Sunday, April 29, 2012

(Good) Professional Change Is Here, For Me; But This Blog Is Keeping On...

Over ten years (just before 9/11 occurred) I began a new career in the nonprofit sector.  It was one of the most personally gratifying and wholly new things I have ever done.  I knew nothing about the nonprofit sector, let alone how one worked, or how fundraising is done.  I thought, though, from experience I had in graduate school that some of the most powerful voices in America tend to be local.  They tend to be neighbors or neighborhoods, in rural places or urban ones, and they tend to be powerful because they become active about something or get engaged in something that concerns all of them.  By nature of them being neighbors, this is a very powerful group.  They aren't necessarily friends, but they may know of each other, or their children may know neighbors' children.  They probably do. But that isn't even the key.  The key, in my opinion, is often local communities include citizens who share values in common.

Those values are probably not political, not necessarily religious or spiritual, and are most likely not economic.  They may though, for instance, because they grew up with it themselves, value an old homestead down the road in a state park, that is weathering badly and needing repairs down the road.  Maybe the road the park is on is named for the family who settled that old homestead.  Maybe teenagers of all decades have partied in it.  Maybe the park ranger has to paint it, regularly, in order to cover graffiti.  So, it's not all roses and sunny days.  But maybe when the state's parks office announces that it is weighing taring it down because it costs too much to keep up and protect; maybe all of those local community's members, who haven't all met before, hear about this pending potential loss - maybe enough of them speak up to share that they are saddened by the idea of losing the historic property and slowly, a volunteer group made of community members comes together to ask the parks office what, instead of demolition, their volunteer group could do to help the state manage and protect the homestead?  Maybe local people who value the old homestead ask what can be done instead of demolition.  In part, this kind of community involvement is what makes living somewhere and getting involved great; the power of local community uniting.

The scenario is hypothetical.  It never really happened.  But, in graduate school, I worked on a homestead that I began to see was much more to that local region's community member's than just some old log home and hand-hewn barn.  It got me thinking, as I decided to switch careers to the nonprofit world, that local movements are potentially the most powerful movements in modern American towns and cities (in their ability to bring people together and too, in their ability to effect change - whatever that change may be).  As it is focused on community and results for that community (instead of a bottom line), I began to look at the nonprofit sector as the next step for me, career wise, as something I'd feel I was doing good through, and I was not wrong.

I was challenged to learn professional nonprofit best practices quickly, not to mention having to learn an entirely new business mode and skill set on the fly.  But, I did , and I relished it.  I got a lot of it the first time around.  It made sense to me how professional nonprofit best practices are such by virtue of them having been used over and over by other organizations, in all kinds of different places, to find (too, like other organizations before them) that X best practice works or Y best practice works because it is the most efficient, effective, ethical, and result producing way to do those nonprofit operations tasks.

This kind of information, insight, explanation, and reasoning is what I work to provide, here (in even this small measure - through a blog, for goodness sakes).  Two weeks ago, I received a comment on one of my 'what are matching grants' blog posts from a woman working for a nonprofit that raised a grant, she said, based on the information I provided in that blog post.  I am blessed to have received that kind of feedback, before, but the impact never lessens, from one reader sharing their organization's good news to the next. 

The reason that I write this blog each week is because I know that nonprofit organizations do not have resources that they can easily dispose of.  A lot of  consideration must go into 'welll...if we spend $2,000 here on consulting, we don't have gasoline then for this program's shuttle van...'.  I have the knowledge, I decided in 2004, and I love to write.  I thought, 'I might try one of these blog things (they were new then - imagine that) and share basics on any range of any topic from 'how to', to 'real world examples', and more to help nonprofit organizations needing expertise but not having the cash, perhaps, to hire new staff or a consultant'.

I love blogging on this topic because some of you have been successful because the information you needed was here and you used it.

I have, since January 2010, been working on a new career.  I have not stopped blogging, since, and do not intend to.  In fact, if you have read it before and read the header to this blog, above, now you may notice that it's a bit different from what it has said for about seven years.  I am no longer consulting in the nonprofit sector.  It was a difficult decision for me back in late 2009.  I adored my then nonprofit client.  But, sometimes it's good to involve change in one's career, and I was fortunately able to do so (despite the economy), and so I have.

