The government shutdown is hardly news at this point, and has directly impacted at least 800,000 government workers who have been furloughed. It has also impacted a lot of businesses frequented by those workers.
While the full economic impact of the shutdown is still unknown, some nonprofits are directly feeling the effects. Federal agencies, including NIH and NSF, have suspended their grantmaking programs for the duration of the shutdown. While some nonprofits had already received grant allocations for the year from those agencies before October 1, some hadn't, and it's unclear what the impact of delayed funding cycles will be going forward, even once the government has reopened for business.
So what can grantseekers learn from the government shutdown?
- Diversify your funding sources. As we've written about before, relying too heavily on a given funding source (whether a single funder, or a single type of funder) can be risky for nonprofits. If your organization has historically relied heavily on government grants, start building relationships with private foundations and corporate giving programs. Connect with the community foundation in your area. Think about adding individual donors and fees for service (if your organization provides services for which you can charge) to your sources of funding. Your organization may not be directly impacted by the shutdown (and I hope it isn't), but it's never a wrong time to think about diversifying your funding sources.
- Have a plan B. While your organization will hopefully never be in a position where a major funding source disappears overnight, it's always good to have a plan B. When crafting your grantseeking strategy for the year, chart out how much money your organization needs from grants (versus other funding sources) to support your programs, which past funders you expect to support your organization again, which new funders you plan to approach, and the expected grant amounts from each. Then think through what will happen if some of the grants you think are sure things don't come through. Sometimes foundation priorities change, economic conditions shift and diminish foundation assets, or something happens like a government shutdown. Knowing where you'll be able to make up any shortfall is critical. And raising more money than oyou need is also a good thing. You can always put additional money raised into a reserve fund (though be careful if any of the grants awarded are restricted) or offer more programs and services with the additional funds.
- Store your grant information online. What would happen if you were unable to access your organization's office for several days - or several weeks? Would you miss a grant proposal deadline? Or a grant report deadline? How would that impact your grantseeking for the year? How would it impact your relationship with your funders? By storing all of your grant-related information online, in a system like PhilanTrack, you can access your grant information and write your proposals and reports anywhere, at any time, to ensure that you're able to keep your grantseeking going, even if there are unexpected events that prevent you from accessing physical files in your organization's office.
To learn about how the PhilanTrack online grants management system can help your organization's grantseeking efforts, request a demonstration, or register for a webinar.
Photo credit: adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcostin/3449288718/
This is a guest post from Kelli Romero, Membership Director at the Grant Professionals Association
“O’ Say Can You See”…Yourself at the 15th Annual Grant Professionals Association Conference!
In November, the 15th Annual Grant Professionals Association* National Conference will be in Baltimore, MD (November 13-16, 2013). This year, the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) has cooked up a host of new and exciting workshop sessions and special professional levels of expertise to suit every non-profit and grant professional.
This is a must-attend event for anyone involved with grant proposal preparation. An extensive workshop list offers expert advice from some of the professions most successful and accomplished grant writers. Workshop topics are wide ranging and are targeted to individuals with varying levels of experience of beginner, mid-level, and advanced.
Workshops will identify the skill track and SIG that aligns with the topic of the proposed presentation. Skill tracks include; Proposal Development – Planning, Grant Construction, Grant Management and Reporting, Communication Skills, Professional Ethics, Resource Knowledge/Grant Research, etc.
Workshops cover topics such as Program Assessment, Steps to Becoming a Grant Writing Consultant, Program Development, Tactics for Enhancing Donor Loyalty, Fund Raising Strategies, and Proposal Development. Several workshops focus on specific fields, such as education, human services, government and faith based organizations.
The conference will also feature some special experiences, which include the Sail Away with GPA Evening Outing/Dinner Cruise held on the Spirit of Baltimore. This premiere special event will feature a dinner buffet, cruise along the Baltimore Inner Harbor and waterfront, view breathtaking views of historic Baltimore, dance to live DJ tunes and network with your colleagues in the enclosed ship or out on the deck. You don’t want to miss this event! This is a limited seating event. Please make sure you secure your seat today by registering online at the GPA website. Ticket prices are $65.00 and includes dinner, dancing and the view. To purchase tickets, go to: Sail Away With GPA Evening Outing.
