Sunday, December 23, 2012

To Cope With Recent Tragedies I Have Taken Stock and Even Learned That I Am Grateful For Community Organizations In Part to Cope and Hope

I have not been posting, here, on Seeking Grant Money Today, or on its Twitter account for the past two weeks because my computer (which is five years old) went on the fritz and then simply did no more. 

I am neurotic and as such, I am a religious 'backer-upper' of my hard drive.  It's one up-side to being neurotic.  So, really, aside from the inconvenience of not having a computer of my own for a two week period, I didn't suffer anything bad.  I did not loose entire drives, lists of documents, or photos, my music library, years of e-mails, etc. as some people do when their computers cease functioning.

We now know much more important, invaluable, and real loss happened.  During the past two weeks, of course, the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut occurred on Friday, December 14.  That kind of horror puts everything into perspective, doesn't it?  There are no words to describe it or how one feels about it, are there?  There is no sense to make of it, beyond Newtown Police and the FBI's due diligence to provide evidence and testimony to the legal and public records.  Conducting an investigation is a pretty functional way to "make sense" of what happened for our society and a good one.  But, what about on an individual human level?  How do we make sense of it if we feel?  On the seventh day of Hanukkah, this year, and a mere eleven days before Christmas, Adam Lanza brutally murdered twenty very young students, six adult school staff members, and his mother.

Immediately, it did not matter that my laptop went kaput, days before.  It did not matter that I was overwhelmed about what gifts I had left to get still.  Nothing about whatever was bothering me before learning of the massacre had any of the gravitas it had, after learning of it.  My stress - the self importance of it (while normal and even understandable) was put into a new light.  It was an opportunity to be a bit self aware, and then from that self awareness it was an opportunity to better see my actual situation (which is blessed), and it was an opportunity to learn.  Before, I did not see that I was getting worked up about things that were both doable and manageable.  After, I admittedly saw my self importance amid what was neither truly difficult nor that big a deal (after all, I'd get a new computer, I'd get the gifts purchased and to their recipients, etc.).  After I saw things differently, like I'm sure you did, I instead immediately and intuitively put sadness, and of course compassion into place for especially the victims, their friends and family, the school staff, the Newtown community, and the first responders of/to the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre.  But, too, I felt it for everyone in the world who loves a child or a school staff member anywhere... in Connecticut, in the United States, and in the world.

Especially at this time of year, but really at any time of year (such as a week after the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre the four people who were shot and killed and three police officers who were wounded on a rural Pennsylvania road; or the the Oregon shooting a mere three days before the massacre on December 11, 2012; or the Aurora Colorado shooting that happened almost exactly five months before the massacre; etc.) we stop after these random acts of violence against a non-expecting general public and feel sadness and compassion for those lost and their loved ones and we can't believe it.  We can't understand it.  We can't make sense out of it.  But, usually afterward, we also learn of the heroes.  Some of the everyday people present during these acts of violence do extraordinary things amid horrific occurrences to protect and save those in harm's way.  As the stories of their actions and quick thinking trickle out after these tragedies we see the humanity, the hope, the strength that is indeed present certainly in the wake of such events (like the first responders who run into an elementary that holds innocent children and staff but, too, houses an incredibly over-armed shooter, to ensure that those in danger are taken out of the building and out of harm's way) but also we learn of the strength of some who snap to action for others during these horrors.

It is especially the stories that come out, after the tragedy, of the strength that is present during the violence that both puts hope into perspective and shines a light on given humanity, such as, in just one shining story of selflessness, Antonio Charro of Clackamas, Oregon who during the shooting rampage in the Oregon mall stepped out into the area the shooter had just shot up to take the side of Cindy Yuille of Portland, Oregon - a nurse who herself had just been shot, and was non-responsive lying on the floor.  He did this even as pops were still being heard from the shooter's weapon and while survivors ran past him encouraging him to get up, as they did, to get himself out of there.  He did not leave.  He said he could not leave her alone.  Sadly, Ms. Yuille passed away of her injuries.  This haunts Mr. Charro as he said in interviews, after; but her selfless service to her community as a nurse, and his humanity, his bravery, and his strength all still stand.  

