Category Archives: Best Practices

I was looking for birthday cards at a nearby Hallmark store and there was a sign that read “Be Kind to Strangers – They May Give you Money.” I had to laugh at this, since it is very true (and very applicable as a grant writer). We spend an inordinate amount of time crafting a well-constructed proposal, cultivating relationships with funders and preparing progress reports on the grants we receive. However, what about those individuals who may be interested in supporting your organization, but aren’t deemed as “worthy” of cultivation?

Volunteers – Treat volunteers with kindness and gratitude. Not only is this in-kind support, these individuals are integral to programmatic success and organizational operations.

Donors that contribute small amounts – Those who contribute smaller amounts are generally not consid

ered “major donors” and may not be cultivated in the same way. How do you thank these

individuals? Do you have an annual thank-a-thon? Do you send a photo or personalized message with you thank you note? Do you keep them updated on organizational activities? How do you let them know their contribution of $50 is as meaningful as those who donate $500?

In-Kind Donations – These donations of furniture, equipment and/or time allow organizations to focus on spending funds on programmatic activities versus operating expenses. Are you thanking them in a meaningful way?

Event Attendees – Perhaps you held an event, collected signature, but that person did not initially become a donor. What are you doing to keep them informed and show that their attendance and participation in events are contributions in and of themselves.

How can you cultivate kindness within your organization?

 

There are many ways we can communicate with our clients, partners and the public. There are social media sites (and the list of these sites keeps expanding all the time), your own website, newsletters, press releases, conferences, emails, phone calls, letters (are you getting exhausted already?). While it is wonderful to have all these different vehicles and means to share and communicate our messages, it can become confusing to determine when to share information, what to share and how often. Full disclosure here, I am not, nor do not promote myself, as a social media or marketing expert. However, I do know as a grant writer that message communication is an integral component in obtaining fundraising success.

Why should you share these updates? This can draw interest and update stale information that is not as exciting to your audience.

What is important to share? Most information can be categorized into two types– progress and need. New programs, new leadership, revised organizational structure, updated website – basically something that will draw attention and provide evidence that you are being innovative, strategic, showing return on investment and showcasing progress. For the annual appeals, increase in poverty rates, emergency situation (think Hurricanes Harvey or Irma) these are needs based.

When is it important to share? When do you need funding or when did the event/update occur? You will likely want to plan the information sharing with the event/update so that it is timely and specific.

What information sharing vehicles should you use? This likely depends on your audience and the information you are sharing. The larger the audience, the greater the size of the networks you should seek; social media will engage more people, but your own website, newsletter and messaging will provide a more personal touch. A combination of them is likely the best solution, but a communications strategy will help outline your key priorities and messaging opportunities.

What will you do to amplify your message?

Four years ago I was working in the nonprofit sector and trying to juggle the job of Director of Development while raising a three-year-old boy. While I was grateful for the flexibility that this job afforded (I was mostly able to telecommute) and I completely supported the organization’s mission, I still didn’t feel that I had complete control of my schedule. I wanted more time with my son, the ability to work 100% remotely and complete autonomy in the work that I chose to pursue. I decided to do some freelancing grants work, and this was a great first step to slowly ease into the transition of business ownership. My husband prepared the paperwork and I officially became an LLC and launched my business on August 29, 2013. Little did I know that I was pregnant with my daughter the same time as this launch….

While I experienced many bumps in the road on the path to succeeding as an entrepreneur, I have walked away with some useful tips that can hopefully help other business owners.

  1. Never underestimate your value to clients. Do not undersell your services or take on pro bono work at the expense of your bottom line.
  2. Set personal boundaries. If you are an entrepreneur and you seek more personal time, set that personal time in your calendar so you are not inundated with client emails or requests to meet. You can set the flexible schedule, if this is important to you. I always do this when I want to attend an event at my child’s school or have a personal matter that requires attention.
  3. Outsource. I know that it is easy to take ownership of everything, but at some point you may need support for your accounting, appointment scheduling, social media and/or project work. Do you have contacts that can support you when you take a vacation or when your workload increases? My virtual assistant, bookkeeper, and other colleagues have helped me tremendously, and this has helped grow my business.
  4. Pipeline Cultivation. Always think about future work, even if you have a full plate. Clients change, as does workflow, so always seek opportunities via networking events, trainings and informal meetings to encourage future work.

I love the work that I do, I appreciate my clients for choosing me to help them through their fundraising journeys, and I love the balance it affords with my family. What fuels your desire as an entrepreneur?