I am not going to stop blogging, here, in the foreseeable future.  I am absolutely still enjoying it too much.  If and when I see that I can't help any longer - perhaps then I will.  I thought, though, that I would check in and let you know, in case you noticed it, what the change was about and what the status of this blog is.

Truly, thank you for reading this blog, but too, I thank you for your effort for your community - whatever that effort is.

Thank you.

See you here next week.

High School Or College Students From Around the World Invited To Apply for Science Essay Competition

From The Foundation Center...

[If you have any questions about this award opportunity, or want more information on it, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post].

Deadline: June 15, 2012

High School and College Students Invited to Submit Entries for New Cosmic Frontiers International Science Essay Competition

The New Cosmic Frontiers International Science Essay Competition on the Nature of our Universe and its Habitats is open to high school and college students worldwide. The competition is designed to inspire students to consider careers in science, to nurture their enthusiasm for the subject, and to engage young minds in creative, intellectual activities essential to scientific endeavors.

The essay contest has been organized in conjunction with the New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology International Grant Competition, a research program led by the University of Chicago and funded by the John Templeton Foundation to advance understanding in fundamental areas of astronomy and cosmology.

The student essay competition is focused on addressing two "Big Questions." For college students, essays will address the question: What is the origin of the complexity in the universe? For high school students, the question is: Are we alone in the universe? Or, is there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

Students from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; there is no restriction on nationality. The college category is open to undergraduate students registered full-time at a college or university at the time of submission. Part-time college students are not eligible.

The first-prize winners in each category will be awarded cash prizes of $25,000 (for high school) and $50,000 (for college); second-prize winners will be awarded $10,000 (for high school) and $25,000 (for college); and five third-prize winners in each category will be awarded $5,000 (for high school) and $10,000 (for college). In addition, up to ten honorable mention prizes of $3,000 each will be awarded in either category.

Winners also will be given an opportunity to meet world-renowned scientists and scholars at a conference and award ceremony, to be held in Philadelphia, October 12-13, 2012. The program will include presentations by winners of the New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology Research Grant Program and the New Cosmic Frontiers Student Essay Competition, a public event lecture, and a panel discussion of Templeton Prize winners and other original thinkers.

Complete program information, an FAQ, and entry procedures are available at the New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology Web site.

Primary Subject: Science/Technology

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Matching Grants for People, Organizations, & Agencies Protecting Coastal & Marine Fish Habitats

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

Deadline: May 1, 2012 (Pre-proposals)

Funding Available to Promote Protection of Coastal and Marine Fish Habitats Through National Fish Habitat Partnerships

The National Fish Habitat Partnership, a diverse group of organizations and individuals that seek to protect, restore, and enhance fish populations and their aquatic communities in the United States, works to foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people through regional partnerships that identify priority habitats, develop achievable conservation strategies, and implement voluntary, non-regulatory conservation projects.

NOAA Fisheries and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are soliciting projects to support the protection of coastal and marine fish habitats through NFHP Fish Habitat Partnerships. Protection under NFHP consists of voluntary and non-regulatory actions that maintain, or prevent the decline of, aquatic habitat and aquatic resources that depend on those habitats.

Successful proposals will provide protection of coastal and marine fish habitats through cooperative, non-regulatory approaches as a primary benefit of the project; demonstrate how proposed actions will result in quantifiable fish habitat protection; address a strategic habitat protection priority of one or more of the eight coastally focused Fish Habitat Partnerships, as identified in a partnership's strategic plan; support knowledge transfer and lessons learned to other entities protecting fish habitat; and be supported by the relevant NFHP Fish Habitat Partnership, local constituencies, and affected landowners.

All persons, organizations, and agencies (excluding federal government) working on projects to protect coastal and marine fish habitats are eligible to apply for funding. Federal agencies may not receive funds, but may be listed as partners on an application.

A total of $135,000 in funding is available. Awards are likely to fall within the $15,000 to $50,000 range.

Applicants are encouraged to provide a non-federal match of $2 for every $1 of grant funds requested.
Eligible non-federal matching sources can include cash, in-kind donations, and/or volunteer labor.

Complete program guidelines and application procedures are available at the NFWF Web site.

