Friday, July 15, 2016

What kind of help do you need?

Does your nonprofit need help? More important, do you know what kind of help you need?

Hint - It might not be a grant.

A quick confession.  I backed into being a consultant/startup adviser from being primarily a grant writer that specialized in newer nonprofits.

Why?

Because too many of my clients were so unprepared to ask anyone for money.

I found myself spending a lot more of my time getting clients to the point that they could meet the grantor's requirements than actually writing the proposal.

These were clients that had been in business for a while (the minimum time in business for me to consider a grant writing client is two years) but just weren't moving forward.

Some of them had no coherent program strategy. Some had no overarching fundraising strategy.
Some didn't even have budgets, organizational or program.  Without a budget, you can't define a fundraising goal. And those are just three of a long list of problems that had to be solved or managed before I could even look for grantors that matched up with my clients.

I even wrote a nice little free handout called "Why you can't survive on grants."  Lots of people requested it, few agreed with it.

I remember one person who got the handout and then wrote me a scathing email that read in part,  "Listen, nonprofits CAN'T survive without grants. Why do you think they started anyway?  It was to get people with money to stop being so selfish and put their money to work for good."

With all due respect, if that's your reason for starting a nonprofit, I can't help you.

Another problem is what I call the "someone else has to do the dirty work" philosophy.

Some clients don't want the tools to succeed. They want to order a ready-made nonprofit and have it shipped to their door.

For instance there was the client that had no budgets of any kind because they had no idea what anything cost to produce. When a grant asked for the cost per meal of their supplemental feeding program, they told me to "figure it out and let us know."

Uh, that's not how it works. Those are figures you should already have on hand for any grant writer. I offered to show them how to arrive at the figures and they terminated the grant writing contract because I "refused to compile requested information."

I think they had me confused with their chief operating officer.

Incidentally, neither of these two are still in business.

Only you know what areas aren't working for you. Is it volunteer and/or employee retention? Funding insufficient to accomplish your mission? Perhaps the board and the CEO/ED aren't on the same page? Has increased need outstripped your level of development? Applying for lots of grants but seldom or never landing any?

Whatever it is, it's usually not because you are having trouble getting or need a grant. That's ordinarily a symptom, not a cause.

Think of it like a broken down car. You know the car isn't running, but someone has to lift the hood and replace the right part to fix it.

The nice thing is, most of the time the real problems can be remedied. In terms of your time, commitment and yes, money, the solutions aren't free,  but they do exist.

What isn't working for you?

Drop me a line and let me know.  Let's see if we can fix it.