixed and 30% need to be spayed/neutered, 80% are healthy and 20% require medical attention right now, and all are living in our Kibble County kennel facility. The only other entity that houses, cares for, and adopts out dogs in Kibble County is Whiskers Twitch Animal Home, which is also an animal no kill shelter, but they only accept cats, small mammals, and birds. Doggy Haven is the only agency in this county that provides the services that we do for dogs. We have a new dog placement program six months down the road that is going to require $20,000, a capital campaign for a second office in the next county starting in a year that will raise $200,000, and a behavior class for the dogs to be completed as soon as possible that requires $5,000.

We have decided not to call on Doggy Haven's regular large donors for the kennel, or the new dog placement program because we know that we will be asking them for large contributions to partly pay for the new facility (capital campaign) in the next county.

You and I have decided that we're going to ask as many pertinent national and larger local foundations as possible for support for the capital campaign at high grant request amounts (likely a $100,000 grant request and smaller matching grant donations). We're going to look for
larger local community foundations, family foundations, and city and county governments for support for the new dog placement program and for the behavior program for the dogs.

Now we have a lot of information here that we will include in our grant proposals, which will also direct us to the best grant donors for our organization to apply to for these specific projects/programs.

My time and your time is precious.

We do not have time to submit hundreds of copies of a generic, single, grant request for one need, filled in by merge fields in Word, with pertinent information per foundation/grant donor. This will not lead to strong relationships or grants.

We also do not have time to send individualized and specific proposals to every foundation in our region, and foundations in our region who do not fund dog shelters do not want to receive unrelated mail. This wastes not only our time, but theirs', too.

Lastly, we want to get our organization's name and information across strong grant donors' desks. It is a way to introduce our organization and begin a relationship where hopefully Doggy Haven receives a grant from most of the relevant grantors at least once every (we decided four) years (as a goal).

Having said what we did (in the last four paragraphs), you and I sit down to start prospecting.

Here's where it sums up:

Go to each foundation's website, or call their office and request a copy of their grant guidelines. Grant guidelines describe the kinds of programs/projects/services they fund and don't grant for, the format they want, what information they want about the organization and project, their contact information, the grant donating timeline, etc.

Narrow your foundation list down to foundations that give to organizations that serve in your geographic region.

Narrow that list down to organizations that fund the work that your non profit does.

Look at this lists' foundations' websites or call them and ask for their granting guidelines. Every foundation's guidelines are different from other foundations. Guidelines describe the grant donor's interest (what causes they donate to), the donor's kind of support (financial, in kind items, or volunteered support), what they support (what kinds of programs/services/projects they fund), the timeline they request applications in by (your due date) and when they make decisions and notify applicants by, how they want the grant proposal (application) formatted, their contact information, etc.

If a foundation's guidelines indicates that your work, organization type, or project/program/service that you're looking for grant money for DOES NOT meet their interests - call them to clarify if that is the case and if it in fact is - do not solicit them. Note this and move onto the next foundation on your list.

Look at the giving history of the foundations still on the list (check their most recent IRS Form 990 - it is public information - check the resources at the end of this blog entry ) which lists what charities it gave donations to, in what amounts, when, and usually it lists what kinds of projects they gave their grants to. Match the financial need your projects have with organizations that give at that same dollar range. For instance, if a foundation typically gives no less than $30,000 and no more than $200,000 in their giving range ask them for the assistance with a larger costing program/project/service. Small or family foundation typically donate smaller amount grants (i.e. from $50 - $5,000). Go to them for assistance within that money range.

Lastly, be specific. When you write your proposal to a grant donor, individualize it to their interests, their level of detail request, and fulfill every request in the grant proposal that a grant donor makes in their giving guidelines. If you don't - you run the risk of having your application tossed before it ever gets read. I mean it.

Foundations aren't cruel - they need reasons to get rid of the many grant requests that they receive each granting round. Don't make it easy for them to toss your application. Apply to foundations that are interested in your cause, interested in the kind of work that you do, and historically give at the level that meets the need your org has.

For prospecting on the internet start at The Foundation Center's website. This is also an excellent resource for any new grant writer. They have wonderful 'classes' on basics and 'how to's'.
To search and locate a grant donor's IRS form 990 go to Guidestar's website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Your Agency's First Grantwriter Starts Work Monday


I ask, "Ack!"? Why?

You may say to me,
'Well, we know we need a grant writer at this agency, but now we've invested in this new staff member and we have no guarantees that grant money will come in. What have I done?'

I understand how you feel. You are not the first ED or board member that has hired a grant writer onto the staff only to wonder 'can we afford this?'.

Welcome your new employee, give him/her the orientation, introduce him/her to staff, clients, volunteers, and community contacts as time unfolds.

You will want to have pulled together copies of all past grant work and have that ready for your newbie. For instance, if ten years ago your agency solicited grants regularly, bring that box of old files out of storage. Have you or another staff member attempted writing proposals? Even if you didn't wind up mailing it - share it with him/her. You may have written a good history of the organization in there or given some recently published statistics that could be helpful.