We all make sense of the world around us and how we experience it through a lens partly made up of what we know, what we've experienced, our beliefs, our values, and what we dream of or hope for.  When I hear of the unassuming and selfless heroes that do what they can to protect or assist those in danger during or after these horrors, I find that I eventually think of how their action to help reminds me of the power, hope, and even the better in the world that (even if in a less remarkable way) nonprofit organizations - ones that truly exist and operate to do good in our world - instill in our communities and the futures we who know of their successes envision.

I do not wish, here, to belittle anyone or anything that is perhaps more remarkable, but rather to share my train of thought after learning about the horror of any crime against the unassuming or innocent, but especially how I thought in the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre, in particular.  I think my perspective is a way that I used not to try to make sense, but rather to see the world while knowing that such horrific evil exists and occurs.  Using my frame of reference of the world (as I experience it) this thought of nonprofits being (usually but of course not always) a force for good helped me to cope - to feel something like 'O.K.' (as best I can) about a world in which such shattering wrongness happens.  It's not that nonprofit's intention to good balances any of these tragedies.  Rather, remembering the victims and the wonderful people they were as recounted after by their loved ones, remembering the selfless heroism of the first responders, remembering the heroes during the violence and their deeds, and yes, even remembering that most nonprofits operate with a genuine interest to do good helps some semblance of hope and humanity come back into my view, after hearing about horrific ordeals.  Nothing removes the pain.  Nothing makes it all better.  But, the hope, strength, will of some to help, and their actions is truly heartening.  "Heartening".  That's a good word for how, at least in part, I've coped.  I've found a way to take heart.

In taking heart, I have located hope and even the joy of this season and of the coming new year, even while I feel sadness and compassion.

In this spirit, to you, I extend a wish: Belated Happy Hanukkah, Belated Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kawanzaa, Blessed Ramadan, and best wishes in the new year.

Follow Up: Published July 18, 2013 Tracking the Funds for Newtown Relief

Grants for U.S. Nonprofits, Schools, Universities, or Government Agencies Providing Non-Traditional Solutions to Employ Individuals With Disabilities

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 on it]

"Deadline: February 1, 2013 (Online Concept Application)

"Kessler Foundation Invites Concept Proposals for Signature Employment Grants Program


"The Kessler Foundation is accepting applications for its Signature Employment Grants program, an annual program that supports non-traditional solutions and/or social ventures designed to increase employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

"The program awards grants nationally to fund new pilot initiatives, demonstration projects, and social ventures that lead to the generation of new ideas to solve the high unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities. Preference is given to interventions that overcome specific employment barriers related to long-term dependence on public assistance, advance competitive employment in a cost-effective manner, or launch a social enterprise or individual entrepreneurship project. Signature grants are not intended to fund project expansions or bring proven projects to new communities.

"Projects must be collaborative, serve a large geographic area, and include multiple funding partners and stakeholders. In addition, initiatives or projects must have the potential for growth, scalability, or replication.

"Any organization recognized as a tax-exempt entity according to the Internal Revenue Code may apply for funding. This includes nonprofit agencies, public and private schools, and public institutions such as universities and government (state, local, federal) agencies in the United States or any of its territories.

"Applicants may seek funding for $100,000 to $250,000 per year, for maximum project funding of $500,000 over two years.

"Visit the Kessler Foundation Web site for complete program information and application procedures."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Recommended Content, Layout, and Uses of the Nonprofit Donation Remitance Envelope, And Why

Of the nonprofit donation remittance envelope, (the envelope of any varying legal size included as a donation request on its own, or included in a more formal donation request (such as folded into an annual appeal letter, for example), its design (layout and content) is the most important aspect of this fundraising tool.

We've all seen tons of them.  Remittance envelopes fall out of the newsletter that comes quarterly by postal mail from our favorite nonprofit; or it falls to the floor as we unfold the solicitation letter we received at the end of November asking for a year end contribution to a charity working for a cause we care about.

Let's step back for a moment.  First, what is effective, successful, and professional fundraising?

