Category Archives: Best Practices

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves. It is not easy to work in fundraising. Whether you are writing grants, cultivating relationships with major donors, managing special events or drafting marketing materials, you know that in the end, there is a bottom line. Your work has an impact on your organization(s) and that can be incredibly stressful. One slight error in a grant application and your 80+ hours of work on an application can be for naught. This is why many creative, thoughtful and intelligent individuals leave development positions after less than two years and why many new professionals move on to less stressful jobs.

I want to implore you thought that it is a fallacy though to believe that it falls all on our shoulders. Here is why that is….

  1. What is your culture of philanthropy? Fundraising involves much more than writing an application or report. It involves the investment of time and resources from your board leadership, leadership team, programmatic, financial and administrative staff to remain committed to meeting your goals. Each of these individuals play a significant part in the success of your fundraising efforts.
  2. How are you using your time? Are you investing your time in high priority fundraising efforts or providing band aid administrative support as well? Make sure you are focused on the tasks that will lead to the greatest results and create a cost-benefit analysis should you need to speak with your superior(s) on shifting workloads.
  3. You are not perfect. Yes, that’s right, you are not a superhero! While you can generate revenue for your organization(s), you can be prone to mistakes. It happens. Try not to beat yourself up and use it as an opportunity to develop a better process to avoid such errors moving forward.
  4. How are you improving? Are you investing your time in attending professional development workshops or conference that can improve your work? There are wonderful local, regional and national conferences that are geared towards public and nonprofit sector growth and sustainability. The GPA National Conference in Chicago is coming up and always a wonderful event. You can always learn a new skill, regardless of whether you are able to travel.

Fundraising can be a rewarding and satisfying profession. We just need to keep things in perspective and try to stay focused to the extent possible.

Isn’t there a famous quote that “The truth shall set you free?” Wouldn’t it be great to tell the truth all the time instead of masking our unpleasantries? I see this happen all the time when working on grant proposals. Organizations try to cover up a misuse of funds or embellish a program that might not be making as much of an impact. I think we could all use a bit of forgiveness of our transgressions as we start to be real about who we are and want we do. Ask yourself:

  • Are my actions going to negatively impact my constituents or the larger organization?
  • Will the truth eventually be uncovered through a strategic planning process or financial audit?
  • Will this have any negative consequence on staff morale?
  • Why did this end up happening in the first place?

I tell my children that a lie will eventually be found out and serves a learning opportunity. Maybe instead of seeing a negative, you can turn it around and replace with a positive need for change:

  1. What can you do regarding fundraising if you have not met your financial goals?
  2. Are staffing changes or reorganizations needed to make sure you have adequate internal controls?
  3. How are you measuring impact and is this happening continuously?
  4. How are you sharing this information with funders and board members to plan for success and sustainability?

Lies have a way of surfacing and it is better to be truthful than cover up these transgressions with other lies. In the end, it will help improve how you work!

For those who work in deadline driven environments, we are constantly trying to outpace our deadlines. There are so many factors that can impact our ability to complete high quality deliverables on time, within budget and meeting specific standards. Contrary to the Rolling Stones, time is not always on our side. So, what do we do when we don’t have the luxury of time?

 

 

  1. Phone a friend – is there an ally or resource who can support you in completing the work? Also, this person can help with final copy editing and preparation of materials.
  2. Checklist – have you prepared a list of all the items that you need to complete and whether you have access to the materials or need to gather them from other resources?
  3. Reuse and recycle – do you have materials that you can leverage from other documents that have been prepared? There is no need to reinvent the wheel if you have clean content.
  4. Version control – use a document sharing system to ensure you have access to the latest materials so there are no issues when completing the final version.

While this may not help you for this particular effort, make sure you include a reminder when planning for upcoming fiscal year activities. It may save you time in the future. Best of luck in trying to beat the clock!

My daughter loves wearing different costumes (and not just for Halloween). She loves pretending to be a doctor, firefighter, princess, fairy, butterfly and even a mommy. This is why I think adults like Halloween too – you can pretend to be something you’re not (at least for one day) and get away with it! It is fun to step outside of your own skin and live in a fantasy world. However, I think that this becomes problematic when we try to fantasize our professional world. What I mean is that nonprofit organizations can sometimes embellish the truth in order to garner favor (more shares on Twitter), additional funding or supporters of the organization. However, this can sometimes lead an organization down the wrong path. Your organization’s case statement (essentially, your statement of need and projected impact) should be routed in the truth. Why? Let’s outline some reasons.

  1. Needs are articulated. Have you determined why you need to seek funding for your organization/programs? Do you have dollars associated with these needs? Can you also clarify how you will measure the impact of funding against meeting these needs?
  2. Do not overpromise. A strong case statement will speak to your organization’s current capacity and capabilities, as well as providing information about future planning to show you are forward thinking in your strategic planning efforts. If you start to focus on too many high-level initiatives that are contingent on resources, funding, space, etc. these new initiatives may not happen and can fuel confusion about whether people can trust that you can meet expectations.
  3. Careful plan based on thorough assessment. Sometimes an organization’s needs are based on needs that have been articulated since inception. Has an updated needs assessment taken place and a fundraising and/or strategic plan been developed that coincides with this assessment?
  4. Outlines your capacity. There is a difference between your current state and future state. As described in #2, it is important to understand your limitations as an organization. Organizational capacity speaks to your ability to have strong internal controls, understanding your target audience and that you have programs that meet the needs of your constituency.
  5. Integrity matters. Most importantly, being true to your organization’s capacity shows that you are honest and forthright. This way, being boastful about your current strengths is more significant than embellishing the truth.

