Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Insert Photos? Fancy paper? Professional Binding?

You've pulled together a great grant proposal for the Scottish Men's Garb Foundation. Your non profit, Kilt Protection Agency, is applying for a grant for a new program that will educate men about why the kilt is an excellent fashion choice, even today.

You're proud of the proposal and eager to get it off to the Scottish Men's Garb Foundation, but you're not sure how to format it. Should you include photos of your clients successfully wearing kilts after going through a similar program? Should you print this on the finest weight and watermarked paper that money can buy? Should you pay for a courier to hand deliver it to the Foundation, avoiding the United States Postal Service, to impress the Foundation? You're not sure.

You decide to look over the Scottish Men's Garb Foundation's grant guidelines. You remember that while the foundation explains in its guidelines what kind of missions, programs, and projects that they will fund and won't fund; and they clearly list what information they want in the proposal, and what attachments they need to come with the grant application; you find that they do not state how they want the final document formatted.

If the foundation's guidelines do state how they want the application formatted, then follow their directions. Always follow the foundation's guidelines' directions. Also, if you, after reviewing their guidelines, and do not find specific guidelines for formatting you may call your contact at the foundation and ask what they prefer.

If, though, you know that this particular foundation does not like phone calls (some do not) and you do not see specific requirements for formatting in their grant application guidelines, default to simplicity, clarity, and less money spent.

This is a situation where 'less is more'.

Foundation's Board members and staff (and anyone else, there, who reviews the grant applications) are busy, often overwhelmed with reading and commenting on applications after deadlines, and it is your job to make their task with your application as easy for them, as possible, so that your organization will receive the grant.

Here is how to get to 'less is more' in formatting your grant proposal (grant application/request):

Do not print the application on expensive paper.

Do not deliver the application via expensive delivery (unless it's on the deadline and getting it in on time is 'iffy').

Do not add expensive photos or drop pictures into your document (unless the foundation's guidelines ask for photos (and then only provide the specific photos that they request).

Do not have the grant proposal bound (again, unless the foundation's requested that it be bound - and then follow their instructions as to how they want it bound).

Why follow these "Do not" steps in formatting? Because foundations (and all of those who you request donations from) do not want to see that your organization spends its money anywhere other than on the work of your mission statement. If you're applying for financial assistance (or even requesting volunteers or just reaching out to the community through print) do not spend extravagant amounts to send the request. Also, these staff members sometimes are only able to gloss over your application. Do not waste the time they could be spending on reading about your organization's success rate with photos that catch their eye, instead.

Your organization needs to impress on potential investors that your organization is excellent at managing money. Your job is to also be able to state why your org is uniquely needed in your community and to relate your organization's successes. Embellishing a request with frills or more money than is necessary may send the wrong message and indicate that you're using 'flash' instead of getting to the point.

Now, as it is with all things that require experience, there is a caveat to this post.

While this post's suggestions will work 95% of the time, it is true that your organization wants to do whatever the foundation requests. If the foundation requests that you submit ten copies of the application, paper clipped maybe, instead of stapled then do it. They may want multiple copies, at your expense, to give one of your applications to each of the people who will review it. Again, always follow the foundation's guidelines. If you know (and I mean you have been told by a reputable recent source) that the foundation that you're applying to LIKES fancy formatting and money spent on the application process - then, use the expensive paper, spend money on graphics and digital photos, and bind it professionally, etc. But, most potential donors to your organization want money spent on the work of your mission - not on the request to them for financial investment.

Setting your organization's application apart from other applicants happens when your application gives the foundation all the information that they request, is complete, concise, clear, and honest. If your organization's work is necessary in the community and you share your org's successes and your request is reasonable and currently of interest to their foundation - they will probably want to support your organization. Fancy formatting isn't going to get your agency the funding - your organization's track record will.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How Do I Write the Statement of Need?

You're sitting down to write a grant proposal and you get stopped in your work by the 'Needs Statement'. What is it? What are grand donors looking for? How do you go forward?

The 'Statement of Need' is the point in your grant request where your organization gets to state why your organization is uniquely meeting the need that your organization does, in your community.

As an exercise, answer some of the following questions to get your ideas flowing.

What do we do in our community that we serve, that no other non profit does?

Have we set ourselves apart by serving more than other non profits in our service area?

Are the results of our work (often tabulated by survey or other 'scientific' methods) quantifiably serving more needs of our constituents?

And you can figure out more questions, along these lines, to develop to help you answer the question 'if our organization were to fold tomorrow, what would our constituency that we serve lose that no other organization would be able to replace for them, tomorrow?'.

The answers to the above questions are the points that you should state clearly, succinctly, and honestly about your organization in the 'statement of need' section of your grant proposal.

So, for example, let's say that you and I work in the grant office of the Fundraising Department for Save the Jellyfish. We know that other non profits are working to protect or save various invertebrates, among other fish, and mammals in the sea. So, we know that there is some overlap by other non profits' work and our own to protect jellyfish. But, we are the only organization uniquely focused on saving jellyfish.