Have other agency items compiled for your new advocate to be able to inform potential donors about why they should invest in your agency:
- recent newsletters
- agency financials
- most recent annual report
- agency's most recent IRS 990 filing
- recent press clippings/press releases
- recent science or news about your cause
- board roster
- employee roster
- number of current volunteers and hours worked last year
- IRS letter of 501(c)(3) determination
- brochures
- recent survey results
- number of program attendees/number of hours worked towards programs last year
- most recent financial audit from independent CPA (check out Sarbanes Oxley Act and concerns about the non profit sector from this for profit sector law)
- break down of agency's various income streams and percentages spent on programs and overhead for agency

You can imagine, after seeing the above, what else could help someone new to your agency or cause to educate them and give them documents to meet guideline requirements.

Also, give this new grant writer on your staff your support in front of the rest of the staff. The staff needs to understand that they will be expected to work with and assist the new grant writer in his/her job of raising grant money for their (the staff members') programs and services.

Schedule a meeting for your grant writer to get to know your bookkeeper and CPA. You, the grant writer, and the bookkeeper are the main grant team in your office. Consider asking your grant writer if they would mind reporting to the board, once a quarter, on their progress and what they're hearing back; it's a good way to be sure that the board is kept up to date, but it's also an opportunity for the board to be able to assist the grant solicitation process by advocating for grants in tandem with a written proposal, in the community, simply by talking about your agency and its successes.

Most importantly, give the process time. Know that public relations, talking with colleagues in the community, and meeting grant donors as requested, is also important when trying to receive grants.

Your new staff member will be on their way to assisting in raising your agency some of its first grants!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Talking Is Good

Get out of your office and into the community telling other non profits, foundations, corporations, government agencies, and anyone else who will listen who your agency is, what you do, and how well you do it.

Contrary to what your fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Applebottom told you, talking is good.

She was concerned that you were missing her lesson, but I am encouraging you to pick up the phone, lunch, mingle, so that you may explain, describe, ask, and listen in your community.

Sounds terrifying? I understand.

When Mrs. Applebottom caught you talking with Suzie - you were just goofing off. You were only going to whisper one thing to Suzie and then you were going to turn around and sit up in your seat and listen to Mrs. Applebottom. In your mind it almost didn't even matter that you were talking to Suzie. You just had to tell her that one thing.

Keep it that simple for yourself and for the person that you're talking with - ALWAYS.

Now, I didn't just recommend talking during someone's discussion - but I do suggest approaching discussions with colleagues, peers, and clients in the same detached frame of mind.

When your friends or family ask, 'what is it that your organization does?' - what is your "elevator speech", or what is it that you have found yourself saying to friends/family to describe your non-profit?

This speech is a good place to start when talking with anyone. From this frame of reference, take your discussion where you are comfortable. If it is with discussing a specific recent program- do it. If it isn't - do not do it. Perhaps you happen to know of a client's story that is pertinent to this person's interest. Tell it. There's no right or wrong - or perfect discussion. There is, though, an opportunity in each discussion for you to communicate your organization's strengths and successes.

To make yourself comfortable you will need to do what the listener prefers which is; keep discussions to the point, give them a chance to ask questions, give your business card out and ask for theirs'.

At the end of the meeting, mingle, dinner, or what have you; briefly write a note on the back of each person's business card that you received stating where you met, the date, and what you learned about their work.

If the person that you talked with is a potential donor, then the protocol, preparation, and information that you will explain and ask for will be entirely different than this scenario of simply getting into the community and getting word out to others about your agency. For information about asking donors for a donation, face to face, look at Tony Poderis', successful fundraiser and author, website at

Make your organization and its successes well known - get out of your office chair and talk.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Declined Grant Request

If you have solicited grants you have received notice that some of your proposals have been declined. It is a part of the grant raising process to be declined, and more than once or twice.

You put all of that work into that grant proposal, and there is the response letter; "declined".

I know how you feel. All of us who write grant proposals do. You are not alone by any means.

May I suggest the following to you, your E.D., and board:

1. Be willing to apply for grants and forge relationships with grant donors imperfectly. In other words, do not try to put out THE perfect proposal only to be CRUSHED by a decline. Agencies that give grants place many factors into whether or not they give a grant donation and they are beyond their deciding whether your grant proposal is "perfect". Perhaps their coffers are low. Maybe they have outstanding pledges to grant before they can accept new proposals. What if their Trustee just passed away and the will is in probate, causing the foundation's endowment to be frozen? You don't know why a grant is declined sometimes, but call the foundation and gently, professionally, and kindly ask why. Yes, it's ok to do that. Lastly, be open to learning what you can do (better, or adjust, or on a different date) on your next proposal to that grant donor's organization and do it next time.

2. Be realistic. If a grantor doesn't typically give to the cause that your organization works towards, or if the grant donor has been rumored to be in financial straight; don't expect them to donate a grant to you any time soon. In fact, weight whether it's worth sending them a proposal this round or not. If it's more likely that they won't grant to your group this time, don't apply this round, and spend that time on a proposal to a grantor that is more likely to give.

3. Prioritize submitting proposals to grant donors that seem most likely to give to your organization. While you research foundations and others that would give to your organization; prioritize which grant donors are most likely to give to your group. For instance, a foundation that grants to organizations in your region, to the cause that you work for, typically gives grants in the dollar range that you are looking for towards the kind of programs/project that you are needing funding for, etc. is more likely to grant to your agency than one that gives to agencies like yours, but in another city or county. Work on the proposals to the most likely donors before submitting requests to entities that do not match up as well to your org.

