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

Beginnings!

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 . . .