Awards Honoring Young People Doing Outstanding Work to Protect the Planet

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this award opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

Deadline: May 14, 2012

Earth Island Institute Seeks to Honor Next Generation of Environmental Activists With Brower Youth Awards

The Earth Island Institute is accepting applications from young environmental activists for the thirteenth Annual Brower Youth Awards.

The awards are designed to recognize the outstanding leadership efforts of young people who are working for the protection of the planet. The program seeks to highlight the accomplishments of these new leaders and to invest in their continued success by providing ongoing access to resources, mentors, and opportunities to develop leadership skills.

Young activist leaders between the ages of 13 and 22 (as of July 1, 2012) living in North America are eligible to apply.

The program seeks individuals with vision, motivation, and leadership skills. Applicants should have played the major leadership role in creating, organizing, and implementing their project or campaign(s). Applicants should be able to demonstrate the positive impact of their project on the environment and community in terms of measurable results (e.g., acres of wildlife habitat protected or restored, number of people engaged in environmental issues because of the project, numbers of children no longer exposed to toxins, etc.).

Projects should fall into one or more of the following broad categories: conservation — work to eliminate or decrease the use of finite natural resources and the negative impacts on ecosystems and communities; preservation — work to protect ecosystems, species, indigenous cultures, and other irreplaceable elements of the world's natural heritage; and restoration — work to re-establish the healthy functions of an ecosystem, parts of ecosystems, and human communities that manage ecosystems.

Each of the six awardees will receive a $3,000 cash prize, a professionally produced short film about their work, and flight and lodging accommodations for a week-long trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. During their stay in California, the recipients will participate in a camping trip, leadership activities, speaking engagements, trainings, and environmental conferences. The week of activities culminates in the awards ceremony on October 16, 2012.

Visit the program Web site for complete guidelines and the application form.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Sitting Down To Write the First Draft of a Grant Proposal, Help Yourself Out...

Writing a grant proposal (also called the grant application when applying for a grant) can seem like the wall between your organization receiving the grant or not.  You know it's not quite that dire nor simple but if you aren't a writer or don't enjoy writing, it can feel like that.

Often a first draft of anything written is really just the process of getting key information out of the writer's head and down on paper.  Too, each and every grant donor is a separate, different, unique organization.  So, each one has different requirements, questions to answer, and funding interests.  So, even if we have an up to date case (main body of the grant proposal we already wrote out and updated to copy and paste for different grant proposals), we need to add or delete, for each and every grant donor we apply to, the document so it becomes specifically what the individual grant donor you're applying to at the moment expects and wants.  Blasting many different grant donors with a single, same, arbitrary, grant proposal that you wrote without including information requested in each potential donor's giving guidelines and considering each's recent giving history isn't just a waste of time and resources for your nonprofit.  It wastes potential grant donor's staff's time and they 'round file' your document before they consider taking it seriously.  Too, you risk harming your organization's reputation by demonstrating you aren't operating as professionally or with as much knowledge about professional nonprofit best practices (which is what follows) as other nonprofits that will be applying when you do, too.  Make your nonprofit a real potential contender for any grant when you apply, without wasting your organization's time or resources or the potential grant donor's time and resources.  Here's how...

If you're sitting down to write a grant proposal, perhaps you are answering the potential grant donor's giving guidelines' questions, first, in order to write the grant proposal's first draft out.  It helps if you have handy the proposed project or program's description, the intended participants' demographics, whatever real (defensible) data demonstrates the need exists by the intended beneficiaries for the proposed project but has not yet been provided by any other organization or service provider, the proposed program's budget, the staffing plan, etc.  It helps, too, if you have researched this potential funder and clarified (if it is so) why this grant donor in particular may be truly interested in funding your proposed program (usually its because the grant donor states in their giving guidelines that whatever your proposed program is, is actually something they state they are interested in funding for the cause and work that your nonprofit is going to do (i.e. If our nonprofit is a school (the nonprofit/cause/effort we do) and the potential donor's giving guidelines that we are applying to states, "...We fund Back To School programs and we are most interested in doing so in low income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with childhood attendance rates of 85% or less..." then this is a potentially good donor for us to (take the time and resources and spend them to) apply to this particular grant donor because we are looking to fund a Back To School program in a low income neighborhood with a student attendance rate of only 80%).  In our example the fit between our organization's mission, the program we are wishing to fund, and the potential grant donor's stated funding interests (in their giving guidelines) are 1:1.  Now, we do not know what they have already allocated in grants to other organizations doing similar work to ours' or what their ability to donate during the funding cycle we are applying in is - so, even 1:1 matches between a nonprofit needing a grant and a potential grant donor actually donating a grant does not guarantee a grant will be raised.  Any and all donors always have the right to say 'no' or 'not right now but apply again' or whatever they wish.  But, locating more than one potential grant donor to apply to that demonstrates they would be potentially a good donor/partner for your proposed project (through its recent donation history (to other similar organizations/programs as yours'), and what they state in their giving guidelines they are looking to fund) is the most likely situation in which a nonprofit (having done its research) has set itself up to get a grant.