4. A 'decline' is not the end of the relationship (or read "not the end of the world"). Your potential donor is communicating with you whether their response to your proposal is 'yes, we're sending you the $1,000,000 grant,' or 'while we appreciate the work your organization does, we can not donate a grant to your org, currently'. First, it is good that they have responded. Second, any communication is actually GOOD communication because it's an opportunity for your organization. Here's what I mean; any communication allows you to a) begin a file on that organization, always keep their correspondence, and have a history with them to follow, b) respond, c) understand what their organization's fiscal cycle, priorities, and preferences are to know for the next submission to their foundation and actually apply the next time you ask them for a grant, and d) to demonstrate that you, as your org's grant writer, listen to them, care about their position as donors, and can follow through by thanking them for their attention to your proposal (yes, even if they declined giving to your group). Above all, if they remain a likely grant donor for your agency in the future, absolutely submit another proposal to them when their guidelines allow you to re-apply. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. Grant making should not be taken personally, but rather appreciated for the information you get to leverage your organization and its next application.

5. Apply to enough potentially likely grant donors so that you statistically will probably receive enough grants in the fiscal year to fulfill the grant budget goal. Remember that word "probably". When any organization deals with any donor (and I mean, even if that donor has given $1,000,000,000,000 to your org every year since 1901) never assume you'll get the donation. You know what they say about assuming. It makes a donkey out of you and me.

6. Remember that every organization that solicits grants receives responses regretfully declining requested grants every year. Your org is good but so are thousands of thousands of others. Grant donors can't give to us all always. We could all use a slice of humble pie now and then. Unfortunately, maybe we could use less humble pie some times of the fiscal year than others!

7. Research those grant donors that you are about to send proposals to beyond just looking at their giving history, IRS form 990, and their website or publications. Look to see if there is recent news on them. Has one of your colleagues at another agency recently applied and heard back from them? Find out what they told him/her about their current giving and the current state of their foundation. Has someone just passed on in their board of trustees? Is their giving being questioned by a professional association (i.e. a question about their ethics)? Is the IRS looking into them? Consider the answers to these kinds of news items and ask yourself, is your organization still able to apply to them (given your org's Development Plan and ethics)? If no or maybe, then decide what priority that grant donor should be in the line of proposal you'll write. If, yes, then go for it! If you can, know what is going on lately with the donors you approach.

8. Ask your colleagues who are grant writers for other causes to share any leads they find and do the same with them. Since I've been a professional grant writer I have sent to colleagues who work for different agencies (i.e. working for causes different than my org's or are in a different financial position than the org that I work for) leads on donors and the associated information. It's good business. Why? When I help them with a lead, they will respond and send me a lead. It has worked like that for me, and frankly, it helps my organization's cause and others'.

9. Get over the fact that we are "competing" for grant dollars. It helps you help your colleagues who can reciprocate and help you. Only organizations who apply to a grant donor for the same type of cause, and the same project/program, in the same grant period are really competing for grant money. That's the only time. Just the same, make your relationship with the grant donor a communicative one; work for an organization has a successful, long, mission-completing history; and be a good donation recipient and the competition falls away.

10. Continue to be open, listen to others, and learn whenever you can.

Finally, don't use the word "rejected" when referring to a potential grant donor who says they can't fund your request at this time. You, your organization, your proposal, and your project were not rejected.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What Are The Steps To Hiring A Grant Writer?

Let's say . . .

Your agency has been receiving about thirty percent of its annual income from individual donations. A community agency has been supporting your group for about ten years, annually, thus providing about twenty percent of your org's annual income. Forty percent is raised each year through five different special events, and the remaining ten percent is raised by your board members.

You and your board know that the two new programs that you want to provide require more money in the budget. Besides, your agency has never gone after grant money. It's an untapped resource that you want to begin to tap. Why leave a potential donation stream to your agency untouched? Your board and you agree. It's time. You are facing hiring a grant writer. How does that work?!

To raise money you will have to spend money. Sounds crummy? You have already been doing this. To raise donations from your donor base you send them newsletters complete with donor envelopes, or you mail them annual appeal letters, invite them to special events, and solicit them. The solicitation cost time and money to create, design, print, mail, and manage. These costs are part of the cost of raising money for non-profits. Hiring a grant writer is no different. Lastly, it is unethical to pay a grant writer a percentage of any grants your agency may receive. Why? No grant donor is giving the grant to an agency so that you can pay your fundraising staff. They give grants to connect with successful programs that fulfill a given non profit's mission. They give grants to the program or project that the grant was requesting funds for. That money is expected to be spent on only what the grant proposal asked money for. Your agency could get a reputation for spending grant money less than ethically and that would be the kiss of death for more than just fundraising grant donations. Lastly, a grant is not received based on whether a grant writer writes a good proposal or not. It is received because that foundation wants to be a part of completing your mission. A good grant proposal is just part of the equation. Your agency's track record and reputation are equally as important as to whether a grant is received or not.

So, budget for your grant writer. Don't have room in the budget to hire one? Add a one time, only, fundraiser to the year and raise the money to do so. Expect the grant writer to be paid by the hour (may not be the case) and expect them to want to first, get familiar with what information is already pulled together to write a proposal, to prospect for grant donors to apply to, to get familiar with your agency and history, and to write, submit proposals, and end of grant reports, etc. Keep in mind, too, that foundations typically meet once a quarter or less. It is usually best to mail a proposal for a project at least four months before the project is going to start so that you have time to hear back from the potential funders for that project. When you meet potential grant writers, ask for the time they estimate that is required to do the grant work that your agency needs done. Ask them to include a price quote with that.

