Category Archives: grant writing

Big Egos in a Nonprofit

Some people have too big of an ego to be involved in managing the operations of a nonprofit. Egos are fine for businesses, agencies, and other organizations that are made up of paid staff. In a nonprofit, most of the people are volunteers and teamwork is essential to keeping people from running away.

I see the most harm done when egos exist on the board or in the nonprofit’s management. Board of Directors are responsible for identifying the mission, providing oversight, and raising funds. The Executive Director and other managers are responsible for fundraising, managing the paid staff, and day-to-day operations.

While the lines between the two are clear, they become blurred when big egos dominate. Board members become micromanagers on the staff or the executive director and staff work as if the board does not exist. Both ways damage the nonprofit’s ability to be successful.

Harm to the nonprofit appears in high turnover rates, loss of donor funding, and errors in meeting the mission goals. Even worse is when the egos reside on the board and management at the same time.

Unfortunately, there are no clear, easy solutions. There are mediators for nonprofits, yet someone has to initiate their involvement and pay them. Most nonprofits suffer through the turmoil. Board members serve two year terms and the executive director and staff with big egos usually burn themselves out and leave.

A grant writer should be prepared for this situation and stay away from it. I realize this is a poor solution, yet an honest one. The only people who can change the situation are other board members or staff who need to step in and confront the egos. However, it is sometimes easier to just leave.

The difference between a nonprofit’s paid staff and volunteer board members

A nonprofit has two groups who work toward meeting the mission goals. The Executive Director (ED) and maybe some staff workers run the daily operations. All are paid employees of the nonprofit.

Overseeing them are a board of directors made up of a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. There could be other board members, too. All board members are volunteers with the board president being the ED’s boss.

Having a volunteer board overseeing a paid staff creates a unique relationship. People who volunteer to do a job and those who get paid for the job can have vastly different motivations for doing that job.

Both groups will have a sense of duty toward the success of the mission. Yet, they may see achieving that success based on what inspires them. Is it a personal feel-good of community service or a desire to pay the bills at home?

Both inspirations can be good or bad. They are just seeing the mission accomplishments in a way they believe based on why they are there.

I am a board member of a nonprofit. Although I see myself more of the grant writer than a board member. To write grants, I work with the Ed and paid staff. We all try to ignore that I’m a board member. Grant writers should avoid being a board member.

Instead, a grant writer should be aware of the different motivations between volunteering and being paid. This awareness is important when combined with people’s personalities and egos.

At a minimum, grant writers should meet regularly with the ED, talk to the board president, work with the nonprofit staff, and smile at the board members. Focus on the success of the mission. Everyone else is doing that, just maybe with a different purpose.

Diversified Income

Nonprofits should receive money from as many different sources as possible. These sources include private donations, churches, other nonprofits, foundations, businesses, communities, fund raising events, and government agencies.

The more sources the better for a nonprofit since no source is a guaranteed income. However, it is not possible to work on all of these sources because each takes a certain amount of time and effort. Priority is needed.

Everything ends up being a choice of two methods. Getting a lot of money from a few sources or a little money from a lot of sources.

Getting a lot of money from a few sources means each request is generally long, complicated, and littered with traps. Competition is usually high with the funding organization wanting to trim out as many applications as possible using any excuse. Most of these sources are government agencies.

Using this method of few sources allows a nonprofit to focus more on these applications, giving them some upper level of chance. Yet, requesting a lot of money from a few places also means one denial can be catastrophic.

The other method of submitting to a lot of sources, means a lot more work. However, competition is usually lower and the submissions are not as cumbersome to complete.

This method requires being organized. There are more people to know and more time expended. However, one failure has a small impact. Also, getting a little from a lot means greater success since the source is not expending a large portion of their funds.

It all is a matter of personality. The first method is a greater risk with a higher payoff. The second method is less risk with a lower payoff.

Personally, I would always take the second method. It’s more work, but more assurance of success.