Have you updated your case statement recently (or at least your boilerplate grants and communications language)? Does this speak to your truth and where you are as an organization currently? Remember that Halloween lasts only one day each year – you have to be honest to yourselves, your constituents and funders all 365 days. Honesty and a firm understanding of your organization’s capacity are important qualities!

 

On a regular basis, a grant writer is often asked, “What is your success rate?” I realize that from an outsider’s perspective, the success rate can appear to be a measurement of the grant writer’s aptitude and provide a tool to determine return on investment or job performance.  However, I find this question misleading, and here’s why:

  1. Success rate does not provide any understanding of what the funder was thinking. Why was a decision made? Was it the quality of the proposal or something completely outside of the grantee’s control? Was a grantee already designated even before the proposal was received?
  2. Success rate does not indicate the quality of the work. A well written proposal can stand on its own merit, even if it was not funded.
  3. Success rate does not incorporate the work that went into the proposal. A grant writer can spend 1-3 months on a large proposal, which helps enhance the capacity of the organization. If the organization can recommend the grant writer, even without a win, this is a testament to the success of the grant writer.
  4. Success rate does not factor in cultivation. Did the organization actively cultivate this funder? Could that have made a decision in whether or not this proposal was awarded?

This is why I caution anyone to think about viewing success rate as the be all, end all of a grant writer’s capabilities. Other indicators such as writing samples, recommendations, project plans and other tools are integral components in a grant writer’s portfolio. They have equal (if not more weight) than limiting a grant writer to the success rate alone.

I am grateful for the fact that my children are able to express themselves (and all of their emotions). Their articulation of their challenges, triumphs, and annoyances offers me a glimpse into how they view the world around them. I realize that we spend a lot of time talking and sharing our opinions and information, and what I feel is lost is the art of listening. Are we really trying to absorb what is around us or are our senses too overwhelmed? Especially as we move towards a new calendar year and deal with end of year giving, annual appeal letters and the like, we are constantly pushing out information. Why is listening really that important?

  1. We learn new things: If you actually take the time to listen (both actively in-person or via phone or by reading) we might learn some interesting tidbits that provide insights into others’ perspectives, priorities or values. This is helpful in pursuing partnerships.
  2. Build connections: Instead of always pushing information about ourselves and organizations we represent onto other people, perhaps we can see this as an opportunity to connect. Let’s deepen the bonds that connect us.
  3. Focuses our energy: Listening is a skill and requires our attention and engagement. If we actually stop and absorb, this helps us remove the excess noise and become active participants in the world around us.
  4. The ties that bind: In addition to building connections, we also are able to find commonalities and shared values. Perhaps there is someone whose voice did not seem relevant or interesting at first glance, and now by listening you learned something new. Maybe this can help open your mind and perspective as well.

What will you do today to start listening to others?

Each year, hundreds of grant professionals descend upon a chosen city in November to discuss all things grants for our annual Grant Professionals Association Conference. This year, the conference was held at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego. At the onset, I thought that trying to participate in valuable professional development sessions, demonstrations and networking opportunities while also at a resort spa in 70-degree weather, would be a challenge, it was also a positive. My next thought it, why do we have to separate business and pleasure? Here’s why:

1) Deepen Connections: Engaging with colleagues on a personal level allows them to get to know you and vice versa. Perhaps you are able to establish a connection when one did not exist before. This opens the door to further conversations (and hopefully collaborations) and shared learning.

2) Clear your Head: You might be able to think more clearly when you have some relaxation time – perhaps a blank slate will help generate some useful ideas.

3) Loosen Up: When you are more relaxed, you might be more open to feedback and ideas. This can include those who you might not have been on your radar.

4) A Family Affair: I know a number of people who brought family members to the conference. This helps engage people you love with the work that you love. I know it is difficult to explain to others about the work that you do (we do not simply just write grants….), so this is a good way to get them involved.

How can you make your work more personal and engage more people at the same time? I hope you can get more out of your next upcoming professional development or networking opportunity.

My son is now in first grade, and is becoming more independent and responsible. One of the more recent challenges we encountered was having him remember all of the items to include in his backpack as he prepares to head off to school. He forgot his library book one day and then he forgot his reading book another day. While I didn’t want to keep enabling him by packing up his backpack, I decided to set up a system whereby he has a checklist taped above his backpack and he is responsible for looking at it each morning to make sure that he has all important items in his bag. Guess what? It works!

Now, as a project manager I use checklists of various types and complexity on all sorts of activities, and I find them extremely helpful.

  1. RFP response – These checklists are especially helpful when you need to gather all the necessary attachments. There are also often formatting and/or printing requirements pertaining to government proposals and contracts.
  2. Style Guide – Organizations might use certain acronyms, terms, or even capitalize the name of a program differently. You can refer to this when you conduct a final review and copy edit of your proposal.
  3. Prospect Research – Have you looked at all the elements to prepare a robust research list that includes such items as applicable keyword terms, geographic preference, eligibility requirements and average award size?
  4. “To Do” list – We all have a running list of items that we need to do each day – do you have that organized into a succinct list or a process for prioritizing them? Sometimes creating a separate email folder, flagging items in your email or even writing them on a white board are great ways to remember. I use project management software to keep track of my straggling deadlines.

What is the next checklist you plan on preparing? I hope you get to cross off those items soon; it always feels good to complete everything on your list.

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?