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.