Grant Reporting

When a nonprofit receives foundation money, it is critical they provide a report to the foundation on how they spent the money.

Almost all foundations require some type of report. What is required and the due date is usually explained in the acceptance letter that comes with the check. Not reporting back to the foundation means no more funding from future requests. Also, the foundation can notify other foundations of noncompliance in reporting.

But, let’s assume the positive and the nonprofit staff eagerly read and understand the reporting requirements. As much care should be taken in preparing the report as writing the grant. Many foundations use the reports they receive as a measure of the nonprofit’s ability to operate effectively.

Even if not requested, a nonprofit should provide at least one story of someone, a family, or a community being helped by the funding. The report’s data and information should relate to the story, which should be the highlight of the report.

If the foundation does not require a report, send one anyway. Even if it is a letter, the foundation should appreciate the feedback. Reports are beneficial to the nonprofit for many reasons:

—  They continue the communication between the nonprofit and foundation.
—  The report assures the foundation that the money was spent for what it was meant to do.
—  The foundation can use the information and stories to showcase that their grants were helping people. Showcasing the nonprofit, too.
—  A report gives the nonprofit added points for getting future money

A timely and accurate report helps to build a relationship between the nonprofit and the foundation. This relationship can sometimes mean more than the money received.

Who is the Nonprofit’s Executive Director?

A nonprofit operates or doesn’t based on their executive director. In many cases, the ED is the nonprofit.

There is rarely a deputy making the ED the only one managing the operations. Their morals and ethical values reflect directly onto the non-profit.

Everything runs based on their personality, style of management, and ability to solve problems. Also, the attitude of the staff will mostly reflect the attitude of the ED. Just like leadership in any organizations, small or large.

To write grants, it is important to know the ED because they are the “face” of the nonprofit. It is the ED carrying the nonprofit’s message to the public. They are the person that donors, foundations, media, and others recognize when talking about the nonprofit.

There are other people involved in the nonprofit who can influence operations. Such as the board president (ED’s boss) and other board members. However, they are not usually involved in daily, routine operations.

A grant writer should first have the same values as the ED, but also understand the influence that can be exerted from others.

Build the Project’s Funding First

Before I write a grant application, I build a spreadsheet with all of the project’s funding information (revenue and allocation or expense). I use the template pictured above. Once I know exactly what I’m funding, the writing goes a lot easier.

This template is only for a project, a subset of the organization’s mission. A foundation usually requests the nonprofit’s total budget as a separate attachment. Also, many foundations want to see operating funds separate from a project, not together. A grant application should be specific.

(Hint: many foundations fund a specific project rather than the more general operating funding.)

The critical part of building a project’s funding is the percentages. Foundations want to be a partner in a project, which generally means less than a fifty percent investment. What the percentage is depends on the foundation. I try not to go above thirty five percent in any category. But, this is only my guideline based on my opinion, which is not necessarily a good opinion or a valid guideline.

In any case, a nonprofit should be flexible when building a funding plan. Salaries can be included as long as they are for the project and the foundation allows salaries funding. If not, then I list salaries in Other Cash Support. Either way, I never have the foundation pay for the employee benefits. These costs give the impression of operating costs.

Besides the percentages, the other important part is the categories. The template has standard categories meant to be general, while being somewhat specific. Making things too specific can create confusion. A lot of foundations are okay with these categories.

Some foundations have their own budget template. I can complete their template with all the information from my spreadsheet. Plus, I have done the analysis that they may do to figure out how much of the project they are funding.

Writing a grant request is not easy. Getting the costs settled makes the writing less complicated. After all, it is mostly about the money.

Special Grant Requests

As I posted before, nonprofits should always keep a conversation going with people who might support their mission. This year, I was involved in grant requests from two foundations. Both foundations solicited requests outside their application period and focus areas.

The first (foundation A) had a new director who wanted to expand the foundation’s area of interest. Maybe there were other internal motivations. The other (foundation B) received an unexpected endowment.