My kids hate leftovers. They always whine and complain if we have the same meal two days in a row. I can understand that the second day food isn’t as fresh or appetizing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still good. The same can be said for the words we write. As proposal writers and grant professionals, we work tirelessly on crafting language that is specific to each funder and offers information that accurately and vividly describes an organization’s mission and impact. I have been working with some clients for several years, and I have to admit that sometimes I get tired of seeing my own writing again and again. What can we do to move past this leftover language?

  1. Annual refresh – think about new initiatives, accomplishments, and priorities that enhance the existing work that is currently taking place. Can your strategic plan serve as a guide?
  2. Research – are there evidence-based approaches that showcase the validity and value of the work you are doing? How can this be woven into your proposals?
  3. Knowledge – perhaps you need to take a course, read or book or find some materials online that shape the way you actually write proposals. Perhaps you can write like a storyteller, use the budget to guide your narrative or provide more statistics.
  4. Outside Perspective – it doesn’t hurt to have another colleague review and critique your work as well. I know that writers can get territorial, but this could be a value add and provide some insight into your areas of strength and weakness.
  5. Step Away – sometimes I spend a day writing and being absorbed in the narrative. I think it’s perfect and then I come back the next day and find multiple errors or sentences I want to change. A day away can also help you find clarity and focus again.

What will you do to turn proposal leftovers into a gourmet meal that even my kids will love?

When I started my business nearly four years ago, I tried to cease every opportunity. Sure, I’ll meet with you at a location of your choosing. Sure, I’ll do some extra pro bono hours. Sure, I’ll provide another consult call to make sure you have what you need to move forward with our work together. However, at some point you have to take stock of your assets. I’m not just talking about your equipment or infrastructure, but about your intellectual capital – expertise, network of contacts, tools and resources that you have created. What are you willing to freely part with in the hope of finding new clients or colleagues?

I struggle with this as I primarily work with nonprofit organizations. When I started my business, I jumped at the chance to offer free trainings through preferred partners and organizations, but started to get burned out. I needed a better way to ensure that I was providing useful content to current and potential clients, and also maximizing my time to the greatest extent. Here’s the checklist that I use when I think about offering a free training session.

 

  • How many people will be at the session? Are you willing to conduct a session with few attendees?
  • Is this training online or conducted in-person?
  • Is there content that you can use from previous sessions or will you have to create new content from scratch?
  • Will you be leading the session with another colleague?
  • Does the entity offering the training have a well-established reputation within the industry/sector of prospects you are trying to reach?
  • Do you have a pre-established relationship with the entity?
  • Is the location of the entity offering the training easily accessible?
  • Will you have to significantly configure your schedule in order to conduct the training?
  • Is the training conducted through a regional/national conference or a one-time session?
  • Is there potential for paid training in the future?

 

My goal is to offer some free training per year, but I am more selective with the trainings that I actually conduct. If you do offer a training, what are you doing to maximize your time to the greatest extent?

At least twice a year I, like billions of other parents, participate in parent-teacher conferences. We always hope to hear good things about our children, but sometimes this is not always the case. What if they are not making progress? What if they are having problems adjusting socially? These and many other questions arise, so I started to think of these conferences as a form of quality control to ensure that we learn from the information obtained.

Conference Issue How does it relate to my work? Mitigation Strategy
Your child is not performing at grade level. Your data indicates that you are not achieving the results you anticipated. Determine causation (to the extent possible and work incrementally to meet the anticipated result.
Your child is displaying some negative behaviors in the classroom. Your actual costs on a project or program exceed the budget. Set boundaries and review previous information to figure out why this is happening. Have there been any changes? Is there appropriate oversight? Continue to monitor and work together towards a solution.
Your child is performing well above grade level on a certain subject(s). The results exceed targets by a large amount. Develop a case study to share this success and use as a model to promote and incentivize staff to continue improving and developing.
Your child lacks focus and does not pay attention during lessons. Your organization is starting to deal with mission-drift and moving away from your fundamental purpose. Refocus energy the work at hand and remove unnecessary distractions that can lead to lack of prioritization of key objectives. A staff retreat may be necessary.
Your child does not complete his/her homework. You are not completing fundamental components of the program, as stated in your grant application. Determine why objectives are not being met and create a plan of action to meet deliverables.

Hopefully, your parent-teacher conferences will go smoothly and that you learn something beneficial to help you in your professional and personal lives.

