COVID-19 and the shutdown have put the role of nonprofit boards in sharp focus. It’s a good time to reexamine your understandings and expectations of your organization’s board. What is it that boards actually do? A good way to think about it is to remember the “required and elective” scheme.
Boards are required to see to it that the nonprofit follows all applicable federal and state laws, including registration, taxation and other business matters. They are expected to approve a budget, hire and compensate the chief executive and see to it that the nonprofit pursues the mission for which it was created.
That’s about it in terms of the “required.” It’s the electives that often cause confusion and misuse a board’s time and energy. Your board might be called on (or volunteer) to do these things, depending on your by-laws and on the nature of your work and what it takes to carry out programs.
Board members might be asked to use their connections to introduce the nonprofit to potential donors. You might ask board members to attend events and be a part of the organization’s “workforce” for the moment. You might expect individual board members to make personal financial contributions to the organization.
“The key to making any of these work is being clear about expectations,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant to The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif., “being specific about your requests and being supportive in ways that help board members do what you’ve asked of them.”
Bad feelings fester when a board member is left in the dark and then covertly criticized because that person “doesn’t do what we need them to do.” The COVID-19 crisis has made it even more important to make the effort to communicate — spell out the ways and means your board can help strengthen the organization.
© Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center
In fundraising, individual donations are considered the holy grail and grants are fool’s gold. Grants don’t get a lot of respect even though they’re integral to most nonprofit budgets. You’ve heard the complaints or made them yourself: Grants have a short life span. They come and go. You can’t spend the money flexibly. The red tape and reporting requirements are extreme. The time lapse between request and award decision is excessive.
The role of grant funding in the nonprofit sector far outpaces the rate of individual giving. The National Philanthropic Trust’s general philanthropy data in 2019 showed that corporate grants totaled $21.09 billion and foundation grants totaled $75.69 billion. USAspending.gov reports that federal grants totaled almost $765 billion that year, and that doesn’t count billions of dollars in government grants made by state, county, and municipal funds amassed from taxes, fines, license fees, and the like.
All told, grant funding in 2019 easily surpassed $862 billion – more than double the $309.66 billion donated by private citizens as reported in the National Philanthropic Trust’s general philanthropy data which is curated from a variety of recent reports on charitable giving in the U.S.
Government grant dollars are now and have long been essential to society’s pursuit of the common good, offering essential support for the safety net services provided by America’s nonprofits. The National Council on Nonprofits reported that in 2019 the sector earned more than 80 percent of its revenue through fees for services and government contracts and grants, with only 14 percent of revenue coming from philanthropic donations — from individuals (10.2%), foundations (2.9%), and corporations (0.9%).
Despite their role in nonprofit budgets, grants and the staff members responsible for securing them are largely undervalued. Major nonprofit publications allot sparse real estate to trends, changes, opinions, and news related to grants. The myriad issues related to proposal development are poorly represented in the curricula of colleges and universities providing degrees or certificates in nonprofit management or philanthropy.
Although around 70% of those responding to the Grant Professionals Association’s 2020 Salary and Benefit Survey held a graduate or professional degree, their average salary was $71,500, compared to $85,000 for a fundraising professional as reported in the 2020 Compensation and Benefits Report of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Most grant professionals are not involved in strategic planning or goal-setting, and many are simply instructed to bring in more grants with little instruction or support.
Grants are social investments, and to wring all the impact we can out of those investments we need to recalibrate our thinking. Grant funding is more appropriate for some purposes than others. When organizations turn to grants to cover every funding need, the motivation behind a proposal is dollars rather than purpose, and the change-making power of grants work is lost. But when pursued strategically and woven logically into a nonprofit’s overall funding framework, grants can play a vital role that moves missions forward and increases organizational capacity.
With thought and effort, you can change grants from catch-as-catch-can income into an intentional supplement to other revenue streams. Start by pulling together your grant professional(s) or grant consultant(s), fundraising staff, financial staff, and administrators to explore the best, most impactful role grant funding can play in pursuing the priorities laid out in your organization’s strategic plan. Here are some question to explore:
The role of individual giving, membership drives, events and the like will always be critical to nonprofits. That income along with well-targeted and strategic grant funding will build and sustain the community-level safety net services provided by America’s nonprofits.
There’s much to be accomplished, and we can only do the work by leveraging the full power of each available resource. Approaching grants intentionally and elevating the quality of grants work within our organizations are critical steps in realizing the immense change-making power of grants as tools for social change.
Barbara Floersch is a long-time contributor to The NonProfit Times, and until recently a Grantsmanship Center trainer and the center’s chief of training and curriculum. Her latest book, You Have A Hammer: Building Grant Proposals for Social Change, was released earlier this year and can be found at www. Barbarafloersch.com
You’ve identified a foundation that seems like an appropriate prospect for your proposal. Your organization’s work aligns with the funder’s mission. You’re in an eligible location; the program you want to get funded is the right scope for the grants they seem to give. All you have to do is write the proposal and send it off, right?