So, when you first sit down to write the draft proposal - be armed.  Have already prospected for good solid potential grant donors.  Too, arm yourself with data and the proposed project's plan, budget, etc.

Write the first draft with a couple of rules in mind:
1. You get to write the first draft without feeling it has to be perfect.  You do not have to (nor should you be) writing anything close to "perfect" in any first draft.

2. You get to be wrong, to leave information out, talk on and on and too much about anything, organize the document poorly, etc.when writing the first draft.  You do.  These are the things that should be done in a first draft but then caught after fresh eyes reviews it.  So, do it.

3. NO FIRST DRAFT IS READY TO BE SENT TO THE POTENTIAL GRANT DONOR.  Take the pressure off yourself by allowing yourself time in the grant writing cycle to write a few drafts of any grant proposal.  Allow for your proof reader to have a day or two to do their job and get back to you.  Schedule this out.  You never want to be beginning writing the first draft to be sent to the potential grant donor three hours before the application is do.

Scheduling ahead of time allows anyone time to work on and develop a terrific grant proposal by virtue of there being a few sets of eyes on it, revised drafts, and tightening the proposal up.

Be succinct in your writing.  In second and third drafts (of three or four drafts total, let's say) you want to have taken the opportunity to tell the grant donor everything they requested information on (in their giving guidelines or to you personally over the phone in conversation) without wasting the reader's time at the grant donor's office. 

For example, let's say in a first draft of a grant proposal that you and I are working on for a literacy nonprofit we work for , we included the following: "Our organization, Be First To Read and Write, is an effective nonprofit.  We have been around for thirty years and our literacy and writing rate, among our clients, has remained 90% over the past five years - with many of our clients going on to get their G.E.D. or equivalent, afterward, at a rate of 20% of our participants."

It's informative, it's information that a potential grant donor would appreciate knowing, but too - it's long.  It's also awkward to read even though we understand what is meant, here.  The thing is, imagine the grant donor's office.  They just received tens (maybe more) of grant proposals that they now have to read and also comprehend well enough to determine which proposed program is potentially going to be effective, efficient, and successful enough to be considered in the final round for the grant.  Help the reader by being succinct in your writing.  Be to the point, clear, and saving this space on the page actually helps your nonprofit.  It allows your nonprofit more room in the number of pages allowed in the grant proposal to say more!

Let's compare that first draft paragraph with our second or third draft revision, here: "Be First To Read and Write has operated for thirty years.  We are proud that for the past five years ninety percent of our programs' participants learned to read and write.  Twenty percent of our clients going on to get their G.E.D. or equivalent."

We stated all of the facts in the second revision that we did in the first draft but with fewer words and sentences.  If we want to economize the space used on the page even more (which makes it easy for the grant proposal reader to simply scan to acquire the information we wrote in the second draft paragraph, above), we could format the information as such (if in the giving guidelines there are no indications the donor doesn't want indented formatting - which sometimes can be the case if the grant donor accepts applications only through an online portal, for example):

* Be First To Read and Write is 30 years old
* For the past 5 years, our organization has had a 90% success rate
* On their own, after completing our programs, 20% of our successful students go on to get their G.E.D.

