Sunday, August 25, 2013

Documenting volunteer hours

All nonprofits want and need volunteers.  Volunteers are literally the lifeblood of most public charities.  No matter how much money an organization raises, they typically can't afford to hire paid help to do everything.

Volunteer hours have a monetary value as reported by Independent Sector in this report: The generally accepted average overall value is currently $22.14 an hour, and this figure is further broken down by state in the above-referenced report. The state values range from $15.58 in Mississippi to $34.04 in the District of Columbia.

This is important in many areas but from the standpoint of grant applications, it provides both a yardstick for community involvement and a source of those elusive matching funds required for some types of grants. It also conveys a sense of how efficiently the nonprofit is managed.

In late 2012 I was working with a client to obtain funds for one of their programs.  The application required an invitation from the grantor after submission of a one-page letter of introduction/inquiry.  The LOI sailed through, and the client was invited to submit a full application for a maximum award figure of $25,000, with a matching requirement for $10,000.

One of the requirements was:
"Enter the total number of volunteer hours for the most recently completed fiscal year with a breakdown of how they were applied. Documentation may be required at a later date."  followed by a table:

How used

1st quarter
2nd quarter
3rd Quarter
4Th Quarter
Total for FY 2011


Subject Program

Column Totals

Not only did the client not have documentation of the hours, they had not tracked how they were used. It wasn't that they didn't have volunteers, but as one of the principals said:  "We are just happy when people show up to help. We don't count noses or keep track of hours for each one. After all, they aren't employees".

No matter how many times I tried to get even ballpark figures the client simply would not comply with this requirement. In general, they felt that having set attendance requirements, tracking hours and applying them to specific categories "…takes away from the spirit of volunteering" to quote the program director.

 Since they would not and could not produce substantiating documentation for any estimates, I couldn't include even a guesstimate in the table provided. Although we made a general statement to the effect that they held four events a year staffed by volunteers, and the organization had sufficient cash to meet the matching requirement, they didn't get the grant. They just didn't or wouldn't understand the impact that not providing the documentation would have on their application.

It is true that volunteers are not compensated for their time. However, their contributions of time should be tracked as carefully as though you have to pay them $22.14 an hour for every hour they help. They should be entered into a volunteer logbook, and some effort should be made to assign or at least document their contributions.  Volunteer management is, or should be treated as a sort of quasi-human resources function. Each program or task they help with should be traceable to a specific benefit to your organization.

As nearly as I could determine, this organization got about 400 hours a year from their volunteers. Leaving out the management aspects of effective volunteer recruitment and management, why would you not want to track volunteer contributions? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Successful Nonprofit Fundraising

On a Personal Note

To all the people that requested Climbing the Ladder to Nonprofit Success-Thanks! To the "marketing guru" that emailed me to tell me I was missing "an awesome monetizing opportunity" - I'm not interested.

I'm not exactly stupid when it comes to marketing, internet or otherwise. I know about landing pages, and "free" offers that require me to enter my email just to look at something to see if it I want it. I couldn't even begin to count all the content pieces I've written for that type of campaign. Those marketing/sales techniques do have a place in many industries. If just getting subscribers to view your blog is how you make money, or you have a product that many people use, but lots of competition in the same product line, I get being able to mass email your contact list constantly. I really do understand top-of-mind branding.

That isn't what I intended to do when I wrote Climbing the Ladder to Nonprofit Success. That's why I gave you MY email address. If you are interested in starting a nonprofit the right way, or struggling with one that didn't start with a good business model, I figure you'll contact me. If not, bombarding you with a sales pitch every week isn't going to make you a client. That's when I become known in a negative way. "OMG!  Another email from that pest again!" is not how I want you to remember me.

What does all this have to do with YOUR nonprofit funding plan?
Don't be a robo-fundraiser

There are certain organizations that seem to live on seemingly never-ending cycles of email or direct mail appeals, especially around the holidays. We all get them. Every few days there is an email or a fundraising letter in the mail. Pretty soon, the intended recipient simply drops them in file 13 or its electronic equivalent on the way to opening the rest of the mail. Even at nonprofit presort rates, that is expensive. The marketing firm that produces the appeal materials doesn't work for free. And we wonder why their fundraising costs are 50%-plus of their budget?
Robo-mailing typifies the way many nonprofits approach fundraising. Nag, nag, nagging for money or shot-gunning your grant applications aren't always viable plans. It can be an ineffective, time-consuming and expensive way to turn off your donors. Purchasing one-size-fits-all mailing lists costs money.