This year’s conference will highlight some keynote and featured speakers as well as some wonderful sponsors and exhibitors, such as PhilanTech!
Here are five STAR-STUDDED benefits to attend this year’s conference:
1) Opportunity to visit with sponsors and exhibitors that have DAZZLING products and services to help you in the BATTLEFIELD!
2) By attending some of the 70 Workshops provided, you will become a LEADER in the grants profession. Some workshops include: "Seducing your grant reviewer"; "Thriving Social: 10 Steps of Social Media for the Grant Pro"; "Crafting a Killer Needs Statement - Using Data Effectively"; "The Funder is Coming! 10 Tips for a Successful Site Visit"; "Clearing up the Confusion about Program Evaluation" and many more!
3) Don’t be left out! Attend the GENERAL and Pre-Conference Sessions.
4) Take advantage of a PLETHORA of Networking Opportunities with others in the grants profession.
5) Don’t MARCH to the beat of your own drum. Get connected with others in your Special Interest Groups (SIGs).
Who Should Attend:
- Grant Writers
- Grant Managers
- Grant Consultants
- Grants Officers
- Grant Coordinators
- Development Directors
- Executive Directors
- Government Relations Officers
- Financial Officers
- Any level of experience, beginner to expert.
In today’s extremely competitive world for grant awards, the organization that invests in the professional development of its grant professional increases its odds of receiving grant funding tremendously. The opportunity to meet and learn from this caliber of presenters will not be matched at any other venue.
Registration for this conference is a small investment for the return of knowledge and increased competency that will be realized after attendance at this premier event. To find our more information about the conference or register go to: 15th Annual GPA Conference.
*The Grant Professionals Association (GPA), a nonprofit membership association, builds and supports an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. Founded in 1997, GPA has grown to close to 2,000 active members representing all 50 states and internationally. More than 50 chapters have formed in the past four years.
I’ve written before about grant dating (here, and here, among other places). As strange as it seems, the grantseeking process does bear some resemblance to dating, so revisiting it on Valentine’s Day seemed apropos.
So if things are not working out in your pursuit of a funder marriage, it may be because your dating approach needs to be adjusted. Here are a few tips to help you get to that long-term funder relationship:
- Make sure you’re dating the right foundations. A good relationship starts with meeting the right foundations. If you have nothing in common, the chances are not good that a relationship will work out. You can start by doing thorough research on the foundations you’re approaching. Study their mission statements and their guidelines. See which organizations they’ve funded in the past, and which organizations they’re currently funding. Do your programs seem like a good fit? Trying to fit square pegs into round holes by tweaking your program descriptions to meet funding requirements that you don’t naturally fit is not a recipe for a lasting relationship.
- Make sure you’re speaking their language. Many foundations have specific requirements for grant applications – everything from the specific information that they want to receive (specific questions to answer, issues to address, documents to provide) to when and how they want to receive it. Be sure that the request you’re putting together meets those requirements, whatever they are. (And we’ll be happy to show you how PhilanTrack can help you manage multiple proposals to multiple foundations.)
- It’s not all about you. Many nonprofits take an “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to writing grant proposals. They talk extensively about their programs, their constituents, their successes, their plans. While grant applications should absolutely include those things, they also need to position your programs in terms of the foundation’s priorities and its mission. One of the things Marty Teitel talks about in his book “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants” is the importance of aligning the proposal with what the foundation – and the people in the foundation, including both the program officer and the directors – is trying to accomplish. Part of the grantwriter’s job is to make it easy for the proposal reader to see how the program in question will help the foundation further its own goals.
- Presentation matters. Think about how you’re coming across. Just as you would probably choose your outfit carefully for your first date, think about how you’re presenting yourself to a funder. Is your proposal well written? Is it persuasive? Your organization can be doing great work, but if you don’t convey it clearly, you’ll have a hard time getting it funded. Program officers and trustees generally read many more proposals than they are able to fund. Think about it from their perspective – it’s so much better to read a proposal that is well written! Have someone else proof-read your submission to make sure there aren’t any mistakes and that the prose is clear, and supported by relevant quantitative information. First impressions matter!