How you qualify your organization's accomplishments (i.e. "On their own, after completing our programs, 20% of our successful students go on to get their G.E.D.") can be easily determined by you (the writer) by looking at and noting what the grant donor seems to want their money to ultimately successfully achieve.  For example, maybe the grant donor gave to another nonprofit, two years ago, $50,000 to a similar (but separate) nonprofit as yours' and during your research you discovered that the grant donor notes that organization's particular success more than other recent grant donors - and the organization found that 12% of that other nonprofit's (that got a grant two years ago) clients went back to school ( just going back to our hypothetical literacy nonprofit for the sake of example).  Then, you and I know that this donor really cares about what ultimately the participant of literacy programs goes on to do with their new found literacy, even though the grant donor may not explicitly state that in their giving guidelines, on their website, or elsewhere; and even though the client is doing something on their own beyond the scope of the actual program the donor funded.  [This demonstrates, too, why it's so valuable for nonprofit's to evaluate their own programs and follow up with participant clients even after a program ends to determine the true and real outcome of the organization's program.  Too, this is invaluable information to share with not just the program's grant donors but all of its donors - 'here's what your money achieved'].   It helps us understand what the potential donor (that we're about to apply to) wants, ultimately, to see happen with their donation (the grant).  It's powerful information to arm ourselves with when sitting down to write the grant proposal.  In this case - we happen to know that they value successful literacy students' rate of acquiring or finishing their G.E.D.  We just happen to have a similar (if not better) return rate to high school education (or equivalent) than that prior grant recipient!  We damn well better let this particular potential funder know this, then!

You see, there is actually strategy that is helpful when writing a grant proposal.

You of course, too, want to always be truthful.  No organization loses a grant for being honest.  Nonprofits lose grants (and worse - their reputation), though, when found out to be lying, fudging, etc.  Grant donors are in the business of working with nonprofits.  They see it all.  Don't fret if there's a weakness or omission in your organization's history or potential.  Be frank about it.  That is not a sin.  Lying is.  Often, too, nonprofits have the expertise or experts to lend to help your organization get into the shape it needs to be, in order to be successful, if they believe in your organization (even if it has short comings right now).  Yes, this happens.  They also talk with other grant donors about potential grant recipients (nonprofits).  Your organization's name and reputation gets around.  Never forget this.  No grant donor is going to be shocked if a nonprofit learns a lesson or gains new capacity before or after receiving a grant.  A grant donor will be disappointed, though, if an organization pretends in a grant proposal to be or be capable of something it isn't (and doesn't admit that up front).

Arm yourself with information, schedule enough time, be succinct in your writing, and be honest and you have set your organization up to really possibly raise that grant.

[For more information on how to write a grant proposal or write specific unique segments of one see the "How To" label, at the lower right under "Labels" on this web page].

Grants for Plant Conservation Programs Operated In Collaboration

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this post for more information]

Deadline: May 25, 2012 (Pre-proposals)

Applications Invited for Native Plant Conservation Initiative

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is soliciting proposals for 2012 Native Plant Conservation Initiative grants, which are awarded in cooperation with the Plant Conservation Alliance, a partnership between the foundation, ten federal agencies, and more than two hundred and seventy nongovernmental organizations.

PCA provides a framework and strategy for linking resources and expertise in developing a coordinated national approach to the conservation of native plants.

The NPCI program funds multi-stakeholder projects that focus on the conservation of native plants and pollinators under any of the following six focal areas: conservation, education, restoration, research, sustainability, and data linkages. There is a strong preference for "on-the-ground" projects that provide plant conservation benefits according to the priorities established by one or more of the funding federal agencies and according to the PCA strategies for plant conservation.

Eligible applicants include 501(c) nonprofit organizations and local, state, and federal government agencies. For-profit businesses and individuals are not eligible to apply directly to the program but are encouraged to work with eligible applicants to develop and submit proposals. Organizations and projects that have received funding and concluded their work successfully under this program are eligible and encouraged to re-apply.

It is anticipated that the initiative will award a total of $380,000 this year. Individual awards typically range from $15,000 to $65,000, with some exceptions. Projects require a minimum 1:1 non-federal match by project partners, including cash or in-kind contributions of goods or services (such as volunteer time).

The complete Request for Proposals and application instructions are available at the NFWF Web site.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

'Three Cups of Tea' Author and Nonprofit Founder Determined To Have Mismanaged Org After Year Long Investigation

This week, headlines have risen declaring that Greg Mortenson was found to have mis-manged his nonprofit organization, after a year long investigation, and must repay it $1 million.