An agency may want to begin its grant program internally and recruit from within someone who will take on extra hours and become the agency grant writer. This is a common occurrence, except the extra hours are not usually given to the 'chosen' grant writer, and this person doesn't usually have grant writing experience or know how. This means that this person will have to learn how to write grant proposals and how to find potential grant donors. If your agency can invest the time and money into this staff member AND give him/her the proper extra time more than what they're already doing for their 'real' job at your org; then great - do that. Your staff member will be familiar with your org when sitting down to write, they'll know where to find information necessary for a grant proposal, and they are already invested in your agency's mission.

If an organization would rather pay someone who already has the skills and expertise to write grant proposals sooner than later it's good to hire a consulting grant writer or consulting firm. Firms that specialize in fundraising and non profit organizational management can either provide grant writing services or direct you to colleagues who do. Similarly, look for local grant writing or fundraising (or Development) association in your area; they're likely to have a listing of local consulting grant writers, too.

Get a feel of the average cost of grant writers in your area. Ask colleagues who they use for their grant writing and how much they cost. Ask who they really felt did a good job and why. Arrange for a few grant writers to come in for interviews. Ask for their time and cost estimates based on the scope of work you're hiring for. Pay attention to whom you click with and communicate well with and who you don't. Much of grant writing is back and forth; learning about the agency, understanding the mission and agency's work, going over proposal drafts, etc. It is a close working relationship and you want to hire a grant writer who you can work with. Ask them for references and check them.

I have heard people who are hiring grant writers say that they want to hire a grant writer who gets at least 50% of their proposals that they send out funded. Or, they want to hire someone who has raised $150,000 or more in grants in the previous fiscal year. Also, I've heard of agencies hiring grant writers and telling them that they want the writer to mail at least two proposals a week. When an agency hires a grant writer and focuses only on the money - it's a warning to grant writers applying for the job. These are potential clients, in our eyes, who will not be invested in the process of grant writing, which requires time, quality, and relationship building. It will be high pressure and that pressure will be unrealistic and unfair. Eventually, these potential clients won't be happy with 'enough' and the grant writer will have 'failed' their agency.

Consider understanding the following:
You want to be able to return to a grant donor and receive grants again and again in the future.
(This requires time, relationship building, and ethical accounting and procedures).
You want to receive grants based on your agency's ability to meet its mission and meet it well.
(This requires that foundation staff, when they talk to other foundation staff, speak highly of your agency, staff, and organization's work).

You don't want a high turn over rate in your fundraising department. The time it takes a new employee to get situated and really underway is called a learning curve and it is expensive for an agency to have to keep paying for. (The benefit of a grant writer that stays working for your firm is their knowledge of your agency, their knowledge of your grant program, consistency, and their dedication to the mission).

After you've hired your grant writer work with them and remember that your responses to their questions, or your proof reading, or getting the documents that they need back to them is as necessary to the grant writing process as the grant writer sitting down to write. The grant writer is a part of grant raising but he/she is not responsible for it, alone. Working together is how it's done.

To know what to budget for a grant writer or what is a reasonable fee/wage read Pricing Grant Writers - What Should We Pay for A Grant Writer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Coordinating Office Colleagues' Grant Needs

My colleagues, in this office, are social workers. Their days are filled with meeting clients, checking the safety of clients' homes, filling out paper work, attending meetings, and much more.

Because we ask for our clients' feedback, annually, we receive a 'reading' from the local community about what needs exist, what needs we are meeting, which we are not meeting; and from there we make plans for new programs, changes to current programs, etc.

Our mission and the community's needs determine the new costs this agency will face. The costs could come from new programs, new staff, new capital needs, or costs to re-do something and update it, etc.

Our social workers are the 'front line'. They know our clients and they are designing the new programs and determining what is needed thus leading to new costs (or expenses).

I have developed an intra-office process so that the agency's new programs receive grant funding. Over the past two and a half years it has worked well.

My policy? It is simple.

1. My door, e-mail In Box, phone extension, and In Box are all always 'open'. I remind my co-workers of this at staff meetings and in conversation. I always say to them, "let me know what you're planning for in the future", "let me know what is going to need money", and "give me more than four months' notice before you're implementing the first of the new program/project/etc."

2. After I receive notice, I make a thirty minute meeting appointment with key staff. I ask for and note the basic details, and then hand them a form that I have used for a few years which requests all of the pertinent program info that I do not know, but they do. I agree on a due date for their completed returned form with them and then explain to them the timeline for the particular foundation that I'm approaching for their project (I'll have figured out, before the meeting, which foundation(s) I am going to approach).

3. When I sit down to begin writing I have the foundation all researched, I have my notes from my meeting with the new project key staff, and I have the completed info form from the key staff. All of this helps me populate the proposal with pertinent information.

4. After, I ask the key staff to review the proposal before I mail it, looking for any project information corrections or updates. I also let them know how likely it is that we'll receive that grant, and the anticipated timeline - how often that foundation meets to review proposals, and if the grant is awarded, when it's expected.

