Monday, May 26, 2014

Rating your Grantability

What do grantors look for when choosing a nonprofit to assist?

While the answer to that question can vary regarding specifics, the general profile seems to be fairly standard.

1. Compatibility with, and relevance to, the issuing grantor's mission. That means your program and organization should fit in with the goals and philosophy of the grantor. For instance, while both your organization and the grantor may support keeping youth in school, if the donor organization is supporting STEM education, they are unlikely to support a program for art education. Even the best grant application will fall flat without this component, making grantor  research one of your more important tools.

2. Geographically qualified. Most, if not all foundations, corporations and even government funding sources list the geographic areas they prefer to support. Even grantors that profess to have a national focus usually seem to support certain areas more than others.

3. Stability. Most grants require that the grantee has been in business for at least two years, have good financial records (including audited financials) and a track record of providing quality programs. Most grantors want to see at least two or even three years of long-form 990's, although your local foundations may settle for one year if you have good financial records.

4. Revenue minimums. There is no specific all-inclusive minimum amount of revenue that applies to all grantors, but all of them want the grantee to have enough income, exclusive of the grant money requested, to cover normal non-program operating expenses. That can vary from as little as $25K for a local community foundation to  as much as half a million dollars for a large national foundation. In general, the grantors want to see that the organization can survive without their contribution, since they are normally supporting your program and want to be assured that their funds will be used for that purpose.

5. Management competency. The grantor wants to be assured that the organization can manage both the program and the financial administration to achieve maximum impact from grant funding. Almost all larger grants require at least a short bio or CV for the board and key staff. The more money you want, the more this factors into the decision to fund you.

6. Positive visuals. Does your organization present well in the public eye?  That can cover anything and everything from having a quality website, to your Twitter profile, to being well-regarded in your community  press. While innovation is often prized, outlandish, immature or highly controversial conduct is not. Your reputation will become interwoven with the grantor, and they want that to be a win-win situation.

7. Strong program design. More grantors are beginning to request a program plan that functions like a business plan. They want to see clear, attainable and measurable goals and milestones they can evaluate for effectiveness.

These seven areas seem to be pretty universal throughout the philanthropic community. While each grantor may have their own subjective criteria, such as degree of sustainability, scalability, and impact, all grantors embrace the basic seven factors.

If you would like an inexpensive review of your grantability rating, drop me a line at

Monday, May 19, 2014

Working harder to get government dollars

According to an article on a report published by the Urban Institute, over half of all nonprofits reported lower payments and difficulties with nonprofit/government funding partnerships in a survey conducted in 2013. Some reported that funding simply dried up while the programs were still ongoing.

Considering that government at all levels was funding over 56,000 nonprofits through over 350,000 grants and contracts  and was spending over $137 billion dollars doing so, that has an impact.

Governments don't create wealth themselves. They collect wealth by means of the taxes they collect or the fees they charge, and redistribute it.

Without getting too far off into the political weeds, the simple answer is that there is less money available and the government has never been particularly good at working with the people they give it to at any level. Add in the bad publicity they have created through failed programs and scandal-plagued, sloppy accountability and the money supply is bound to get even tighter.

Governments are not going to stop handing out money. Not only is it the way they garner support (votes) for their initiatives, but they aren't supposed to just sit on the money they receive.

Still, with the national debt still rising, unemployment still a problem, and workers contributing less taxes due to working fewer hours, the money supply is going to get tighter.

The savvy nonprofit will have to tighten up their operations and their belts to get by, and consider diversifying their funding plans. Since late and reduced payments were a problem for many organizations, increasing cash on hand and developing alternate income strategies should be in the forefront of coping strategies.

In the aforementioned report it is noted that nonprofits coped with funding shortfalls by reducing staff, freezing wages or drawing down reserves. It may also behoove them to take a look at reducing the scope of their programs as well. If program and financial reporting can be tightened up to reflect greater oversight and increased effectiveness, now would certainly be the time to implement those new controls.

Basic business and strategic operational planning will be more important than ever in at least  the next decade. Scaling back programs or accessing more foundation and corporate funding may have to figure more prominently in that planning that it has in the past.

If you haven't already done so, consider a re-assessment of your current business and funding plans.  Better to help a little less than go out of business and help no one.

If you need help, either with research or program narratives and reporting, drop me a line at

Monday, May 12, 2014

Understanding Logic Models

Many grant applications require a formally presented logic model. Beyond that, logic models should be developed for every program as an in-house quality control tool. They can even be used to qualify prospective grant partners.

What is a logic model?
The easiest way I have found to explain it is that it is your program development blueprint or roadmap. Essentially, it provides a visible model of how your program efforts will result in reaching or supporting your mission goals.

There are many physical formats for the visual presentation. Documents, flow charts, spreadsheets  and slideshow-style presentations are the most common. I have found that the easiest way for most people to start is with an outline format in a word document. The visuals may be defined by a grantor in a different manner but any word document will generally translate well to any format

Content is king.

Regardless of what visual format you use, the content is the key ingredient. A beautiful picture frame with nothing more than a dirty piece of cloth in it doesn't usually rank highly as art.

The key element of a logic model is to show that your program is achievable, measurable and verifiable as to outcomes and impacts. It is nothing more than a step-by-step explanation of how your program will function.

Most logic models start with the resources and inputs needed to operate the program. That can include both monetary and human resources. For instance, you may need $10,000 dollars for materials, but you may also need trained personnel. It is nothing more than a list of what you have on hand or need to acquire to run the program. It is usually structured by defining what you will do and what you need to begin, and then provides criteria for measuring results.

What sections do you need?

The first section (Input) defines what you need just to get started. The following sections deal with what happens once you have that input secured. An outline for a program could look like this:

Program Name:   Remedial reading assistance for grade-school students

1. Required Inputs to provide tutorial assistance to 30 students per school year

·         Human resources = 10 qualified volunteer tutors
·         Monetary resources = $10,000 for books and paper supplies, rent, transportation and background checks
·         Suitable area for tutoring – minimum 600 square feet rented or donated
·         A curriculum for reading improvement

In other words, you need these things before you can go on to the next step, the activities that will be provided.  At this first step you might want to note or sub-list influencing factors, i.e. obstacles or assets such as whether you need to apply for grant funding, whether that funding will coincide with the start of the school year, should you approach the community for donated space or rent space and can you  recruit qualified volunteers. Obviously, if you don't have the means to go forward, that would be your immediate focus.

The next step would be to outline the activities that will be used to achieve your desired outcome.

2.  Activities (also called plan of action):

·         Assess each child's level of competency and divide into groups of three.
·         Assign the appropriate curriculum and tutor to address each groups need.
·         Hold twice-weekly one-hour sessions after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays
·         Relate reading activities to every-day life by having children read labels, signs or simple directions.
·         Have children real aloud for once each week.

The next sections of the logic model deal with results. Typically the next three headings would be Outputs, Outcomes and Impact, in that order. For instance, outputs would be how many of the target group of 30 signed up, and how many completed the program. Outcomes would be how many met or exceeded current grade-level proficiency. Impact would be following up with the students to see if they continued to progress and maintained grade-level  proficiency in the next school year or beyond.

Other benefits

At each step, the logic model should provide a chance to develop  some sort of" if>then" scenario. If we only get $8,000 then we can only enroll 20 students. If we only get 50% of the students to grade-level, then we need to evaluate the curriculum and the tutors. If we only get five qualified tutors then we need to do more community outreach and recruitment. In other industries, this is called contingency or variability planning.

Why you can't ignore the process

The larger the grant and the more competition there is, the more important a logic model will become. If you are chasing a relatively small local family foundation for less than $5,000, you may be able to condense a formal model into a few paragraphs or headings. The more zeroes you add, the more detail is required.

While these five categories usually cover the basic structure of a logic model, some grantors will also require that you document the contingency planning for a new program. The models can also be weighted  toward theory, activities and outcomes.

Beyond the obvious relationship to money, producing a program logic model will serve to keep your organization focused and efficient. Far too many people come to me with only step 2 and 3 developed. I can't present that to a grantor, so then we have to assemble the rest of the pieces. Why not do it before you need the money?  If you need help, you can contact me at

Coming Soon! "When should you consider Federal grants?" A new handout for growing nonprofits. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

What comes after your URL?

For the third time this week, research on a nonprofit that contacted me for fundraising help landed me on a website that says nothing and more importantly, does nothing to help me learn about the organization. Two of them were simply a link to their Facebook page.

I wonder why some nonprofit websites tend to be so ineffective. Is it because the staff thinks that no one goes to websites anymore?  Do they think the sites are too expensive to develop? Do they take too much time to update?  I asked everyone of those three nonprofits for a comment
Only one got back to me, saying that they believe that Millennial/Gen Y donors are mostly on social media, so the website is superfluous. I don't think that demographic is the only one they should be pursuing, but for the sake of argument, let's accept that as a parameter.

Maybe websites were less important for a little while, but new research shows that  18-34 year-olds now prefer to visit websites before committing to a donation. Along with all the convenience of  mobile connections comes a healthy dose of risk, a problem that is getting worse after all the recent data breaches, and that may be driving donor behavior toward learning more before they donate.

Text-to-give was a big deal for awhile, but has since tailed off,  with only 15% of Millennials reporting that they donate in that way. Seventy percent report they do prefer to donate online, which means making your website and its donation feature both user and mobile-friendly is important.

As it is for most individual donors, mission is still the most important facet in that age group. Donors want to see your mission clearly described. "We help low-income mothers with daily challenges" isn't enough.

The first place most people go after the landing page is the "About Us" page. With the proliferation  of Smartphone users, that would seem to indicate that your landing page and "about" page should be one and the same. There has to be a reason for them to click through to the rest of the website.

Like their older siblings and parents, Millennials care about what you are doing with their donations. How and whether you are accomplishing your mission is important to them. Millennials tend to give smaller amounts, but they donate more often. If they are establishing a relationship with your nonprofit through your website, then the old saw that you only "get one chance to make a first impression" really rings true.

Short-form social media is excellent at doing what it was meant to do, which is up-to-minute dialogue and reporting. It's a fine way to announce events,  tell folks about the great new supporter you just got, or converse socially with your group. People of all ages and backgrounds use it and follow it.

It also has built-in limitations. Because it is meant to be informal, current  and colloquial, it may not be the best way to present your organization to potential new supporters.

Going beyond the Millennials, people in general are just a lot more aware of how they spend money now. They want to see things like links to annual reports and 990 returns. They want to know who else is supporting you. They want to know about your board and key personnel, and they are likely to look them up on the web for connections beyond your organization. They want to see some type of personalization, such as multi-year outcome reports or a story following someone who is benefiting from donor support.

You just can't get that much detail or present the historical context of your organization through the short form social media formats. Websites can often incorporate blogs that educate and inform both existing and new donors and keeps them connected to you.
 Your website shouldn't read like an e-book, but it does have to go beyond 140 characters, and it needs to project competence as well as compassion.

In some ways, an effective website is similar to a well done grant application. It should engage  on an emotional level,  but it also needs to inform and showcase your organization as the professional operation that you have created.

Need help with a website or other communications?  Email me and let's talk!