- Once you’re in a relationship, don’t neglect your funder. Funder relationships, like all relationships, take time and care. Don’t take your funder for granted. If the funder asks for updates, provide them in a timely manner, and with the information requested. Don’t overwhelm the funder with communications (they don’t need to be copied on every email that you send to your supporters), but keep them up to date on key developments that relate to the grant they’ve given you, even if there isn’t a report due for a few months. Of course, if a funder makes it clear that they don’t want to hear from you aside from reports, then respect that (some funders need their space).
- If it doesn’t work out, ask for feedback to help your next relationship. Sometimes funders will break up with you for no reason – or what seems to be no reason. Maybe you’ve been in a relationship for several years and the board decides to change priorities in a way that no longer includes your organization’s mission and programs. It can be heartbreaking, but it happens, and there isn’t much you can do about it. But sometimes, funders will break up with you for a clear and explainable reason. While they may be inclined to spare your feelings by not coming right out and telling you the reason for the breakup, it’s frequently worth asking the question. The truth may hurt, but it might help position you for greater success as you pursue your next funder relationship.
Feel free to share your grant dating tips in the comments below!
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/3280435161/
Twice a year, PhilanTech partners with our friends at GrantStation to survey nonprofits about the current state of grantseeking in the U.S. We've gained valuable insights in the five reports that we have published to date, which we are happy to share with the nonprofit sector to help inform grantseeking strategies.
We've just opened the Spring 2013 State of Grantseeking survey, and hope that you'll take a few minutes to take the survey.
We've added some questions this year, based on feedback from the last survey in which we specifically asked what additional questions respondents would like us to include to ensure the survey is addressing the grantseeking issues that are most pressing for their organizations. Those questions are:
- What is the household income in your service area?
- How would you describe your organization's location or service area? (rural, urban, etc.)
- With which racial or ethnic group do those in your service area most identify?
- Is your organization well known in your service area?
- What is the age of your organization?
Please take five minutes and complete the survey before March 15. Results will be published on both the PhilanTech and GrantStation websites. Survey respondents can request an advance copy of results when completing the survey.
If you haven't already, you can download the Fall 2012 State of Grantseeking Report here.
Image credit: adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/6289600762/
It was hard to miss the news last week that Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping during his legendary cycling career that included seven Tour de France wins. The admission was a significant let down for many people who not only believed Armstrong’s claims of innocence, but also idolized him because of his incredible athletic achievements, his successful battle against testicular cancer, and subsequent good work done by Livestrong, the cancer support organization he founded and championed.
There may not be much of a silver lining in what has undoubtedly been a spectacular fall from grace, but here are a few lessons that grantseekers can learn from Lance Armstrong:
- Don’t do illegal, immoral, or prohibited things. That may seem obvious, but there are some pretty critical ways nonprofits can get in trouble, like spending restricted funds for a purpose other than what was designated by the donor. (There are other, obviously illegal things, too, like stealing money from the organization.) Don’t do them. And keep a keen eye out for others in your organization who might be at risk of doing something illegal, immoral, or otherwise just wrong for your organization.
- If something goes wrong, don’t lie about it. In the process of running a grant-funded program, something may well go wrong. Things frequently do. When someone on your team makes a mistake, or something unexpectedly bad happens with a grant-funded program, come clean about it immediately to the funder. Don’t hide it and hope the funder never finds out. Getting caught in a lie will only compound the problem, and pretty much sink any chance you might have of receiving future support from the funder (and possibly from any other funder, if the word gets out).