After a grant is received, I sit down with the key staff, again, and suggest (based on each foundation's preference) whether the staff should thank the foundation on the new project's brochures, at programs, or in the press. I might also suggest that they invite key foundation staff or Trustees if that is appropriate.

Otherwise, I always ask the key staff to follow through with their program evaluations and when I need results by, so that I can mail a final grant report to the foundation on time.

If it's difficult to work a process out with your colleagues, ask them for their suggestions as to how to work with them to gather information necessary for the grant proposal. Remind them that you're trying to get pertinent information so that their project can be funded. Keep meetings with them short, to the point, and clear. Also, make it easy for them to give you the information that you'll need. The request for information form that I use only requests one or two line answers and is clear and easy to understand.

This simple process has worked. I suggest it!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Where To Put "Overwhelmed" On the Calendar?

We all know this feeling.

You're up fifteen minutes late Tuesday morning. Your cat needs to be let in and the dog that you adore could use a fifteen minute walk. Your partner is getting the kids ready (AGAIN).

You remember what calls need to be made, how much of that proposal you were working on yesterday is left to finish, and you somehow, during all of the thinking, got from home to work.

You hit your desk and get back into the work rhythm you were keeping yesterday . . .until . . . .

Pick one:
A. One of your Board members stops by to "just talk for fifteen minutes" which winds up lasting forty-five minutes.
B. You realize that the date that you thought the proposal that you're finishing was due next week, and it's actually due that day.
C. Your child's school called and little Ralph has a terrible tummy ache and needs you to pick him up and take him home.
D. Or, all of the above.

I've gone to sessions at conferences that deal with this topic. I've heard friends, colleagues, and family discuss their solutions.

Some are:
1. Actionable items lists
2. Agency-wide project management software
3. Internet intstant messanger programs for instant/constant communication
4. Palm pilots (especially those that coordinate with your computer)
5. Etc., etc.

Life is full; can move fast; and requires us to complete tasks; if not also wonderful; fulfilling; difficult; challenging; etc.

The fact is, we each have been organizing ourselves and our worlds (work, personal, etc.) up until right this moment.

What has worked for you? What actually really does not work for you? Prioritizing? Scheduling? Communicating with others? Giving up wanting control over someting? Listening? Staying open to others' ideas and letting your insecurities down for a bit?. What could help? Be honest with yourself.

We all know that changes could be made to our efforts, and yet, we are getting the work done. Start with basics and considering changing one thing about your planning, prioritizing, scheduling, or general organization and really stick with it for a work week. IF it works for you; great. If it doesn't; fine, but try something new.

It may actually help.

[Note: if you would like the grant program spreadsheet you need to e-mail me by clicking on my Profile in the upper right hand side of this web page, and following through.  I will not respond to requests that I e-mail it to you, posted here, in the Comments section below.]

Monday, June 28, 2004

Changes Happen - Let Your Constituency Know

One of the agencies that I work for is on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 to June 30th. In two days I will close our donor software books for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.

Our 2004 - 2005 agency budget was radified by our Board in early June. We just finished summarizing the results from our 2003 -2004 annual client survey from which we tabulate clients' response to what we do and how we do it. The list of foundations who donated grants to us this year is longer than last year's list. And, there are many other changes that occured in the 2003 - 2004 fiscal year compared to last year.

I have been busily checking our agency thank you letters to donors to be sure that they are updated and current. Similarly, I have made sure that our grant proposals reflect all of the current and new information. We have thanked those foundations that granted to us this year, in our newsletter, as appropriate; and made sure that they were reflected in place of last year's grant donors.

It's work to keep up to date but it pays off. Our donors and clients can watch our progress. Thank you letters are refreshed annually, so that recipients know that we inform them as soon as new information about this agency is available.

Our goal is not just full disclosure, but really, our goal is to include donors and clients in the progress that we experience. They are a part of our betterment or changes, and they are in on learning about it. The sense of community is extended to everyone involved with our agency in this way.

When we experienced a down turn in donations after 9/11 shook the country and our economy; our consituency was not surprised to receive a 'one time' solicitation that they had never received from us, before. We had let them know gently that we were feeling the economic change. It was called "Ten From Our Friends" and the idea was that if every donor who had given ten dollars or more to our organization over the then past two years gave an 'extra' $10 that year, we would be back on budget, despite the economy. We made over $16,000 from Ten From Our Friends, which helped. Our annual agency budget is not much over $500,000/year usually, so we felt that $16,000 increase. Without our community, we would have been down $16,000 in 2001.

Note the changes at your organization, and as appropriate, be sure that your consituency is told about them. When your org is in need they are there. When times are good they are there. There is no reason not to include the whole community in what they've contributed to.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Word "Gets" Is In "Budgets"

Most often a budget is one component of a grant proposal. This one part of the document can be 'the hurdle' for some. You may wonder,

'Who creates the grant proposal budget?'
'What information goes into a budget?'
'How detailed does the grant proposal budget need to be?'


You aren't alone.

As a public entity and as an entity asking for financial assistance, expect to fully disclose your organization's accounting. Investors have a right to get a sense of your whole organization including costs, how and where money is spent, and how well its money is handled.

When a foundation receives a grant proposal they are looking at one of many many documents that they have to read to understand the request, the agency making the request, what the money is requested for, and how healthy is the agency, among other points.