The investigation into Mortenson's Montana based charity, was conducted by Montana State Attorney General Steve Bullock's office, the government entity that oversees nonprofits in the State of Montana.

Greg Mortenson is the author of Three Cups of Tea, a book that three years ago was flying off of bookshelves in the U.S. and elsewhere because, it seemed, every book club member or avid reader had to find out what the buzz was about.  It remained on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list for four years.  Mortenson, in it, alleges an experience becoming a humanitarian in Afghanistan and Pakistan ultimately building schools for girls in both countries.  He founded a charity to help provide those schools.  CBS later investigated the allegations in Mortenson's book and found much of it to be untrue.

To quote the Montana State Attorney General's Office's investigations report, "...Mortenson’s control of the Central Asia Institute (the nonprofit he founded) went largely unchallenged by its board of directors, which consisted of himself and two people loyal to him,..." and "When an employee would question his practices, Mortenson either resisted or ignored the person, the report found."

Readers of this blog know that my first goal is to provide the reader with nonprofit best practices (the latest in professional nonprofit thinking and practices for all operations of nonprofit administration that are proven time and time again) in order to save the reader (a presumed nonprofit supporter) time, money, and all other resources (i.e. the nonprofit's reputation, its volunteers, its potential to recruit new donors, volunteers, and community partners and keep them, etc.).  Operating an organization adhering to professional nonprofit best practices is a good way to save any nonprofit its resources, reputation, and even its official charitable status with the governments overseeing it.

So, I appreciate cautionary tales from the real world of the nonprofit sector because they demonstrate that what I discuss herein is often unknown, ignored, or worse by some nonprofit's leadership - and there is sometimes real fallout from that.  Almost always, though, amid poor nonprofit operations it is the nonprofit's intended beneficiaries (i.e. the girls of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have no resources, themselves - in this instance) that are harmed the most.  This is the reason that operating through best practices is so critical.  Often it is the least powerful with the least resources that are harmed by poorly run nonprofit organizations.

To see what led to and what the fallout of the the Three Cups of Tea scandal is, see:

CBS' "60 Minutes" report on the Three Cups of Tea allegations proven untrue

Questions Over Greg Mortenson's Stories

Three Cups of Tea Author Defends Book

AP News Break: 'Three Cups' Author Mismanaged  Group

'Three Cups of Tea' Author To Pay $1 Million To U.S. Charity

And a terrible tragedy that is allegedly the result of the allegations that the book's story was at least in part fiction:

Three Cups of Tea co-author, Relin commits suicide

Grants for Nonprofits Addressing Housing Issues

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information about it].

Deadline: April 30, 2012

Bank of America Charitable Foundation Accepting Grant Requests From Nonprofit Organizations Addressing Housing Issues

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation is inviting nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations throughout the United States to submit funding proposals for programs that address the nation's ongoing housing challenges.

The company will invest $15 million to support a strong impact from local and national programs and services addressing housing issues, including foreclosure counseling and mitigation, neighborhood stabilization, and affordable housing. This support builds on the bank's more than $50 million in grants and program-related investments since 2010 to assist nonprofits providing homeowner retention programs, transitional services, and revitalization efforts in low- and moderate-income communities across the country.

Grant applications will be accepted April 2 through April 30, 2012.

For the program announcement and the eligibility quiz visit the Bank of America Web site and click on "Apply for a Grant" in the middle of the page.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Single Most Important Thing A Start Up Nonprofit Can Do Is Network. Here's Why:

How a nonprofit is started is just as important to its potential to succeed as how it operates once it's one year old, a ten year old organization, or a fifty year old one.

My husband and I are behind the times.  We are just now watching The Wire.  We find ourselves not able to locate much on TV anymore that entertains us, so we've turned to renting television shows that we've heard were/are good.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Wire, it is a police drama set in modern day Baltimore, Maryland.  A poorly funded police department struggles to police a city that everyone acknowledges administratively, politically, economically, and socially has lost its way.

In it, during season two (I believe), Deputy Police Commissioner Ervin H. Burrell (played by Frankie Faison) turns to a colleague, amid an administrative meeting, and mentions he has no money in the budget to afford a needed but just out of reach police program.  The colleague sitting next to him suggests he talk to the foundations in the city in order to locate new or untapped funds for it.  It's an excellent suggestion.