When we solicit donations from established donors and potential new donors we are not simply asking for money, holding the tin can out with a little sign taped to it that simply says 'give to this charity'.  We know, today, that according to professional nonprofit best practices, the point of soliciting a donation is not to simply raise a buck here there and wherever we can.  Rather, the point in fundraising is to make a compelling case to people, companies, governments, etc. that may (or already do) donate to your organization such that they are not just guilted into giving or are just giving because they get some tax deduction for it.  We engage potential and established donors, we inform them, and make a compelling case to them why our organization is worthy of their support.  We do it knowing (ourselves, as the nonprofit making the request) that first, we can not fulfill our mission statement's goals without community support such as donations from the public and other entities.  As such, our nonprofits' donors are requisite partners in our effort and in fact, are partners in our organizations' successes and accomplishments.  It is not simply hyperbole or sentiment to thank donors.  Frankly, when a nonprofit says "we could not have achieved organizational success without you, donors" they are not being trite but rather honest and even clear minded.  If a nonprofit does not raise funds, year round, each week of each month, they can not afford their annual operating budgetThe organization that does not raise funds but more importantly, that does not raise partners in order to provide its mission's programs today and in the future is struggling.  I am sure of it.  The nonprofit that understands that its lifeblood is its ability to deliver its mission to the community understands that without its community's current but also ongoing or future support, it is dead in the water or treading and sinking fast.

Nonprofits make a compelling case to a pool of current and potential new donors (who are as determined by professional research to be more likely than just a random group of people to give to this particular cause and organization) explaining why they should give to this particular nonprofit (such as, if it's the case, perhaps it's the only organization doing the work it does; its programs' success rates; its excellent and ethical reputation; 80% (or more) of every dollar raised goes to programs and organizational operations; and its team or staff and volunteers and their credentials, experience, and reputations in their fields).  Too, once accomplishments are achieved, all donors are in relatively short time (perhaps on the organizaiton's website and in the next quarterly newsletter) made aware of the achievements their contributions enabled in the community (perhaps even providing the demographics and service statistics for those served) and the donors are thanked.  They are told in this correspondence that your organization's board, volunteers, and staff know that without their contributions your organization would not have achieved what it has.  Finally, the donors are made aware of what current and new mission based goals (programs) the nonprofit is working on and how they can support current and future work.

So, why even include a remittance envelope at all?

Most of all fundraising is still conducted, today, through direct solicitation such as postal mail requests.  Printing in bulk is not expensive and as long as a nonprofit has a P.O. Box or street address it expects to keep for a while, printing up thousands of donation remittance envelopes (as included in the overhead or expense portion of the fundraising budget) is a small cost compared to its donations (or income) return rate.  Track it and see, if you don't want to take my word on it.  What's more, remittance envelopes (especially postage-paid ones, and using the U.S. Postal Service Nonprofit Bulk Rate when possible) are very convenient and economical modes for donors to submit contributions, right when they are asked for a donation (such as in an appeal letter).  When Susan P. Jones or Abraham Z. Smith receives your nonprofit's request for support, he or she can just write a check and pop it into your organization's included remittance envelope and then drop that into the mail on the way into work the next morning.

You may think, 'Arlene, you were saying that the design of the remittance envelope is all important, earlier?'

Yes, it is.  Here's why.  A remittance envelope (like any contact whatsoever with any potential supporter of any kind of your nonprofit) is an opportunity.  The donor, as they go to fill out the remittance envelope, will also be reading the questions you ask of them, in it; or will be made aware of other ways they can both further their contribution (when possible) or support your nonprofit in other ways IF YOUR NONPROFIT MAKES THEM AWARE OF THESE OPTIONS.  This is where layout and content in the remittance envelope become powerful.

Of course the design or layout of the envelope must be uncluttered, clear, and pertinent.  Space, of course, no matter what size remittance a nonprofit uses, is limited.  So, all of its content must only be that of the highest likelihood to produce a donation and repeat support.  This content, it just so happens, tends to also be the information that is the most helpful and informative to the donor. Click on the following image for an excellent example of pertinent and helpful content for the donor and organization:

Donation Remittence Template - All rights reserved
All Rights Reserved.  Arlene M. Spencer.
When looking over the content that I've recommended, above, consider the potential donor to be someone that is interested in the cause your organization serves, and is interested in seeing the community continue to receive the services or products your nonprofit provides to your community.  Think of the potential donor as someone who is genuinely interested in your organization's welfare and further success.  If they wish to support your agency, then ask them in the remittance for the help you need, but too, let them know in what vast many different ways they may support it.  They may not know that these are the many different options they have to help your agency.  They may always say "no", of course - but at least they've been made aware.