One way for a foundation to determine your agency's 'health' is to look over your agency's financials. These are the agency's accounting reports such as the Balance Sheet (from the most recent closed accounting period), a Profit and Loss (Year to Date (which means 'so far in this fiscal year'), agency budget (current), and the past fiscal year financials (preferably audited by an outside accounting firm, per the Sarbanes Oxley Act).

The financials give a picture of how the agency's leadership spends the agency's money, where the money is spent, and how healthy your organization's cash flow is.

Your grant proposal budget details the accounting (budgeted and actual income and expenses)for whatever you are requesting the grant for. So, if you would like a grant to build an addition onto the single mothers' housing facility that your organization runs then the proposal budget would include all financial detail about the projected and actual (after the project begins) expenses and the projected and actual (after the project begins) income. Here's an example:

Mother's Safe Haven
Grant Proposal to the Nest Foundation
For Building an Addition to Haven House


$35,000 - Our Major Donors
$50,000 - Mothers' Foundation grant (Notification due Dec. 2005)
$20,000 - Good Neighbor Bank grant
$20,000 - Fundraiser Dinner at the Fancy Pants Hotel
Total: $125,000

Actual (Year to Date)
$20,000 - Fundraiser Dinner at the Fancy Pants Hotel
$20,000 - Good Neighbor Bank grant
$20,000 - Our Major Donors
Total: $60,000

Year To Date Income Total: -$65,000


$20,000 Building/Landscaping Materials
$200,000 Construction Labor
$50,000 Construction Management
$15,000 Architect
$5,000 Permits, Fees, and Notices
$1,500 Postage, Printing, Photocopying
$10,000 Electricians
$5,000 Landscaping Contractors
$10,000 Executive Director Salary
$1,500 Bookkeeper Salary
$4,000 4 Month's Mortgage Payments
$2,000 4 Month's Electiricty, Trash, Water, Sewage
$1,000 Cement Mixer and Labor
Total: $325,000 Total

Actual (Year to Date)
-$200,000 Good Guys Construction Labor In Kind Donation of Labor (Received June 2005)
-$50,000 Construction Management
-$10,000 Electricians
Total Paid:$260,000

Year to Date Actual Total Project Budget: -$125,000

If a foundation requests more detail in the budget; start with the basic information that needs to go into your budget (as suggested in the example above) and then add the detail as appropriate either as footnotes on the same sheet as the budget or in the written portion of the document.

Always be sure that when you proof read your proposals that the budget is also proofed by someone who can read and understand budgets and that everything that is mentioned in the written portion of your proposal matches correctly with the budget, itself. There should never be any discrepencies between what you claim in a proposal and the agency's accounting.

If the project head or the agency's accountant already has a budget for the program - great, use it! Make sure that each line item is described well enough so that anyone reading it will understand what each line is describing (get rid of jargon). Also, be sure that each party in the project has ok'ed that budget.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Your Track Record Is Out There

Foundations and other entities that donate grants talk with each other. The foundation trustees, staff, and program managers are not only colleagues working in the same field; they have a fiscal responsibility for the grant donation choices that they make. One way to investigate whether a non profit is a good candidate to receive a grant is to ask colleagues whether they've given that agency a grant before, and if so, what was their experience with that agency?

Was the agency truthful in their grant proposal? Did the agency account for the grant in their bookkeeping honestly? Was the money spent only on the program/project? Did they complete any reporting that was asked of them? Honestly? In a timely manner? Did the grant money result in benefits to the community? Would you grant to them again?

Or, if a non profit is currently working on a grant raising campaign for a single item, project, or program, several different grant proposal recipients (foundations, etc.) may get together to discuss a giving strategy for each of their foundations to give to your organization.

For instance,

Barney Rubble Foundation's representative may suggest, "We know that there is a need in our community for a $60,000 adult day care program. We each received a proposal to submit a grant to it. What do your foundations think?"

Joanie from The Fonz's Friends Fund may respond, "We know the need exists, too, and our own foundation's research suggest that the need that they state in their grant proposal was right on the mark. The need in our community is there and the amount that they are asking to start the program passed our internal audit of their proposed amounts,"

"We at the Mork & Mindy Trust feel the same way," Wednesday said. "We have heard good things about the non-profit's success rate and reputation. We're willing to fund them. We're going to give the full ask request that they proposed, $20,000,"

"Ok, that's what my trustees wanted to know,"

"Mine, too,"

"Well, we at The Fonz's Friends Fund will submit the $10,000 grant that they asked of us, then,"

The Barney Rubble Foundation's rep smiled, "My trustees will feel more confident due to your foundations' leadership. We will submit the $15,000 asked of us, too, then,"

This is the conversation that you probably hope that a group of foundations that you submit grant proposals to would have. It's a good one.

These grantors are each familiar with your organization. They are familiar with your agency's work and reputation. They also feel comfortable with giving because they checked the numbers (dollar amounts and the need for the adult day care program that you claimed) in your agency's grant proposal and everything was realistic and accurate. Your agency and its proposal lead to the Mork & Mindy Trust giving first. Not only are they going to donate a grant, they are going to give your non profit the full request amount of $20,000 to begin the adult day care program. Mork & Mindy Trust were community leaders indicating a commitment and a strong one to this program. The other two grantors followed suit. Having a major foundation lead the granting is powerful. It will allow your non profit to go to several other foundations, now, and list these three foundations as granting the amounts that they are, while your agency mails grant requests for the remaining $15,000 necessary to begin.