When launching a nonprofit, a founder and their team has more than tons to do.  We know this. (For more information on launching a brand new nonprofit, see Start Up Nonprofit?  Need Seed Money?  Starting Fundraising?  Here's help...Part 1 of 2 and its ...Part 2 of 2 and Seeking Grants for New Programs Or Start Up Nonprofits)

As I stated in the beginning, though, for its potential to succeed there are certain professional nonprofit best practices that when added to the founders' 'to do' list, as the organization begins getting up and running, the more likely the organization is to succeed, thrive, and grow.

Deputy Commissioner Burrell was given sound advice.  The flip side of the advice he received is this: when a nonprofit begins to operate (at its start), in order for that nonprofit to achieve the goal of its mission statement, it is doing three things - it is: doing something specific (its mission statement), serving and therefore the organization becomes a member of the community, and needing to succeed.

'Networking' is one of those jargon buzz-kill words.  Everyone knows it is important to do but most of us don't do it regularly.  Some of us are not natural social butterflies, others genuinely can't fit a ten minute meeting into an already stacked work day agenda (let alone find time to go out and get into the community), and still others aren't clear on what one does when the opportunity to network arises.

Without a doubt networking is the single most important thing any founding team of a brand new nonprofit can do as the organization prepares to begin operating.  It is something (along with the rest of the operations necessary to launch a nonprofit) that should be planned out, shared work among a founding team or committee, and should be regularly done after the organization launches and is up and running (again, for the first year, into its tenth year, and so on for the life of the organization).

If you and I are working on launching a brand new nonprofit (and if we have read the first two blog posts that I suggested, above, for start up organizations) we are launching a nonprofit that is providing a demonstrably needed but as yet not delivered service or item to a community needing it.  Too, we have done our homework, know the beneficiaries of our organization's work, their demographics, and how the need this new nonprofit will meet will successfully achieve its mandate.  We have excellent relevant, credentialed, experienced, and reputable professionals (perhaps a committee or perhaps board members) volunteering to create the programs through which the new organization will deliver its mission.  We have a fundraising committee complete with seasoned, reputable, successful fundraisers on board who are already beginning to raise funds (start up funds are often referred to as seed money).  We have another committee that is identifying the beneficiary population the agency will serve and working with the programs people to determine how to best reach and begin to serve them.  All of these teams are overseen by the Executive Committee (made usually of board members) and all work is coordinated and all volunteers are reporting back regular and updating the committee. 

If you and I are co-founders of this organization, we are most likely board members (at least at the outset) and as such, we are members of the new organization's leadership.  The board members that are also members of the executive committee may have planned (and let's say our executive committee has) for the members of the executive committee to be responsible for high end face to face networking for the year prior to actually opening our new organization's doors.

What does this look like?  Why is it the most important effort?  Why executive level leadership?  Who are the leaders planning to meet with and what are they planning to achieve through these meetings?

Based on the organization's mission statement and on the organization's programmatic goals we as a committee brainstormed a list of who all in the community that the organization will serve (which can be defined by a geographical region or by the beneficiaries' geographical location(s)) the committee members would like to have a face to face sit down meeting with.  The list is then honed down, in meetings, re-done, and narrowed down until finally there is a realistic list of probably leaders in other organizations in the community (for profit, nonprofit, and government leaders).  Each of these organizations provide services or products similar to or relevant to the work of our new nonprofit's mission. Everyone who is tasked with these face to face meetings is given one (and probably no more than three) contacts they are expected to meet with.

The meeting will be rehearsed by the executive committee members, during a meeting or two, who are going to make these face to face meetings (prior to anyone meeting with anyone).  Rehearsing among colleagues allows everyone on the committee the opportunity to release some jitters; get constructive feedback from others on how to achieve the goal of these meetings, on a committee member by committee member basis (we all have different strengths and weaknesses where we could improve); and rehearsing enables the entire committee to (after seeing it in action) really hone down what the goals of the meeting should be (in each meeting) and how each member can execute toward those goals.