You might be skipping an important first step. It’s worth the time and effort to try for a preliminary discussion with a foundation’s program officer before you submit your request. “There’s a lot to be learned in such a conversation,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif., “and it offers a great opportunity to alert the foundation that a proposal’s on the way.”
What to do before you call — homework and more homework. What is the foundation’s current focus? What can you learn from a review of their federal Form 990? Do you have a clearly-defined program you want to present? Do you understand the funder’s protocols and procedures?
When you make the call, a good rule of thumb is to ask questions and resist the temptation to “sell” the program. You’ll want to find out about timing of the review and decision. You’ll want to arrange a site visit if possible (and appropriate). This is the time to ask for clarification about anything in the guidelines that might seem ambiguous.
Be prepared for questions you aren’t prepared to answer. It’s probably good news if a program officer or other foundation executive wants to dig deeper and find out more about your organization and its programs. It’s perfectly OK to say “I’ll get those details and get back to you.” Just be sure you follow up.
Anyone who’s familiar with foundation research will acknowledge that a lot of prospective funders say “We’re too busy, don’t call us, just submit the form” or something similar. What do you do if a foundation seems unavailable for a pre-application conversation? If your work seems in clear alignment with the funder’s purposes and if you see the foundation as a high-value prospect, you might try contacting a grantee to see if you can get an introduction.
You might ask your board members to look closer at possible links or connections. If you’ve been funded by another foundation you might ask your contact there for help reaching out to the potential new partner.
The time you spend trying to have a conversation before submitting a request is an investment in the potential longer-term relationship with the funder. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center
Great writers agree. It’s harder to write short than write long. Mark Twain said: “A two-hour presentation, I am ready today. . . A five-minute speech will take two weeks to prepare.” Thoreau said: “Not that the story needs be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
Just because a foundation requires you “write a proposal” doesn’t mean you have to stuff the document with everything. Consider that reviewers might have hundreds of proposals to read and evaluate — sometimes that many in a few weeks. What are some ways to economize on words and maximize impact?
Start with the spine of the case. You might focus on the essential elements of (a) what needs to be done, (b) how you plan to do it, (c) why your nonprofit is best equipped to do it; and, (d) what it will take to get it done. “Proposal requirements
differ in terms of the order of these items,” according to Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “But, they are almost always at the heart of the case for support.
Choose your supporting information carefully. Is it really important to unspool the founder’s fascinating personal story? It only matters if it speaks directly to the current need, plan and budget. Is it necessary to elaborate on the organization’s mission and values? It might be, but perhaps it’s more useful to say how your work aligns with the funder’s values. In your draft, give the dominant ideas most of the space and be very strategic about how you use subordinate information.
Words matter. In your proposal draft, use words that are specific, concrete, vivid and vibrant. Short sentences often succeed. Pick dynamic verbs. “The man walked into the room” is not as powerful as “the man stumbled / danced / burst into the room.” Don’t hesitate to visit the thesaurus.
Finally and unavoidably, write and rewrite. Start with a long draft and boil it down. Thoreau was right that it takes time to make it short, but it’s time well spent if the result is a crisp, compelling proposal that catches attention — and gets you one step closer to securing funding. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center
It’s tempting to slip into “specialized terminology” when we’re writing to potential funders from deep inside your own work. Writers who forget fluid communication is key to success can develop a nasty case of jargonitis.
Your proposals and your organization are better served when you force yourself to be clear and precise. Find more inclusive ways to communicate by avoiding the often mystifying language of jargon. Here’s some common, low-hanging fruit as examples:
Very few nonprofits actually have workers who put “boots on the ground.” Instead, there might be staff members or volunteers who spend time on a project site or otherwise contribute at the physical location of a project or program. It’s more meaningful when you explain what those people actually do to contribute to your organization’s effort.
Silos were designed and built to store different crops and grain on a farm. You probably don’t actually “silo” your constituents or your participants or programs. You might separate them, or have different ways of working with them, but you don’t silo them. Describe the relationships among these important people in fresher and more accurate language.
Within your organization you might use a term such as “stakeholder” without giving much thought to those you really mean. A proposal reviewer might be attracted by that term but want more detail, more specifics, more real roles in the project. “Who is it, exactly, you think has a stake in the project?” is a fair question inside and outside the organization.
Lots of nonprofit leaders talk about “capacity-building.” Instead of relying on the label, why not examine what it is that you want to build: more staff; new facilities; greater numbers of trainees; adding a specialist or special discipline to your work; or, asking everybody to work double shifts?
“Once, long ago, a mentor of mine suggested sharing a proposal draft with my grandmother,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant to The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “If she got it, it was ready for the funders. If she didn’t, we needed to break it down better.” There’s nothing wrong with the occasional vernacular phrase. It’s just that in grant proposal writing, jargon can be a barrier to understanding and create internal and external confusion.
You never know who’ll be reviewing your proposal, so whatever your style, it’s always a safe bet to choose clear language and let go of jargonitis. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center
You’ve submitted a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) and been invited to follow up with a full proposal. Now it’s time to actually write the thing. Here’s a system for making sure that your proposal is inclusive, accurate and compelling. It takes a little time but it’s worth it.