Your agency's track record in its work and its reputation as a timely, honest, accountable, open, and well researched agency is as important to getting grants as who writes your grant proposals, or anything else in your fundraising plan.

If your agency were to go against any ethical principals while soliciting for grants or while spending received grant money, the result would be farther reaching than just harm done to the relationship with the grantor who gave your org that grant. Foundations do talk to each other and if you request grant money at all, they have or will discuss your organization. Make it easy for them to give your group a grant. Set your organization up for success.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Remembering Leaders

We've reflected on his leadership since President Ronald Reagan's passing this weekend. We also reflected on the leaders, whose names we do not each know, that altered the contemporary course of history on June 6, 1944 at many various beaches on France's west coast.

You may be a leader of a non profit organization, or perhaps a community leader who volunteers? We are all familiar with a leader that we have admired, and we all could tell stories about the people who were supposed to lead us that were not effective.

Leadership is relative. Where there is a need for a leader, one really only fulfills that position if they are in fact motivating others. Group leaders are not always the one hired as the executive director, or board president, etc. There may be someone paid to be the executive director or the CEO, but it may be another member of the organization that fulfills the actual leadership role.

Non profits require various numbers of leaders for a single organization. For instance, there is the program manager, case manager, executive directors, CEO's, board president, committee chair, the volunteer who mans a table for your agency at an event, etc.

The organization functions because of the various leaders and the many parts requiring leadership. How well it functions depends on those leaders' abilities to truly motivate others.

On your short list, what are the requirements of your agency's leaders (both paid leaders and those not recognized formerly as a 'leader' in your organization)?
1. Gets along well with others
2. Can multi-task
3. Has experience managing people
4. Has a good resume' and history with past positions

What about another short list? Here's my hypothetical:
1. Thinks on their own, but listens well to suggestions and new ideas.
2. Is creative and stays open
3. Is not afraid to listen to themselves
4. Sincerely tries to do what they believe should be done from a place of genuine interest for the mission statement.

There's no 'right' or 'wrong' if you are hiring in a safe and professional manner.

Dream of the leader for each leadership position in your organization. Ask subordinates, superiors, colleagues in other organizations in the same position, and any other person who would work directly with this position in your organization; what would the candidate's traits be that would make this position a strong and effective one in our organization?

When each of our favorite leaders started out, they did not know what entirely their job would entail, or the leader they would become, but they knew what they could do and they grew into the leaders that we admire, in retrospect.

How do you look forward to those same types of leaders for your organization?

Monday, May 31, 2004

Is There Really A Grant That Our Organization May Not Take?

Hypothetically, let's say that your non profit organization is a private elementary school.

Let's say that among all of the grant proposals sent out six months ago, one of them was to Cool Cola Corporation, a multi million dollar business that includes a generous foundation. Your grant writer sent Cool Cola Corporate Foundation a proposal asking for $50,000 for the new gymnasium for the elementary.

Cool Cola sends you and your Board of Directors a response letter to your grant proposal stating ". . . and we are proud to inform you that we are granting Ecological Eco-Tots Elementary Private School $50,000 to be spent building the Eco-Tots a new gym,". You are elated, relieved, and grateful. You know that your Board, the students' parents, and the students will appreciate having that safe, state of the art, new gym everyone had been dreaming of.

While reading the terms of accepting the grant, Cool Cola requests that a short story is released to the local press by your elementary school announcing that Ecological Eco-Tots Elementary Private School received a $50,000 grant from the Cool Cola Corporate Foundation. At first, upon reading the letter, you are happy to comply, even appreciative of the opportunity to put your school into the local press and announce its successful capital campaign.

But, then a concern pops into your head. Not only does it pop into your head, but when the letter is read at the next Board meeting, most of the Board Members think of the same concern, upon hearing Cool Cola's request,

'if we accept Cool Cola Corporation's grant for our ecological school are we accepting a relationship with and financial support from an easily recognizable company that through its world wide market has demonstrated so-so environmental stewardship, that sells a product having high amounts of sugar and low nutritional value, and a low priced product that children with pocket change can afford perhaps too easily? Would we be going against our school or non profit's mission?'

In order for your organization to successfully solicit grants and to also successfully receive grants it is wise to have an organizational fundraising or Development plan. It not only describes how your organization raises financial and in kind donations (for example, maybe it would include an annual appeal, five annual special events, grants, and regular donation solicitation in your quarterly newsletter); the Development plan also discusses that a donation must support the mission, first, to be accepted.

Having the Development plan in place that includes a discussion about donation acceptance makes it easy for your leadership to avoid reacting to a donation, and to know, instead, which donations can be accepted and which can not. Having the plan allows there to be dialogue about what a donation that supports the mission is, before a donation comes through your door that may tempt you to avoid supporting your own mission, by accepting it. A fundraising plan gets the leadership on the same fundraising page and it informs your local community about your organization's dedication to your mission.

In the end, you and your Board may decide that accepting the Cool Cola grant would cost your school more in public perception among your organization's constituency and the students' parents than it would provide for a new gymnasium. You then call the grant liaison at the Cool Cola Corporate Foundation and explain what your organization has decided about itself, that of course you were grateful to receive the grant, but that you are returning the grant to them.