Maybe I am being assigned the meeting with the board chairperson of the local YMCA.  Perhaps (based on the start up nonprofit's mission statement) we (as a committee) predetermined that the goal of this meeting will be: to introduce the organization (its: name, intended beneficiary population, mission and what as yet unmet need the organization is going to serve, and how (the programs) the new start up will provide its mission); discuss our new organization and the local YMCA's related or even similar work (and this is a more open portion of the meeting to leave room to perhaps begin to discuss the idea of our two organizations collaborating in a co-provided program or service, or simply to explain to one another what each organization does/will do, or anything in between); and finally I will leave the chairperson with my business card and a pamphlet about our organization and its work.  This is not an over-crowded meeting agenda, it shouldn't take more than an hour (but could be squeezed into a 30 minute meeting if necessary), and it gets our name and mission out there.

If there is more meetings to have (perhaps it goes well and there's serious talk of collaboration) then I will schedule the next meeting with him or her before I leave.  Perhaps the meet has questions, in that case I will let them know when I will get back to them with whatever information they asked for that I didn't know/have.

I will jot some notes down, after the meeting, to report back to the committee with explaining how the meeting went, what was discussed, and what was achieved.

The goal, here, is to introduce our new nonprofit, get its name and mission known among pertinent key professionals in the community our new nonprofit will serve, and make in-roads to strong relationships with other entities in the community.

These kind of high-profile face to face meetings are best conducted "peer to peer" which means if your organization wishes to interface with another organization's leadership, then you send your leadership to the meeting with theirs'.  It's a sign of respect, but too, often leaders are colleagues beyond just their volunteer work.  Perhaps they run in the same economic circle, are friends, or share the same age group.  This is a better way for an organization to connect with another than sending someone to meet that doesn't naturally potentially connect.

The fundraising committee is probably sending board members to do the same kind of meetings with the local potential funders (i.e. foundations, local government grantors, etc.) or those who might be major donors.

All of these face to face meetings require some good research in advance.  We need to know a thing or two about each individual we're meeting with before we meet with them.  Have they personally shown an interest in our cause in the recent past (perhaps volunteering with or donating to a similar organization similar to our new one)?  Do they appreciate a specific form of communication over another (some people love meeting over lunch, others in the office, and still overs, over the phone)?  What do they do for the entity they work or volunteer for and what does that entity to (pertinent to our organization's mission)?

Why is networking, even from the outset of the organization's existence, so important?  If an organization does not roll itself out clearly to the pertinent organizations in its community then it is leaving a lot of opportunities in the wind (i.e. collaborations, finding out about others one should talk to but you didn't know about, and funding about to be made available by X foundation or y government agency); it is leaving the organization's point of existing up for anyone else to explain (and leaving that to the chance they will explain what your organization will do correctly - hopefully); and it is isolating a nonprofit organization... your nonprofit...when isolation isn't necessary.  Isolation is lethal to a nonprofit as no nonprofit operates or even exists the following year without support (of all kinds: volunteers, donations, collaborations, etc.) from its community.

By the way, if you haven't seen it and are looking for well written realistic drama, The Wire is excellent.

Grants for Equine Nonprofits Working On Health and Welfare on National or International Scale (Emergency Grants, too)

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post].

Deadline: May 1, 2012

American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation Accepting Funding Requests for Horse Health and Welfare Programs

The American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, is accepting funding requests from nonprofit organizations and individuals that share its mission to support research, education, benevolence, and the equine community.

Priority emphasis will be given to applications judged to have the greatest potential impact on the health and welfare of the horse on a national and international scope, or where emergency funding is needed. (Funding requests for emergency or equine disaster relief support may be submitted to the foundation at any time.)
The foundation does not grant funds to facilities that care for unwanted or retirement horses. This includes horses that may have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. The foundation focuses its efforts and funds for this population of horses through its assistance to the Unwanted Horse Coalition and related programs.

The foundation does not grant funds for individual equine research projects, but does provide funds for projects or events that support the coordination of equine research (e.g., support of the 2009 Equine Laminitis Research Workshop, the 2007 Lameness Research Meeting and Panel, the 2006 Equine Research Summit, and the 2005 Equine Colic Symposium).

Funds will not be provided to for-profit individuals or groups.

Complete program guidelines and the application form are available at the foundation's Web site.