- Winning at any expense isn’t worth the cost. The old adage that cheaters never prosper rings true in the grantseeking world. Misrepresenting your organization’s abilities, or doing something that undermines your competition will only come back to hurt you in the end. Yes, grants are competitive. Yes, you need to do something to make your proposal, organization, and programs stand out, but do it honestly, and by highlighting your strengths rather than misrepresenting them or denigrating others
- It’s not always a good thing to be interviewed by Oprah. Several nonprofits had great success after Oprah appearances. While Oprah may no longer be the primary aspiration for publicity-seeking nonprofits, many nonprofits still seek that one big media break that will make their organization a household name. But not all publicity is good publicity. Appearing on a major media outlet – or being interviewed by a celebrity interviewer – can bring both fame and infamy to your organization. Just be sure that the publicity you’re seeking is for the right reasons and that the coverage will be positive, otherwise it can do more harm than good to both your grantseeking efforts (if the foundation has heard of you because of a negative news expose, you’re not going to get that grant) and to your organization as a whole.
Feel free to add any other grantseeking lessons learned from Lance Armstrong in the comments.
Image modified from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/3281864282/
In preparation for next week’s webinar on winning foundation grants, I’ve been reading Martin Teitel’s book, The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals the Secrets Your Need to Know. While all webinar attendees will receive a copy of the book, in addition to hearing from the author, I thought I’d share a few nuggets inspired by the book to start the year.
Without further ado, three myths and one truth about foundation funding:
- Myth #1 - Foundation boards rubber stamp staff recommendations. Foundation boards are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the organization is a good steward of the donor's funds and that it pursues its mission objectives. The board ultimately makes funding decisions. Staff (when the foundation has staff) work diligently to evaluate proposals and prepare recommendations to boards. But that doesn't mean that the board will necessarily approve every recommended grant. Foundation staff can certainly influence board decisions (and the degree to which the board accepts staff recommendations varies from foundation to foundation), but part of the job of the grantwriter is to help the foundation staff tell the prospective grantee's story well to help make the case to the board for funding.
- Myth #2 - Good writing doesn't matter if your organization is doing good work. Think of a grant proposal as a journalistic apiece. It should be clear, concise, to the point. Your organization's grant request has a limited window of opportunity to stand out from the many proposals on the program officer's desk. You may be doing great work, but if it isn't clearly conveyed in your proposal or LOI, the program officer (or ED or trustee) reading your information won't be able to easily see what is compelling and why your organization should benefit from the limited resources the foundation is able to invest. Good writing matters. Spend time on your summary or LOI to help your organization make a strong first impression and encourage your reader to want to engage further.
- Myth #3 - Progress reports don't matter. Many foundations require progress reports. Many nonprofits neglect to submit them (or neglect to submit them on time, or put much thought/effort into them). Those same nonprofits tend to think that foundations don't read the reports, so the reports don't matter. While that may unfortunately be true in some cases, in many others the progress report can play a significant role in determining whether your organization will receive future funding from a foundation. Neglecting to submit a progress report (or doing a cursory job) conveys a lack of respect and follow-through to the foundation, which is not the impression you want to leave with someone you're hoping will fund your organization in the future.
- A Truth - Understanding the motivations of both the foundation as an organization and the program officer as an individual is important. Foundations have missions to pursue -- and donor intent to support. Program officers are inundated with requests and have to make a case to their board for why a given proposal should be funded. What that implies is that a) nonprofits need to be attentive to the foundation's mission and requirements, and b) grantwriters should think about the reader while writing proposals. To elaborate a bit: if what you're proposing isn't aligned with the foundation's mission and stated strategies, it isn't going to get funded, and it's not a good use of your time -- or the foundation's -- to put a lot of effort into a request. Foundation priorities can change. Take the time to review current priorities and requirements before starting a grant proposal. And be sure that what you're writing/presenting is clearly aligned with those priorities and requirements. In terms of the program officer, remember that he or she will a) be reading tons of proposals, b) will need to be able to easily summarize what your organization is doing, why it's aligned with the foundation's mission and something that should be funded. Help your reader help you by giving them clear, compelling prose, backed up with just enough data, to make a case for why your organization should receive a grant.
Please join us next Tuesday to hear directly from the author about what grantseekers need to know about foundation funding.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jjpacres/3293117576/
PhilanTech and GrantStation are pleased to announce the release of the State of Grantseeking Fall 2012 Report.
The fifth semi-annual survey provides a snapshot of grantseeking activities and challenges in the US. Like with past reports, grantseeking remains challenging for nonprofits. The combination of the economic environment - and resulting cuts in expenses, both by grantmakers and by the grantseekers themselves - and the process of seeking and obtaining grants continue to test nonprofits.