Start with a call for input from all the key people who should have something to say about your program. That means staff members who will do the work; clients who will benefit from the work; perhaps a board member who is knowledgeable about the particular subject; someone from the organization who manages finances.
Ask these people to give you their best thinking about the program you plan to submit to the funder. Gather data, comments, first-person experiences, anything and everything you might want to use when you write. Think of this stage as the top of the hourglass, big, wide and capacious.
When you’ve gathered all appropriate input, thank everybody and hunker down to write a draft. “Committees are good for generating ideas, bad for writing documents,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. The writing phase is a one-person assignment, the narrow middle of the hourglass. You’re way ahead of the writer who has to “come up with the stuff” alone. You have the information.
When the draft is done, move to the “bottom” of the hourglass. Share what you’ve written with the people who contributed in the first phase. Circulate the draft and ask:
First things first: Let’s experiment with letting go of the term “grant writer.” The right name should be “proposal writer” because the person is writing a request for a grant, not writing the grant itself. That correction might be a paradigm shift for some, but for purposes of these notes, we’ll do it right.
Some nonprofits have a staff member whose job it is to pursue public and private grants from federal, state, local, foundation and corporate funding programs. However, most nonprofits, particularly smaller organizations, don’t have a staffer to do that work. Options include writing-by-committee where everyone contributes to the proposal (not good); finding a training program to help a staffer get the skills needed (much better); and, in some instances, retaining the services of a proposal writer (can be a good idea, depending).
What are the reasons you might consider hiring an outside proposal writer? “One (reason) is the time it takes to focus on requirements and follow all the guidelines,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Time a staff member might not have,” according to Boyd. The writer is not pulled in all directions (as a staff member often is) and will make sure deadlines are met and t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.
Another reason is the benefit of an outsider’s perspective. Folks who work on an organization’s programs can develop habituated ways of thinking and talking about “what we do.” A good outside proposal writer asks new questions, raises new possibilities, suggests fresh ways to present the case for support.
A third factor is the budget and management benefits of using a contractor. Your nonprofit isn’t going to take on the burden of supporting a new staff line with all the administrative chores (and costs) that come with a “hire.” Proposal writers work for a fee but aren’t in line for benefits — and if things don’t work out, you can simply end the contract and move on.
There negatives or risks in using a proposal writer. You might pick the wrong person or someone with the wrong type of experience. You might hire someone who is too busy to give your project the attention it deserves. And, the flip side of an outsider’s perspective is that a writer might not know the history, tradition and culture of your organization.
It’s probably a good idea to be sure your staff really needs the outside help and determine that the cost of a proposal writer makes sense in terms of the potential revenue from grants. With these calculations in hand, outside writers can be a big help to your institutional giving campaign.
© Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center
Ford Foundation and partners announce $250 million commitment to easing the path from prison to workforce
LaTanicia Rogers needed a lot of things when she was released from federal prison last May.
After serving 10 years of a 15-year sentence for Medicare fraud, Rogers was released early as covid-19 overran the prison where she was incarcerated. She saw guards and inmates become ill, and a woman in an adjacent cell died of the virus. She was grateful to have survived the pandemic, but returning home in the middle of the corresponding economic downturn presented a new set of challenges for Rogers.
“When I got home, my husband was living paycheck to paycheck, and there were all of these things I needed,” said Rogers, 45. “I needed everything. I had nothing. I needed clothes, food, hygiene products, glasses, I had made all kinds of doctors appointments. I had doctors appointments for months.”
Prisons and jails have become a ‘public health threat’ during the pandemic, advocates say but jobs were scarce for everyone, let alone for felons. The situation was overwhelming for Rogers, so she turned to her case manager at Total Community Action, a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that provides services for people returning home from prison. Her case manager suggested a new program called the Covid-19 Returning Citizen Stimulus Initiative, which was working with reentry programs in 28 cities to provide cash assistance to people released from prison during the pandemic.
It all sounded too good to be true to Rogers, but she applied and soon received a payment, then another and another. All told, she received nearly $3,000 at a critical moment in her life, making her one of about 10,000 people who received money provided by a new philanthropic campaign called the Justice and Mobility Fund.
The fund, a partnership between the Ford Foundation, Blue Meridian Partners, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, on Wednesday announced a $250 million commitment to support organizations that work to improve the economic outlook for people exiting the nation’s criminal justice system.
In addition to the Covid-19 Returning Citizen Stimulus Initiative that supported Rogers, foundation dollars also will go to advocacy groups working to change policy, such as enacting laws that automatically expunge some criminal records as well as supporting and establishing programs that work directly with formerly incarcerated people to help them rejoin the labor force.
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Non Profit Quarterly
Did you know that 51% of donors did not adjust the amount they donate during the pandemic? After a year of economic and social disruption, Data Axle’s latest survey of more than 1,200 donors delves into the shifting behaviors and preferences of charitable donors across generations and identifies strategies that will help nonprofits stay connected with their audience.
Key findings include: