Monday, October 28, 2013

Five tips to increase your grant funding success

There are a number of things that determine whether your mission will be adequately funded.  Here are five things you can do today to bring in more dollars.

1. Match your organization to the right grantor prospect.

All grantors have a specific mission focus.  For instance, while the grantor may generally support programs for low-income women, they may actually only support a single facet of that group.  There's no use in applying for funds for heating cost support if the grantor is only funding breast pumps to allow working mothers to stay in the job market. Read all of the information you can find on the organization and decide if it is a good fit for your nonprofit.

2.  Refine your focus to emphasize grantor/grantee alignment.
Don't rely on a one-size-fits-all application.  If you have a general emphasis on a specific client profile, emphasize the portions that have direct alignment to the prospective grantor.  Each grantor and their mission focus is different and should be developed as such.

3.  Match your grant development costs to the potential award.

If the grantor specifically states that their maximum grant is $1,000, and it's going to cost $500 for your staff or your contracted grant professional to produce the grant application and administer the funds, that might not be cost effective. All grants have non-reimbursable costs, and you want to get the most return for your investment of time and/or money.

4.  Be sure you meet the minimum requirements to apply
Most grants stipulate that you must be a 501(c)(3) to apply, and may include time in business, minimum existing revenue amounts, ability to show matching fund potential, formal organization and program budgets, audited financial statements or other qualifiers as well. If you can't meet ALL of the requirements, your application is likely to be discarded without even being considered.

5.  Document your results to date before you apply

Grantors want to know that your program is effective and/or sustainable.  Even if you are currently seeking funding for a one-time event, such as the coming year's holiday turkey giveaway, show how you will reach the maximum number of intended recipients and why your program is using the funds to the best possible advantage (things like getting wholesale pricing for the birds, for example).  Long-term existing programs need to show that they have made a lasting positive impact and have a good chance of continuing to do so.

None of these things will guarantee an award, but doing them well will greatly improve your success rate. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Does your grant proposal have a bad "I"?

When you are presenting your charity to a prospective supporter, particularly if that first contact is an online application, establishing the credibility and effectiveness of the organization is vital.

When reviewing grant proposals for clients, many of them are written in the first person. "I started XYZ Charities"  "I contacted so-and-so", I did this  and I did that. Almost as bad is a constant string of third-person references to the founder.

There is always one person behind the formation of a charity.  Someone has to get the ball rolling, and that founder is very important.  If the charity achieves longevity, it will always be tied to its founder.  The Red Cross will always owe its existence to Clara Barton as the founder.  Any history of a charity will include a nod to its founder, but there does come a time when that same founder has to be part of a team.

Grantors are interested in supporting an organization because it effectively advances its mission, and that requires the efforts of more than one person.

If your grant application reads more like a political campaign speech than a mission narrative, it might give grantors the idea that the charity can't survive without you, or worse, that there are no other active team members.

When the grant asks for a history of your organization, it's fine to say it was founded by so-and-so, and if that person is still active, a brief biographical sketch of that persons contributions and qualifications. The transition to a team philosophy should be introduced as soon as possible after that initial introduction.
Try something like this.  XYZ Charities was founded in 2005 by Mary Doe, and now operates with a team that includes Joe Doe, Nancy Roe and Frank Moe, adding the titles and qualifications after each name. That tells grantors immediately that you are no longer a one-man show.  If you should get hit by a bus, the charity can continue to function, and the money the grantor is investing will not be lost or wasted.

The old cliché "You only get one chance to make a first impression" applies in spades here.  Be sure that impression is about your organization, and not just you.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

How does the Washington drama affect government grants?

In the short term the U.S. government is a non-functioning entity, rather more so than usual. Due to the debt limit/shutdown situation, if you go to most of their websites you will get a message saying the website is not being maintained due to the shutdown. is still displaying, but a highlighted post from their blog indicates there could be problems due to staffing shortfalls in various departments. Of course, appropriations are still to be decided, so that may cause some funding changes when the current shutdown is resolved. Some current funding may be held up as well.

Whenever there is a potential disruption in the free flow of money from Washington, some pundit opines that this will be the end of some or all Federal grant money. That sort of sounds like wishful thinking or a political attempt to add to the fear factor.

The government is not likely to end the granting programs unless we truly do go bankrupt as a nation. Grants are the way that Washington furthers its social policies. Whatever the dominant party in power, the government "gives away money" to achieve some desired goal.

Individual departments within the government are subject to the whims of the majority party. Whether  they are pushing for aid to countries outside the U.S., education, housing, healthcare, or the arts, there will be a lot of money allocated to advancing those programs. Some individual programs may be cancelled, but only because they do not fit in the current administration's scheme of things. Some programs may be moved from grant status to competitive bidding contracts.

Grants and any other kind of federal funding is somewhat dependent on the supply of money, sometimes as a high priority, and sometimes not, but throughout our history, the Feds have funneled some funds back to groups that can advance the agenda du jour.

Forecasting where that money is going to go is far more important to nonprofits in the short term than worrying about whether the supply line is going to be shut off forever. If all grants do end, that will be the least of our worries. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

About that board of yours

There are generally three types of boards.
  •             Committed and effective
  •            Committed but ineffective
  •            Disinterested and ineffective

If your organization has a committed and effective board, you are truly blessed. Unfortunately, the clients I deal with usually seem to have one of the latter two boards. What are the characteristics of these boards?

What makes a good board?
A good board works well together. They respect each other's views. There are no prima donnas. They each have skills and strengths that make the organization more effective as a whole, and provide stability, control, and guidance, as well as passion. They support the nonprofit and the mission in every way that they can. They give freely of their time, and their money if they have it. They are better ambassadors for the organization than any PR firm you can hire. Planning, dispassionately evaluating results, and applying corrective action are the strong points of this type of board.

Committed but ineffective boards
Committed but ineffective boards have the same type of passion for the mission, and very often are the hardest workers for the cause. Their weakness is that they tend to work hard, not smart. Sometimes they are so focused on success that they don't have the patience to follow through with strategies or do in-depth planning. They may not have useful skills, and by that I mean things that come from experience in meeting or solving ordinary business problems. They are what I call big-picture boards. They know exactly what result they want, but have no idea how to get there.

They often don't even recognize that they may be the problem. This type of board finds it easy to blame outside influences. Failure is always someone else's fault.

These are the boards that over-commit available resources, start programs without any idea of how to sustain them, hate fundraising, and don't understand the day-to-day process of running an effective nonprofit. If a grantor asks how they intend to meet their goal, they don't have a series of step-by-step, measurable goals. If something isn't succeeding, they don't know how to find the cause and correct it.

Fortunately, as long as this board has the desire and capacity to learn, they can almost always evolve into that dream board every nonprofit dreams about having.

Disinterested and ineffective boards

The third category is the hardest to deal with, primarily because the reasons for being disinterested and ineffective are so varied.

These boards can be poorly formed in the beginning. By that I mean that they were conned into serving on the board just so the nonprofit founder could say there was a board in place. They may have only a passing interest or even no interest at all in the mission. They may not have understood that they were making a commitment of time and/or money that they now find is insupportable in their life. The members may not have the skills necessary to run an organization. They may have no interest in, or ability to begin acquiring those skills.

They may be frustrated in their attempts to govern and guide by a single strong personality, either the founder or a single member that doesn't work well with dissenting points of view. After a while, the board feels like a well-used rubber stamp.

The board may be too well entrenched. While continuity is a great thing, when I see a board primarily comprised of a dozen or so twenty-year members complaining about lack of results, I worry. After a while, continuity can become stagnation. Any new members learn quickly that the old way is the only way.

The board could be made up of what I call "bio padders". They just like to say they belong to a board, any board, because it looks good in their biography. They join and that's just about the last time you see them unless the food is especially good.

Whatever the cause, this type of board needs a make-over, or even a do-over. The root cause for their situation has to be discovered and corrected. Sometimes it is up to the founder/president to get new members, and sometimes the board may have to deal with the disruptive member. Sometimes it is necessary to bring in a coach or consultant to get things moving again.

Judging from the number of people that say " I do everything and the board doesn't help", getting this type of board on the right track is difficult.

If you think you may have a board problem, give me a shout. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to begin to find the right path. You can reach me at

©R.L. Baisch October 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Does your nonprofit need better liability insurance?

Unfortunately, there has been another terrible bus crash. The bus was transporting members of a North Carolina church group when a tire failed. It seems like we hear about bad things happening to nonprofit groups far too often.

In a perfect world, bad things wouldn't happen to good people. In the real world it happens every day. I'm absolutely sure that the church didn't start  that day thinking, "Gee, what would happen if the bus caused a wreck and killed and injured a lot of people?"

A lot of things happen. Over and above the tragic loss of lives, survivors sue. If there is evidence of negligence, even something as simple as the tires being overly worn, the church may well be found to be the culpable party.

Nonprofits are probably not statistically more likely to have accidents than any other group. But if your liability insurance only covers the probable, and not the unforeseen catastrophic event, the repercussions are likely to be worse.

In working with many nonprofits, I often see insurances that are the minimum required by law.  Some  nonprofits do not even insure things like their volunteer activities other than through a minimum coverage general liability policy. Some even rely solely on the volunteer's own auto liability policy for protection. Sometimes that is a factor of cost, but in many cases the organization just doesn't think a high-coverage liability policy is necessary.

This all goes back to planning. Some things are obvious. If you rescue animals, it is likely that the animals could hurt someone. If you provide donated food to the hungry, someone could get sick  from eating it. But some things are not so obvious.

I am not an insurance agent. I don't even know any agents as personal friends, so I'm not shilling for the industry. As a small business owner for many years I know that the premiums can be a strain on budgets. But I also know that having to pay a big claim or a damage award can put you out of business.

Under constant pressure to keep administrative costs down, it is tempting to buy the cheapest insurance available, or even to go without it altogether. Don't do it. It's OK to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.