Other findings from the survey included:
- Almost one quarter of respondents told us that their greatest challenge in grantseeking was the lack of time and/or staff.
- The number of grants from all levels of government increased by 6.1%.
- Private foundations were less likely to be the source of the largest grant award than previously reported in The State of Grantseeking surveys, regardless of organization size as defined by annual budget.
- The median largest grant in the first six months of 2011 was $39,000; the median largest grant for that same period of 2012 was $50,000.
As with past surveys, respondents maintained a sense of optimism, with 71% reporting that grant funding would increase or stay the same in the next 6 months.
The next State of Grantseeking survey will be conducted in early 2013.
Download the State of Grantseeking Fall 2012 Report now!
This week marked Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish tradition. As you may know, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, a day in which atoning for one's sins of the previous year creates a path to forgiveness, and the opportunity to begin the new year (celebrated last week) with a clean slate.
One of the unique elements of Yom Kippur is a type of communal atonement. Many of the prayers recited are in first person plural, ways "we" have transgressed, rather than ways "I" have transgressed.
And so it is in the spirit of Yom Kippur that I offer the following grantwriting transgressions we, a community of grantseekers, may have made in the past year. Note: atonement is only meaningful when it is accompanied by a good faith promise to do better in the coming year, to not repeat the mistakes and transgressions of the past year.
In no particular order:
- We have failed to respect the funder's stated requirements. Many funders clearly state on their websites (and/or in other publications) what they will and will not fund, what their priorities are, and how they prefer to be contacted. Not following whatever guidelines have been set by the funder virtually guarantees your proposal will not get funded, and yet many nonprofits still think that the guidelines do not apply to them, or that the grantmaker will be persuaded once they have had a chance to see how amazing the nonprofit's work is.
- We have failed to communicate quickly with the funder if something goes wrong. Put yourself in the funder's shoes. They've just invested a good bit of money in your organization. Yes, it's a grant, but they're invested in the success of your organization and programs, and the impact you're having on the communities you serve. If it were your investment, wouldn't you want to know if something was not going as expected? Surprising the funder in your final report with news about something that happened early in the grant will not endear you to that funder. Looking at it another way, your funder can be a valuable partner. If something is not going as planned, the funder may be able to help. Perhaps the foundation has access to resources that can be useful. Perhaps a grant to another organization in the past experienced similar problems and found a creative solution. If you don't take the initiative to communicate with the funder, you'll never know.
- We have failed to attempt to maintain a relationship after a proposal was declined. Sometimes a rejected proposal means "I don't want to date, but we can still be friends." Sometimes it doesn't (and you don't want to become a stalker), but trying to learn from the declination can be very helpful. Funder priorities can change. Your program might change. In a year or two, perhaps you and the funder will be better suited to each other. If you don't stay in touch, you'll never know. (Again, I'm not advocating stalking here -- and be respectful of a funder's stated preferences for contact in terms of both frequency and medium -- but occasional updates to a not-right-now funder can be valuable in the future.)
- We have made unrealistic promises to try to get the grant. Under promising and over delivering can make your organization look good. Over promising and under delivering will inevitably cause more harm than good. Overpromising might get you the grant, but at what cost? You may have to change your organization's priorities to meet the grant's requirements (which may not be the best thing to do for your mission). Or if you don't then keep the promises you've made, it will be very hard to get back in that funder's good graces (even if you atone for your sins). So don't do it.
- We have failed to calculate the full cost of the grant before deciding whether or not to pursue it. I've written before about the cost of managing grants. Not all grants are created equal in terms of the amount of effort (read: cost) to pursue, get, and manage the grant. While funders bear some of the responsibility for this (see next week's post), grantseekers also have a responsibility to view their time as a valuable resource, and evaluate the cost -- and opportunity cost -- associated with dedicating that precious resource to a pursuit that is likely to have a low return. Before jumping into a grant application, think about whether the expected value of that grant (if you get it) is enough to justify the cost, or whether your resources better spent pursuing other funding opportunities.
