Monday, April 19, 2010

How Grant Writing Helps Get A Nonprofit Into A Position To Increase and Imrpove All of Its Fundraising

Grant writing, as a process, can help a nonprofit: understand, in real world terms, what grant donors (and logically, also other types of donors) hope to achieve in the community, by donating; can help a nonprofit get its program designed, budgeted, and further planned (and hopefully implemented); and grant writing can help get the organization's leadership providing or at least considering key organizational operations, reporting, and goals.  Needing to raise a grant, for any nonprofit, most likely gets the organization's leadership and key staff thinking, planning, and focused on whatever it is the agency is attempting to raise the grant for, a program, project, or item.  Though, it may not seem like the grant writing process would do this, on its face.

One thing that I find myself telling my clients, each time I initiate new work, is that while the process of applying for a grant may seem like having to jump through a bunch of hoops: it is truly more than that.  Fundraising is a necessary basic, daily, professional, and ongoing operation that every nonprofit that wishes to grow and achieve must do.  I know that no one begins a nonprofit just because they love to fundraise.  They do so because they are passionate about an issue or cause and see a way to help.  The fact is, though, that if a nonprofit, any nonprofit, does not actively raise funds, each business week, each month, of each year, along side providing their programs and administrating the organization, the organization will not have the money to operate as it currently needs to, let alone grow and be able to afford that growth later.  Since grant writing is one fundraising method available to nonprofits, it is important for this discussion to note how critical fundraising is to any nonprofit's survival.  So, jumping through hoops, though it may seem, the fact is that each nonprofit needs financial support.  Instead of looking at grant writing, then, as jumping through hoops, I suggest you look at it as an opportunity.  Maybe to my saying this you sigh, "ugh!"  O.K., fair enough.  But, please stick with me, here.

The process of applying for a grant is an opportunity to the applicant nonprofit in the following ways:

__ Obviously, applying for a grant allows the organization the possibility of raising a grant (or more) and grants are single donations but of larger increments, usually, than a typical donation given by, say, an individual donors.  Also, that grant donor, if happy with the experience of having given to a nonprofit, may very well give to that same nonprofit again, in the future.  This is also why not just raising grants, but also caring for the grant donor, after receiving one, in a way that consistently and professionally provides them with all information, reports, etc. that they request is well worth the effort and time.

__ Once a nonprofit begins to apply to various different grant donors, they begin to understand the grant application process.  By virtue of this, the nonprofit begins to see a pattern.  Most grant donors request, typically, the same type of information, as you apply for one, then two, then maybe five, etc. grants from different grant donors (though, not all will request the same information, as each grant donor is a different separate entity of its own, with its own unique goals, mission, and requirements).  In other words, once you've applied to one grant donor (having provided everything that they request and require in order to apply for a grant) you've probably culled together (from the organization's board, bookkeeper or CPA, and the key staff such as the program manager) commonly requested information or documents such as: the organization's most recent, ratified, quarterly financials; the current list of the board of directors (maybe including, too, each member's employer and job titles, too); the proposed project's operating budget that the funding is being requested for; and audited set of financials for the most recent fiscal year, audited by an independent professional CPA; the current organizational operating budget; the executive director's resume', etc.  While not all types of donors need or will request any of this information, except maybe grant donors, occasionally a nonprofit's major donor or two will phone and ask for the most recent annual report or the audited financials from last year.  From having applied for jobs, in your lifetime, for instance, you can see that once whomever is doing the grant writing for your organization gets a different organizational document or a program document, it's worth it for them to just keep a copy of it on file, because like when we apply for different jobs and must submit our resume' along with an application or cover letter; the grant writer will likely use these documents again, as they apply for other grants.  Having them on hand, next time, will speed up how long it takes to apply (or disseminate to any type of donor who requests the information).

__ Grant donors, like all other types of donors, are giving grants (or other donations) typically for very specific reasons.  Understanding what motivates any and all types of donors can enable a nonprofit's fundraising, across the board (not just grant writing), to be better.  When a nonprofit truly understands why donors are giving, it then can raise more money, more often, by acquiring new donors and then retaining new and long time donors who give, not once, but over and over again.  The key to understanding donors is it is their choice whether they actually give, or not.  So, understanding why donors give (or more to the point, what motivates them to give) is fundamental to successful fundraising (including grant writing).  Grant donors, individual donors, sponsors, and all other types of donors usually give to a nonprofit because: they are interested in or concerned for a specific cause or issue (and one or two other causes or issues, too, sometimes); they have the ability to donate; and because they want to help enable or better the situation surrounding the cause or issue such that their contribution and the organization that they donate to accomplishes what it is setting out to do, through its programs and services.  In other words, donors give because they want to see something specific happen regarding the issue or cause that concerns them.  They do not expect that cancer will be cured, that the environment will be clean of all pollutants, or that everybody who needs safe clean shelter will have it tomorrow.  Most donors truly understand that, while anyone would love to eradicate all bad, providing real, viable, efficient, effective solutions to an issue are the steps necessary to improve a cause.  If a nonprofit provides information and referral, support such as counseling and public education, and therapies such as hydrotherapy, physical therapy, etc. to those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis: that nonprofit's donors are concerned with M.S., specifically, and want to effect change in their community, by enabling those with M.S. and also improving the quality of their lives, given their diagnosis.  Yes, donors also appreciate the tax deduction that comes with contributing to a nonprofit organization.  Yes.  But, again, and again, studies of American donors find that donors do not give only for the tax deduction and the reason that this is so important is that understanding what motivates donors to give allows any nonprofit to inform, thank, and invite their donors to give again.  If their donors understand what their contributions succeeded at doing (and if, also, the donors are thanked, treated professionally during their interactions with the nonprofit, etc.) they will probably give again.  Grant writers, who are explicitly thanked, told what their contribution did in the community, what lessons were learned by the organization of its program through their contribution, but also, what successes were accomplished allows the grant donor to know what they did by donating, and that their contribution is appreciated.  Why wouldn't this grant donor give again to the grant recipient nonprofit that succeeds, communicates, and acknowledges the importance of their donation in the nonprofit's work?

__ It forces planning.  Sometimes it is difficult to do anything without a bit of pressure.  For instance, yes, I wish that I cleaned my entire house every week, but I don't.  What motivates me to actually get it done?  A little pressure.  Whenever we have guests coming over or visitors coming to stay - I get the house cleaned.  I think most of us are like this.  Grant writing, very similarly, will get nonprofit leadership and key staff to get some critical and actually very enabling work done that it may have always wanted to get to, but had not, yet. Anything from updating the nonprofit's organizational vision, goals, or programming; to going through a strategic planning process, etc. may occur based on the information requested or questions in a grant donor's grant application (or their giving guidelines).  Sometimes grant donors will ask an applicant nonprofit for the organization's current vision and goals.  If none exists, it is critical that the grant writer be given honest and complete information to provide in the grant proposal (or grant application) such as, "our executives are initiating strategic planning this May and will be addressing X, Y, and Z"; or "our current organizational goals are: A, B, and C".  When a nonprofit applies for a grant and the potential is that it could receive, say, a $25,000 grant (and others), this motivates the leadership and staff.   Also, like compiling key organizational documents, once planning or goal setting is done, it's done for as long as the resulting decisions (that have been ratified by the board) are relevant.  Applying again, and again, for grants can help implement a regular routine for a nonprofit's leaders and staff to revisit these organizational concerns, regularly, maybe every two or three years.  What motivates key staff and leaders to get their planning and vision updated regularly, too, is when they understand that the information that comes out of these regular leadership processes is not just helpful in raising grants, but in fact, it is helpful in raising money and support from all types of donors.  Returning to the donor care suggestions in the paragraph above, if a donor (of any kind) is thanked, acknowledged, and informed about what their contribution successfully did in the community, but is also told what the nonprofit's current (or even maybe new) organizational (programs, services, etc.) goals are: the donor is not just informed but is made aware of why they should give again and what else their next contribution will hopefully achieve.

So, yes, grant writing or rather, the information often requested by grant donors may seem like "they just want applicant nonprofits to jump through hoops" but in fact, especially today (because donors are so much more informed about nonprofit operations, how to achieve results in a community, and more) grant donors' requests, during the grant application process, can be viewed as helpful to the applicant nonprofit.  Any donors who understand anything about nonprofit organizations are not usually looking for ways to expend nonprofits' resources or time.  They aren't just saying "jump" because they have money to donated.  Really, everything that a nonprofit is asked to report in its grant application is requested to get a real, true, and extant picture of a nonprofit that they may donate to, so they then use the information given by each applicant, during a giving cycle, to determine which nonprofit should receive a grant.  The information that they request can be used to raise other money from other grant donors, and also from other types of donors.  The information can also probably be used in the nonprofit's public relations, marketing, and recruitment of new volunteers, board, or staff, also.  So, the efforts to complete a strong and competitive grant application are actually well worth the time taken, so long as the information is recognized as potentially very powerful in additional ways, and is utilized.

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