You may feel that you're putting your organization into a 'niche' or restricting the description of your organization at this point. If though, your org is truly an expert in a specific part of your specialty area - then you ARE specialists, and potential funders need to know this. Also, the rest of your proposal should be clear in the other strengths of your organization that you share with other orgs, such as programs, advocacy, or any collaborations you've made with other like-minded non profits in programs/projects or fundraising, etc.

So, getting back to our work together at Save the Jellyfish; our statement of need may wind up being:

"Save the Jellyfish is the only non profit that focuses all of its policy advocacy, public education, protection, and fundraising on the jellyfish, specifically. If our organization were to cease to exist, this invertebrate would lose our specifically- focused support to keep its specie in our oceans now, and in the future."

What you've done is you've said to the potential funder, 'we are in need of your financial support because we are very successful at what we do in these ways, and are needed in our community because we're the only organization that does 'X'.'

You never want to say in your 'Need Statement' that your organization needs financial support 'because your org isn't going to make budget this year', or 'we need assistance because we're a non profit and don't have a ton of money'. Why? Because first, what non profit doesn't face financial crunches? Any organization could say this. Secondly, you haven't shown the potential grant donor why they should invest in your organization and that is your job. Take every opportunity that you may get with a potential donor to educate them about why your organization IS an important investment into our shared community (you know the answer to this, now; because of the successes in your org's work!).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Leadership's Role In Seeking Grants

Over and over again I have heard different foundation's program managers say that the easiest way to get their attention (besides a concise, clear, honest, and complete grant proposal application) is to talk with them.

One of the most prolific but harmful assumptions is that the success of acquiring grants is up to the grant writer.

A good grant writer is of course a key part of a successful grant program, but there are more members of the team than just the grant writer (and more jobs to be done than just prospecting and applying for grants).

The volunteer leadership, the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees, must be telling their colleagues, friends, and family about their volunteer work with your organization, and most importantly why they're working for your specific organization. This can be a two minute 'elevator speech' that is easily rattled off, but clear and informative. (An elevator speech is an description you'd give to someone who asks 'who do you work for?' in the time it might take an elevator to go more than a few floors; you probably already have one). If your volunteers tell folks about your org and speak from their hearts about why they're volunteering with you - they've done a lot of their job!

The staff leadership needs to be in the community regularly talking with corporate, foundation, private, government, and other representatives (that are key to the community building for their business or organization). Leadership staff should also have a clear but informative elevator pitch (again, from the heart and short and sweet).

Contacts are made this way (and need to be recorded in an organized fashion, and followed up with), and it gives people in your local community an opportunity not to just hear about your org's good work, but more importantly to ask you questions. Possibly this may get someone new involved or your org may get a new donor!

Marketing, outreach work, working with other non profits, getting involved in reputible research, and other methods are all also helpful in not just raising grant donations, but in your organization's fundraising.

The key is to be out in the community so that people hear about your organization and actually come to know it and its work! This is not an optional component to fundraising, but an important variable in your organization's success in fundraising.

Maybe you're saying, 'Arlene, I hate schmoozing' or 'I'll feel like a salesman'. Remember; no one is comfortable making pitches, or trying to sell anyone. The key is to just speak from your heart! Say why you work or volunteer for your organization in the way that you want to and that IS good enough. It works better because people respond to enthusiasm and sincerity.

Get out there and good luck!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Volunteers' Importance in Grant Writing

We all know that without volunteers, our organizations would not run. Volunteers contribute their time, knowledge, energy, and care. These saints are critical to our missions' successes!

Not surprisingly, volunteers are also very important to the grant writing process, too.

How?

When a grant donor asks you in their grant application 'how many volunteers served your organization last fiscal year?', and 'how many hours did they work in the last fiscal year?' you need to be as honest in answering this as you would be in your fiscal reporting or in listing the name of your board members in the grant application. Simply hanging a sign-in sheet in the front of the office, and asking each volunteer to sign in and out each time they volunteer, could do the trick. Be diligent in training the volunteers to consistently sign in (it could mean dollars!).

Also, corporate grant donors may ask, on their grant application, that you provide the total number of their employees, or retired former employees, who volunteer for your organization. The company may want to donate grants only to those non profits that their employees deem important enough to volunteer for, in your local community. In this way the corporation is letting their employees pick where the corporate support goes in the community. You may also have volunteers who work for a company that will allow you to request a dollar matching donation for the time that their employee donated, in volunteer hours, to your group. How will you know the answer to these two questions in certain numbers?

At the point of volunteer intake, my guess is that your getting each volunteer's contact information, and possibly demographic information, too. But, equally important is asking each volunteer to list their current employer (or previous employer, if retired); and ask whether their employer has a corporate match or community contribution program. Explain to each volunteer why you're asking for their employer's name; because their volunteer work may contribute more to the organization than their wonderful efforts! Explain that if they want to look into whether their employer donates based on employee volunteerism, they can ask at their employer's corporate Human Resources office. Be sure to remind volunteers annually to inform you if their employment information has changed. Knowing this information and having it easily accessible would let you answer both of the above questions.

Of course there is no need requirement that there be a financial contribution on top of a volunteers generous efforts for your organization! If, though, you need this information in a grant request it is worth getting organized to have it!