It’s time for spring – flowers are blooming, baby animals are being born (go April!) and we can start fresh. From a business and organizational perspective, what can that mean for you? Here is a list of the top 10 ways you can tweak how you work:

  1. Create a new policy and/or standard operating procedure to track a new or existing process.
  2. Develop a new logo or update your website/marketing materials.
  3. Purchase or update a data tracking or project management software/system.
  4. Organize your paper and electronic files (A-133 audits require this!).
  5. Hold a retreat to update a strategic or business plan.
  6. Update proposal content to reflect existing programs and activities.
  7. Research statistics to ensure you have the most recent demographic and best practices information.
  8. Attend a professional development training or working group to learn new ideas.
  9. Cleanse your emails to declutter your Inbox.
  10. Prepare a case study of a successful activity or program you have undertaken.

What will you do to start fresh in the spring? I am working on cleaning out my closets and organizing my desk as we speak….

Since I am spending Spring Break in Florida, I can’t help but think about Disney. Maybe this is a bit wistful, but as I work with more clients who receive grant funding, I can’t help but think that sometimes grant seeking is a trap. You receive the money, and then you have to manage the requirements and all the strings attached. What are some of the common pitfalls and how do you avoid them?

Financial Management

You don’t reconcile your funds on an ongoing basis so you don’t actually know how grant funds are spent within your organization. Some staff may even be unaware that they should charge a portion of their salary to a grant.

Solution: Assign a point person responsible for coding your grant in your accounting system, train all applicable staff members on how they should be charged to grant awards, and ensure the assigned Project Director has a copy of the grant budget and application.

 

Reporting

You forget deadlines, provide incomplete information and do not track progress on an ongoing basis.

Solution: Create a system for performance measurement, including an assigned point person. Make sure you complete the reports on time and according to the grantor’s requirements.

 

Stewardship

You only reach out to funders when asking for money, so they have little idea of how their funds are being spent.

Solution: Be a good steward of grant funding by providing updates on how their funds have been spent. Share success stories and connect via social media so others can see how your grantors are helping your organization.

These reflect just a portion of the steps you should complete in order to be successful grant managers. Keep in mind that post-award grants management is complex and requires resources and time, but in the end you will have a greater pool of renewal funders and set up your organization for success.

My daughter loves to sing and dance around our house. She turns on the charm when she knows she has an audience, and enjoys watching people react to whatever she does. She stands out of the crowd simply by bringing joy into people’s lives. While some of us crave the spotlight more than others, I do think that we should try to stand out, and we can do this without being boastful and without bragging.

Why should we stand out?

Quite simply, this gives us a competitive advantage. If we can’t differentiate ourselves from our nonprofit or business competitors, why would someone want to acquire our services or give us money to operate our organizations?

How should we stand out?

You obviously want to stand out because of something positive you accomplished or a benefit to your clients or constituents. We hear so much negative news, that we forget all of the wonderful ways that we positively impact our communities. There is no need to spend money on a marketing tactic that won’t lead to long-term growth or a viral sensation that will fizzle out. Think about how your approach feeds into your strategic or business plans and priorities.

What tools can I use to showcase my competitive advantage?

  • Update your website to highlight your accomplishments and achievements
  • Use social media to share upcoming trainings, case studies or key wins with others
  • Reinforce your brand through colors, taglines and captivating verbiage
  • Create a compelling fact sheet or capabilities statement that uses infographics and statistics
  • Maintain and update testimonials and success stories
  • Understand your competitors and how you do things differently and more effectively

While we can’t all be like my daughter, I do hope we can find a way to stands out that are unique to our work, promote quality and inspire others.

A February in Maryland usually consists of some snow (at least one or two storms) and several school day closures. However, during this unseasonably warm winter, I spent a lot of time outdoors with my family. My children were excited to go to playgrounds and run around until the sun went down. One accomplishment for my son is that he finally learned to ride a two-wheeler on his own. He was unsteady when he tried to ride his bike in the fall and needed training wheels, but somehow gained the balance and confidence to ride on his own last month. He was so proud of himself and excited to ride his bike as much as possible. This made me think about boundaries and taking on new situations.

We talk ourselves out of taking risks and sometimes do not try out new things for fear of the worst case scenario. How do we remove ourselves from this vicious cycle? Everyone has to deal with challenging situations such as a difficult proposal, new client or boss or new job, and they test our ability to overcome the voices in our heads that raise doubt. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Don’t overthink the situation
  • Take it step-by-step so it seems more manageable
  • Call for reinforcements
  • Don’t take on a challenge that you know you don’t have the resources or skills to complete
  • Practice and do your research so it seems less daunting
  • Come in with a positive attitude – mind over matter
  • Praising yourself when you complete or make progress on the challenging situation

What challenges do you face and how will you overcome them? Think like a 5-year old and you’ll be fine and riding a bike in no time!