Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grant Seeking According To The Various Stages of A Nonprofit's Life

The work to raise grants is similar through each stage of any nonprofit's life cycle (from start up to well established, well known, staffed, stable, well managed, successful, and expert in its field). The nuance, from stage to stage, depends upon the nonprofit's success with fundraising and grant writing in its past. So every day, any nonprofit's work must be successful in its programs and successful in its fundraising.

When a nonprofit is formed (also called a start up) its leadership will make or break the organization. The founder(s) may perceive the organization as its own entity, separate from the founder(s) (and how the federal government sees a given nonprofit) that will thrive, flourish, and grow if they operate it in the best interest of the organization's mission (rather than operating it from one's own ego or neuroses). If the start up nonprofit's leadership understands that unless a person has successful, professional, broad, and contemporary nonprofit experience; each of the nonprofit's leaders (from the board members to the executive director, etc.) must educate themselves. They must take responsibility for what the nonprofit will need of its leaders. It will require professional, ethical, contemporary best practices in everything from creating the organization's bylaws to how to fundraise, to how to expand the number of fundraising programs your organization raises revenue through, annually. Successfully helping the cause that your organization is serving depends upon your organization running well, growing, succeeding, and retaining its best volunteers and donors, while growing its community. The start up nonprofit can raise seed money (grant money that funds new nonprofits, new nonprofits' programs, etc.). They can also raise grants, prior to having their official 501(c)(3) status by locating and forging a formal (legal) relationship with a fiscal sponsor (a nonprofit that already has its 501(c)(3) status who promises to pass 100% of any money your organization raises to your nonprofit (that has yet to receive its official status)). The way that start ups can make the case to potential grant donors that they should receive a grant is to demonstrate the level of expertise, professionalism, and established community members amongst its board. It can also demonstrate the need in the community that the organization will uniquely and successfully meet. It can show that they know the issue, they have experts to execute the work, and they are addressing an issue that isn't being address or maybe isn't being addressed fully.

When a nonprofit becomes what I consider a 'medium sized organization' it has survived its start up stage, thrived, and grown into an organization with success records such as effective leadership, efficient operations, transparent accounting, professional relationships and interactions, and has succeeded at its work towards its mission statement. The mission has driven the major decisions made by most of the organization's past and current board members and other leaders (such as current and past executive directors). The organization has fundraised and raised money well; it's established a few different annual fundraising practices (for example; maybe your organization conducts: donation remittance envelopes in quarterly newsletters, online donation buttons on each web page, annual appeal letters, corporate sponsorships, major donors campaign, a black tie ball, and a golf tournament annually). The successful and stable fundraising calendar (year to year) has provided steady cash flow and allowed the organization's leadership to both budget for the coming year but also plan programmatic growth (for the next three to five years) and build more fundraising or increases in total amounts raised into the nonprofit's fundraising plan (also called a development plan). Perhaps the medium size nonprofit is growing its fundraising by adding grant writing to its fundraising program. Or, maybe the nonprofit has included grant writing in its fundraising work since it started. Either way, this size organization likely has the fundraising and programmatic success to raise grants. It probably makes the case to potential grant donors that they should give to them because they are successful programmatic achievements, or how it builds evaluation methods into its programs to monitor programs' effectiveness and successes (and also uses evaluations to determine what program attributes aren't doing what they were supposed to and need to be changed or ended). Moderately sized nonprofits can demonstrate to potential grant donors that if they contribute a grant to a new program or project, the organization can sustain the program (the program won't 'die on the vine' because the organization can't sustain the new project financially or because of a lack of expertise, etc.). The medium sized organization's board may be new to volunteer leadership but is either learning how to do its job (per the organization's bylaws, state, and federal laws) through maybe board retreats dedicated to board training or by reading seminal books, or taking reputable courses. They are becoming successful expert community leaders, if they aren't already. Staff is in place, and while some or most may only be part time employees, these folks retain the required and necessary credentials, experience, and knowledge to do their jobs; and do them professionally and well.

The long time existing larger nonprofit has reached a 'leader' status in its field of work (and cause). It likely has a well established, connected, experienced board who are able to donate themselves to the organization, in larger amounts, and also have access and influence amongst other community members who contribute at higher amounts, as well. This nonprofit is expert in fundraising. It doesn't just fundraise well, it analyzes fundraising programs for successes and to determine where change or attention is required. It researches potential donors before approaching them and develops potential donors. Its revenue comes from many fundraising methods and each is managed by professional experienced staff, they successfully use donor software (which both greatly improves a nonprofit's relationship with its donors and its capacity to fundraise), and fiscal growth is built into annual development plans and organizational operating budgets. The large established nonprofit knows that half of its work is programmatic and the other half is fundraising. Both must be successful to meet the goals and needs that the mission sets out to address and serve. The big nonprofit's decision making is guided by: the mission (first, and foremost), laws, modern best practices and methods, policy, the bylaws, board development, and contemporary professional nonprofit fundraising methods and nonprofit management best practices. The well established seasoned nonprofit's executive director gets out of the office. He or she is meeting with potential donors and partners of all kinds: foundations; government contacts (e.g. state and federal representatives); colleagues working on the same cause at other nonprofits, at universities, at for-profit companies, and elsewhere; and major donors. The executive director is leaving the programmatic oversight to the Programs Director, and the executive director leaves the day to day fundraising oversight to the Development Director who are each on staff, too. The executive director at the established nonprofit is the 'lead: fundraiser, relationship builder, organizational facilitator', and the lead advocate for the organization and its work. This size organization has been successfully raising grants for years and has established relationships (that it actively acknowledges, manages, and maintains) with most of, if not all, of the potential grant donor entities who work on the same cause as the nonprofit. This organization's strength is int its awareness of its community (donors, potential donors, volunteers, potential volunteers, staff, and potential staff, etc.) and its ability to manage and follow through on its current revenue, programs, operations, accounting, and all other aspects of its operations.

To successfully raise grant money you must make the case to the potential donor and show why they should give (the need) and that they're making a wise investment (the program and nonprofit are going to be around next month and next year and will be successful). Grant writing involves the same steps throughout all phases of a nonprofit's life. You can see how critical it is (for now and posterity) that a nonprofit agency keep organized grant files and records. You can also see that a successful nonprofit focuses always on its mission. The health and success of any nonprofit depends upon the people who manage and lead it (now, and year to year); and their ability to be proactive in their own nonprofit operations education/knowledge, networking, and fundraising. Whether a nonprofit exists year to year depends upon its success at its mission and programs, how well it does its work, how well it markets itself, how well it fundraises for today AND for tomorrow, its leaders' ability to both plan for the future and execute on those plans (programmatic and fundraising), its level of professionalism in all aspects of its operations, and its reputation. Not so surprisingly; potential donors of any kind (grant donors, corporate sponsors, or individuals) give to nonprofits who are succeeding at the very same attributes that are required to be a strong and healthy organization. Who wants to invest in a poorly run, failing nonprofit that is run by leaders who do not think enough of the responsibilty that they took on when they accepted the board position to learn their job and what it takes to be professional and successful at it? No one.

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