Sunday, October 26, 2008

Take That Nonprofit's Grant Writing To The Next Level

Grant writing is a long term, larger donation pay-out, lengthy fundraising method. Any organization who has been raising grants (or any nonprofit considering beginning grant writing) is investing in its mission statement, organizational plans (and potential), and also its ability to successfully raise grant money. It's an excellent investment.

There are no guarantees in life, and as this old axiom states, there are also no guarantees in fundraising. You and I both know this. The key to successful fundraising of any kind: grant writing, mailing appeal letters, a major donor campaign, etc. is to learn and know what the fundraising method entails, how a successful version of that type of fundraising method is conducted, how to plan for it (before the fundraising method, in this case grant writing, is started), what a program should cost your size agency, etc. Who is doing what part of each of the organization's work is really key, too. Once the leadership at any nonprofit has learned how any one of all fundraising methods is properly conducted (e.g. effective, efficient, professional, ethical, modern fundraising methods, paradigms, and tips) a committee of board members can begin to plan to implement the new fundraising method (before it is started). Every fundraising requires time to successfully raise more money than it will cost to put it on. On average, American professional nonprofit fundraisers agree that it takes 2 - 5 years of repeatedly conducting the fundraiser, annually, (whether it be a special event, such as a golf tournament; or grant writing) to net more money in donations than was spent to put it on. Plan on the initial years of 'loss' to achieve a successful and profitable fundraiser. If any fundraiser is planned for, conducted, reviewed, and improved year to year, it will pay out all costs, later, and then begin to make more and more money. There aren't really any bad traditional fundraising methods; there are poor fundraisers, though. Create a plan, when implementing your new fundraising method, that begins at least six month from the beginning of the actual fundraiser (to allow for: planning, necessary hiring, purchasing of necessary supplies or equipment, etc.). Also finish your plan at least three years into the future of this new fundraising method (to account for maybe two or three years of initial 'loss' that will be recuperated once the event makes money; our goal is then that it escalates in money raised over the years). To successfully raise enough money for any nonprofit to have enough cash flow for its operations today and for its growth (in new or expanded programs, hiring, etc.) in the future; money, the organization's leadership's time, and planning are necessary. It takes resources to raise resources. The planning will include: a complete timeline (including the date the start of the process will begin); an action items list; corresponding benchmarks (for each action item) throughout the entire timeline (thus, listing everything that will be done and when); a list of who (the board, other key fundraising volunteers or staff, and the executive director) will be responsible for what specific action items (and be certain that those responsible know what their various benchmark due dates are, and what the overall plan and timeline is); a budget for this fundraiser; the expected outcomes; and evaluation method to review cost/benefit outcomes that should inform a review meeting that results in changes being made to the fundraiser, as needed, to improve its outcome and help it achieve the organization's goal in implementing it; etc. After initial planning, it should be clear who the organization has on hand with appropriate successful experience, knowledge, and ability and who it needs to either hire or consult with.

[The Chronicle of Philanthropy is hosting a free online live discussion October 28, 2008 at 12pm, noon, eastern time, called "Inspiring Your Board Members To Raise Money" . If you want a specific question answered, click on the talk's title (link in the previous sentence) and post your question at their prompt.]

Grant writing is not a 'quick' fundraising method. Since our economy has really taken a stumble over the past month, my most recent four posts, "A Few Excellent Suggestions For Nonprofits To Survive These Uncertain Economic Times", "What Can Nonprofits Do In This Uncertain Economy?", "Write An Annual Appeal Letter To Raise Relatively Quick Funds", "Getting Major Donors To Contribute Large Regular Donations Can Stabilize Cash Flow", were written because grant writing is not a short term fundraising solution. I know that my readers work for organization who may need an extra injection of cash is needed because of the economic downturn.

While a new or extra 'quicker' or shorter term fundraising method may be necessary this fiscal year (to cover any unexpected shortfalls in receipts) - it is great to recognize this and do the necessary work to make up for the loss. It is also important to recognize the need to grow and therefore the need to implement more and probably new fundraising methods in the annual operations calendar to come.

Remember, half of any nonprofit leader's job in any nonprofit organization is to raise funds. The board of directors are, according to law, supposed to oversee organizational policy, organizational planning, and they are supposed to provide fiscal oversight. Modern nonprofits insist that their board also fundraise (or contribute) and the executive director is usually overseeing daily office operations and part time raising funds. Volunteer office help or staff are responsible to conduct their respective tasks; and they should be supporting the board and executive director in their fundraising work. In other words, fundraising is every one's job in any nonprofit and the leadership are expected to be the most effective fundraisers for the organization.

Nonprofits are meant to be run as professional places of business because they are. The federal government (and some states) as well as modern donors are requiring that nonprofits report more about their income, spending, operations, planning, and successes more often now, than ever before. Transparency means that the successful nonprofit, today, operates, keeps its books, and regularly reports to its donors (or potential donors) and all jurisdictions thoroughly, honestly, in full. In order to do this, nonprofits must be operated professionally and in modern methods that have been successful and more efficient than older ways of doing things. Gone are the days of operating a nonprofit as if it's a club or a pet project (even one based on the best intentioned passion for a cause or issue). Nonprofits, today, must be well run professional places of business, too.

No one begins a nonprofit to raise funds. There is no doubt about this. Nonprofits are started by people who have a passion and the fire to do something for or about the cause, issue, art, etc. As long as any new nonprofit is run according to modern nonprofit methods and paradigms (including who it selects for its board, how effective board and volunteers are, what goals are being met and aren't, if the organization is successfully serving its mission, how well its operated, etc.) it will succeed. The only way to grow a successful nonprofit, in other words, is to learn how to run an excellent nonprofit. This means that operating a nonprofit is different than operating a 'for profit' business, though both do require professionalism, ethics, know - how, etc. Everyone involved in the strong nonprofit, from the board of directors, to the executive director, volunteers, and staff must be accountable for what they are supposed to be doing for the nonprofit. If you are a new board member for a nonprofit, and you've never served as a board member before, that is OK. What is really critical, though, is that you recognize your lack of expertise, knowledge, and know - how and learn from excellent resources how to do what the nonprofit is going to require of you (for the sake of the nonprofit's success). In order to learn where to begin your education read my post, "Places, Resources, And Ways To Learn Everything From Fundraising To Other Nonprofit Operations (Some Are Free)..."

To take grant writing (or any fundraising method) to the next level, a nonprofit must know what its doing. In order to do that it must have educated leadership knowledgeable about how a modern professional version of the fundraising method is run, today. It also must have volunteers, board, , and staff who hold themselves accountable. It is not enough to blame, point fingers, or bury one's head in the sand during tough or challenging times. If no one holds themselves accountable to know what they should, learn what they don't know, and work hard - the organization's mission statement, the absolute most important aspect of any and all nonprofits, is sinking; and if the cause and the mission statement aren't the foremost consideration in all aspects of running the nonprofit...the writing is on the wall.


The Social Reformer said...

very informative. I know many people that have problems with writing these types of proposals

Ruben Harris

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Ruben, Thanks for your comment! Arlene