Important things to keep in mind in the remittance's design:

__ Obviously, on the outside of the envelope you'll print your organization's name and mailing address.  You'll also include a box that either provides pre-paid postage or requests a postage stamp be affixed in the postage spot.  Finally, you'll include at least four blank lines in the return address spot.

__ Both inside the envelope flap, and on exterior of the envelope under the flap, is where the above information that I suggest in my graphic can be placed (obviously omitting what you wish or adding what you wish, such as maybe the demographics of the population your organization serves, or the reason why your organization's work is necessary, etc.).

__ What is key - especially since you do not want to be printing and then re-printing remittance envelopes (except in important instances, such as the change of the organization's mailing address, of course); remember not to put organizational information on the envelope that will become outdated quickly.  For instance, if you include the budget breakdown for your organization's operations for 2012 on the inner envelope (to demonstrate to the potential donor how well the organization is run and where each penny of every dollar raised goes - which of course is great content in the actual appeal letter) then you'll need to recycle any of the remittance envelopes with that information on it in 2013 and after!

__ Also, please keep your donor's need for privacy in mind.  In all places on the remittance where you request their contact or other information (wherever you provide a prompt for them to fill in) - be sure that the envelope flap covers it while it's in transit back to your organization through the mail.  Otherwise, people will not respond with information filled in. 

__ As such, be sure, too, that the adhesive strip that secures your remittance envelope will neither cover up (and seal over) or expose any of the donor's filled in information after they've filled it out and then sealed the remittance envelope to mail it back to you.

__ Finally, but not of least importance, the United States Postal Service provides information and suggested guidelines and helpful tips to nonprofits or other organizations that are having remittance envelopes printed up for regular postal use.  See their USPS Quick Service Guide 201c Courtesy Reply Mail guide.  It's helpful and I recommend you look at it, as you design your remittance, as well. 

Once you have your template submitted to your printer, they will offer to give you a sample or draft of a single remittance, per your design, if you wish.  I would take them up on it BEFORE authorizing the entire order be printed so that you can take that sample to one or two local Post Offices.  Actually ask a post master there what they think of the proof and if there are any changes they'd recommend or problems donors may have mailing them back to you.  Do this.  It is worth the time it will take to do.  Do it before you authorize the entire remittance print order.  This ounce of prudence can save your organization and its donors frustration, time, money, and your organization's professionalism will remain in tact.

Lowering the Cost of Housing Competition Grants for Innovation in Reducing Affordable Housing Costs

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: January 15, 2013

"New National Competition Launches to Reduce Affordable Housing Costs Through Innovation


"To recognize and support the creation of innovative affordable housing developments, Deutsche Bank and Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. are launching the Lowering the Cost of Housing Competition, which will award up to $250,000 in program-related investments to the winning proposal. Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation also is providing an additional $50,000 in grant funds to be awarded to proposals that show innovation in practice or industry understanding of cost-lowering measures. A Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate at Syracuse University School of Architecture is coordinating the national competition.

"The competition is seeking submissions from multidisciplinary teams working to create multifamily affordable housing projects that improve neighborhoods and reduce traditional developmental and building costs.

"Lowering the Cost seeks to provide a new model for conceiving, siting, financing, building, and sustaining affordable housing. Selected teams will work on a specific site, proposing designs for multi-unit dwellings that present new methods for designing, building, and financing housing for individuals or families below 100 percent of area median income.

"Submissions should propose new and innovative approaches to affordable housing design while addressing statutory limitations, including current zoning and building code regulations. Proposals that work with their jurisdictions to investigate methods for clearing impediments to lowering the cost of housing will be scored highly.

"Applications from teams comprised of architects, developers, and policy professionals are strongly encouraged, and entrants are further encouraged to develop creative collaborations that include policy makers, planners, social service providers, academic departments, and research institutes. Submissions must be projects that can be completed on or before December 2014.

"Complete competition guidelines, updates, and application materials are available at the Lowering the Cost Web site.