You and your Board know that there are enough grantors in the region that may give, still, to your capital campaign for a new gymnasium. The likelihood of receiving grant support is not relevant if you, yourself, are not supporting your own mission.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Soliciting Grant Money 101

Receiving donations in the form of grants could be a good additional piece of the fundraising pie for your agency.

If you are considering raising funds by applying for grants, understand that grants are not a good single source of donations, alone, for any agency. Total agency fundraising should be accomplished through a diverse set of donation streams such as fees from an agency program, service, or business; a constituency of regular donors; being a United Way agency; major donors; In Kind donors (who regularly give products or services in lieu of money); service contracts; special event fundraiser; annual fund raising campaigns (i.e. an annual appeal solicitation); Board of Directors' raised funds; grant writing, bequests, endowment donations, etc. Fundraising or Development diversity protects your organization from being financially vulnerable to any one single donation generating stream.

Grants are never a sure thing and they are short lived donations. A grant raised to hire a new staff member will cover a fixed time period (i.e. a year) and does not guarantee that there will be another grant next year to cover the cost of that new staff member's position. Similarly, no grant is ever a guaranteed donation to your agency. A new staff member may be paid for in his/her first year through a grant, but it's best to secure that new staff member in your agency by planning what other new revenue will be raised to pay for the new employee ahead of receiving the grant, in the first place. Why? Grant donors give to programs or projects that they know will be able to sustain itself financially, over time, beyond the life of the grant they may donate. They don't want to give to a project that is going to fade away after their grant is spent.

How does an agency receive a grant? Ask for it and be very good at what your mission is. Your successful track record is the best first step to receiving a grant.

Receiving a grant requires more than submitting an excellent grant proposal, though. Grant donors give grants because they believe in a specific cause (and usually give to causes in a specific geographical region). Understanding each separate grant donor (and their granting guidelines) individually is requisite in completing each grant proposal completely. The donor may want to connect to the cause that you support more than giving a grant. If so, they are offering an opportunity for your agency to make a relationship and relationships are the groundwork to future funding and community development. All interactions between your agency and a donor should be 'peer to peer', meaning a leader of your agency (volunteer or paid) meets with their representative. They should be given the respect and attention of the people in charge of your agency. If anything less is offered the potential grantor may feel that they are not of enough concern or interest to your agency, otherwise.

How else can you forge a relationship with a potential grant donor besides meeting with them? Submit a proposal and if it is not accepted, kindly and thankfully ask why to improve the next proposal you submit to them. Re-submit to grant donors who have an interest in the cause you work for. Demonstrate, (through your grant proposal, how you spend the grant, and report) an honest, thorough, timely, transparent, successful, and communicative agency in all interactions. Be persistent and patient.

A grant program does not automatically begin by earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money on the first year of trying. It takes time. Like anything else, grant donors may want to see your name across their desk a few times before giving, they may want to talk to colleagues to learn what they know of your agency, and they may want to give to you, but have already allotted their current funding to other organizations. Be persistent.

Be seen and heard. Agencies that do not promote themselves are more difficult for grant donors to know anything about. Invest time and energy into making sure that your local community knows that your agency does what you do and how successful you are at your agency's work. Promote your agency's work and your successes.

Successful, visible, prepared, and honest agencies with a diversified set of donation income streams will be setting their agencies up to be successful at grant raising.

Monday, May 17, 2004


As I begin this Blog there are new beginnings in grant writing, today, too.

The recent American economic up-tick offers non-profit organizations hope for more funding opportunities.

We were all captivated and lulled by the economic comfort of the 1990's, particularly the end of the decade. But the bubble popped and we Development professionals; major donor cultivators, special event coordinators, volunteer leaders, marketing and PR committee members, grant writers, and the others had to sit down and catch our collective breath. After the shock of the attack on civilians, on the American notion of freedom, capitalism, democracy, and our formerly more open society we Development professionals, like others who had been effected, finally found our legs to stand back up and sort out how to go forward for the non profit organizations that we raise support for. During the years between 2001 and 2004 literature in our industry lamented the cause but noted that the change in economy forced us Development professionals to have to re-assess, and that was not such a bad idea after so many consecutive years of economic stability.

Today, we American not for profit organizations (NPO's) that survived the worst fundraising downturn since the industry has recognized and tracked itself, remember some other local NPO that did not. Of the organizations that did, we survived because of already established agency endowments, diversified agency Development Plans, fruitful new fundraising, or going to the constituent donors and simply telling the truth, 'we're in a terrible economic spot, would you support our org so that we may survive?' The fact is, as our industry's rags have said, fair or not, the struggle for agencies' survival, in essence, asked the larger question 'is this organization's mission relevant today and is our organization perceived as meeting a need in our community?'. The final question, of course, was 'if your answer to these questions is 'yes', then do you have the money to donate to us in this economy?' The last may have been the 'make or break' question for an organization. If we've lost organizations in America only because their donors could not afford to support them, even though the organizations were successfully meeting a need in their community, then the loss is all of ours'.

But, here we are, three years after September 11th. You and I have learned from the terrible fundraising economy we just passed through. I know that we may still be emerging from it. But, I'm staying optimistic.

Foundations, community organizations, corporations, governments, and others who provide grants, having also rode the down economy, hung in there, too. They donated grants as we wrote proposals through it. Now, we know those grant donors who supported which organizations through the worst fundraising period in American history. Imagine the relationships that we've helped forge. We have a place to begin . . .