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.

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