One of my services is researching probable matches between funding sources and a specific nonprofit. Some people email me with a request to "send out up to 100 applications for grant funds". It ain't gonna happen. If I can find 12 good matches, that is a rarity. A half-dozen or so really good prospects per grant cycle is more like it.

Why less really is more

Are there 100 foundations, corporations or government grants that generally support your type of cause?  Maybe…but they aren't all a match. Some are not geographically matched, some are already locked in to supporting specific nonprofits, some require a depth of organizational development that your nonprofit simply can't provide at the time, and some actually don't support your specific mission at all. Just because they say they support youth doesn't make them candidates for a pitch for advanced dress designing classes for girls 8-13. Researching grants takes time and in-depth analysis. Why not spend your money to develop a really targeted campaign?

Spend Wisely

That's why I offer fund raising planning services. That can be a part of a larger strategic plan, or a stand-alone service, but the idea is to focus your time (and money) on developing customized strategies that actually have a chance of succeeding.

Get a focus. Develop a real plan. Know when you will need money and think ahead, not a week or a month, but a year or even five years ahead. For that you'll need a budget, a easily explainable program and verified positive outcomes. Develop these now, not when we're writing the grant, because making it up as you go along is not a strategy. And if you need help, give me a shout. Helping you to succeed is what I do. Just drop me a line at

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Free nonprofit start-up handout

In response to several requests for a compiled pdf version of my blog posts as they relate to getting started,  I am offering "Climbing the ladder to nonprofit success". Just email me at and I'll send it to you.

Note: This is not an in-depth how-to manual, but more of an overview of the processes and reasoning needed to open a formal nonprofit. If you have questions or need assistance, give me a shout.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Grants open for smaller nonprofits

Horse-related - Maryland

The purpose of the Maryland Horse Board Grants Program is to develop the Maryland Horse Industry by supporting research, education and promotional activities. Deadline 9/30/13.

Cat rescues - National
Cat food for shelters, rescue groups, sanctuaries and other animal welfare organizations. Applicants must be municipal agencies or organizations with 501(c)(3) status. The application deadline is September 16, 2013.
Other grant opportunities and guidelines available on the website.

Child Literacy - VT or New Hampshire

The Children's Literacy Foundation is accepting grant applications from public libraries in Vermont or New Hampshire towns with 5,000 or fewer residents. The application deadline is September 16, 2013.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How to ask for support effectively

I got a call yesterday from a local nonprofit. The nice lady on the phone spent about three minutes telling me all about the organization. She gave me a synopsis of what they support, their mission statement, even their web URL. At the very end, she said,  "Thank you for taking the time to let me tell you about (the organization name). Can we count on you to support us?"
Support it how?  Do you want money? Volunteers? Are you having an event? What specific thing will my support accomplish?

This is a problem with many smaller nonprofits. They don't complete the ask. Maybe it's because they are trying to avoid the hard sell, maybe they are uncomfortable with having to ask for money, who knows?

I get just as annoyed as anyone else when the first words out of the telemarketers mouth are the name of the organization and the dollar amount. You know, the ones that start out, "this is the Blank Society and we are calling to let you know we are sending out a donor envelope for $25.00. Can we mark you down for that amount?" Uh…no. That approach almost always gets you hung up on at my house.

In between those two approaches is that sweet spot that gets you what you need. If the local lady had simply told me in about one minute that they were the Blank Nonprofit trying to support X cause, given me their name, location and their URL, and told me they would appreciate a donation for $25.00 that would provide X benefit for a recipient, I probably would have been more inclined to either say yes, or counter with another amount.

I fully appreciate that many smaller organizations are using volunteer fundraising personnel that don't do cold calling for a living. Work up a script, and have them practice calling each other or role playing until they are comfortable with the spiel. Try to keep it short, but informative. Above all, specifically ask for the money (or time, if that's what you need). If the answer is no, and it often will be, thank them graciously and move on.

One well known nonprofit uses the tactic of visual images and a targeted monetary appeal. "Just $xx. a month will (feed, clothe, educate, whatever) a (deserving recipient)."  That is about as short and yet effective as it gets, and that nonprofit raises millions and millions of dollars every year, $x at a time.

Asking for money is a part of nonprofit survival, particularly for new or smaller nonprofits that may not yet be ready to apply for grants. It's a learned skill, but you can learn to do it well.