Coming next week, atoning for grantmaking transgressions (since it is not only grantseekers who should seek forgiveness and strive to do better next year).
Feel free to add your own grantseeking transgressions in the comments.
My last post was about how PhilanTech's support email was spoofed. It was an unfortunate experience, and one from which I learned several lessons that are surprisingly applicable to grantwriting:
- When things go wrong, acknowledge them, fix them, and move on. While you're not likely to face the same situation we did a few weeks ago (hopefully), it's possible something will go wrong in a grant-funded project, or in a project that you're hoping will be grant funded. Many of us have a tendency to avoid talking about things that don't go well (and many nonprofits fear that foundations will not be willing to fund them if something in the project hasn't been successful. More about that another time). But avoiding talking about something doesn't make the issue go away, and embracing it and demonstrating an understanding of the issue and what you'll do in the future to avoid a similar issue goes a long way. Obviously, just saying that something went wrong isn't sufficient. Dig in to understand what went wrong and why, and clearly communicate what you are doing to ensure it won't happen again in the future.
- Communicate often. The people who were the recipients of the spoofed emails were not PhilanTech clients or users, so this isn't directly applicable to our particular case, but a good lesson nonetheless. Funders generally require at least one annual report. If something does go wrong with your funded program, don't wait until you submit the final report to let the funder know. Stay in touch with your funder (and you can ask them about the best modes and frequency of communication) and let them know how things are going so that they are able to share in your successes, and they are not surprised by challenges when they read the year-end report (and when they might simultaneously be considering future funding).
- More isn't always better. We've been trying to figure out why our email was spoofed. It's the kind of thing that happens to Microsoft or Google, but not generally to small nonprofit software companies. In trying to find a cause, we discovered something unusual: the "contact us" page on our website comes up first if you Google a particular common phrase (which I'm a bit reluctant to post here, since it was the prevalence of that keyword, we think, that made us a target). While many organizations (companies and nonprofits) strive for good search engine optimization so that their website will be at the top of the list when people search for particular terms, it was not a good thing in this case. For your grantwriting, highlight the things that are meaningful - to you, to your constituents, and to your prospective funder. Highlighting the things that are the most or the biggest isn't necessarily helpful if they aren't the right things to highlight.
What do you think? What are lessons you've learned from bad experiences that impact your approach to grantwriting?
Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants/65911953
Bad news for nonprofits. A report just released by the Foundation Center indicates that while foundation giving totaled $46.9 billion in 2011 (a slight increase from the previous year), inflation-adjusted foundation giving actually decreased. Highlighting just how big the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is, the report suggests that giving by foundation has decreased 3% (on an inflation-adjusted basis), if the Gates Foundation is excluded from the mix.
A few highlights (or maybe lowlights) from the report:
- Foundation assets increased slightly to $646.1 billion, but that's still well shy of the pre-recession high of $682.2 billion;
- The financial market fluctuations and uncertainties of 2011 continued to take a toll on foundation assets; the report predicts that trend is likely to continue this year, which is less than encouraging for grantseekers;
- Foundation giving overall is likely to remain flat in 2012;
- The report anticipates a slight increase in giving for 2013 (though is cautious about making predictions beyond this year, given recent economic turmoil and the unpredictability of global markets that can impact foundation assets.
Despite all of the financial gloominess, 44% of foundations indicated that they expected to increase their giving next year.
So what's a nonprofit to do with this less-than-encouraging news?
- Maintain and manage relationships with current funders. Funder relationships require care and feeding. Keeping in close touch with your current funders can help facilitate the process of renewed funding, or can provide key information that may impact your fundraising strategy (which may sometimes mean you find out that they're planning to shift their funding priorities, but it's better to find out sooner than later);
- Don't assume increased grant funding for next year. Budget for consistent, or possibly decreased, funding from foundation sources;
- Continue to diversify your funding sources (which is always a good idea);
- Start cultivating relationships with potential new funders now. It's a process that takes a while. Don't wait until you're desperate for a new funding source to start building new relationships.
What do you think? How will your organization deal with this less than optimistic forecast?
Image source: Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates, 2012, Foundation Center