News for both grant requests came mostly through word-of-mouth. Foundation A representatives came to the area and attended meetings where they spread the word. Foundation B already had a grant request process, which had closed and decisions made. They notified those nonprofits who had applied.

Both foundations posted information on their websites listing what they fund, what they won’t, and guidelines. The normal stuff. However, this information was not complete and not really that clear.

I called foundation A and the administrator easily explained what they wanted in the application. Such as what to mail and who to address on the application. I also got some background information as to why this foundation was soliciting grant requests, which helped in the grant write up.

Foundation B had a special link on their submission webpage to get the application. However, the special focus areas meant several nonprofits would not qualify. Someone else made the call to the foundation and found out that everyone who applied under the regular application process was eligible, regardless of the special focus areas.

In both cases, everyone who found out about the special grant requests were eligible for money. Many nonprofits in the area did not apply either because they had not heard about these grant requests or never contacted the foundations to clarify what was required for the submission.

Lessons learned.

Branding

Every grant submission is an opportunity for a nonprofit to brand themselves. This means anyone seeing the logo (yes, you should have one) or unique acronym (you should have this, too) will know who the nonprofit is and what they do.

Businesses use branding to attract customers. Branding in nonprofits let foundations and donors know immediately what they are funding. Seeing the logo and acronym is an eye catcher for people to remember the nonprofit’s purpose. Of course, branding is not easy.

Coming up with a logo and acronym is difficult (be sure no one else has it). But, it’s not impossible (yeah, easy to state). Despite the difficulty, nonprofits should create a branding before writing grants or asking for donations.

The branding should be why the nonprofit is helping people. Those working and volunteering at the nonprofit should take the lead in designing the brand and not hand it over to strangers who may charge a large fee. In the end, use a graphic business who may charge little in exchange for advertisement or other benefit. Keep a branding simple.

An example of a branding could be some use of the letters in a nonprofit’s name (a.k.a. acronym). Also, use of a unique font (minimize color choices). Definitely make everything legible. Also, a logo and acronym can be the same thing.

No one knows a nonprofit more than the people who are there every day. They should help in creating the logo and acronym because they are the ones who first must accept it.

Branding helps a lot in grant writing, particularly in lengthy requests where the brand can be placed everywhere for emphasis. This is what writing a grant is about – having as many people as possible know who the nonprofit is by a glance.

Begin to write the grant request

A grant request should be personal, unemotional, and informative. The request should read as if the grant writer faced foundation people who already heard others ask for money. The writer should make something of the request that is unique to the nonprofit.

As the saying goes: easier said than done. Yet, it is easier if the opening documents set the correct tone. All grant requests start one of two ways. A letter of inquiry (LOI) or a cover letter. An LOI asks for the application with nothing following. The cover letter introduces the application’s documents.

While the application is important, the LOI or cover letter set the tone for everything else that follows. The LOI and cover letter introduces the nonprofit, the project to be funded, and the purpose for the submission.

The LOI must give more information to get the application by stating the nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and how they match with the foundation. There is not enough room for details. Summarize the summaries. The writer will edge toward stating the facts, but add a little sincerity.

A cover letter is like a handshake. All of the project information is in the following documents. Such as details about the project, a budget, and confidence the foundation’s money will be well spent. The cover letter is a welcoming and an opportunity to give details about the project’s successes that is not found in the application.

Some people may say a grant application is a matter of filling out forms. Of course, it is not that simple. It is a matter of understanding the reason a foundation would fund a project and explain this with unemotional sincerity. Spend some time on the LOI or cover letter and this could help lead to a better application.

Relationships (again)

I wrote an earlier blog post about the relationship between a grant writer and a nonprofit. This time I’m writing about the relationship between a nonprofit and a foundation.

Whenever money is involved, relationships become more important than the money. Foundations want confidence nonprofits can spend money efficiently and effectively. Nonprofits need money to do this. Both sides should talk.

The nonprofit’s managers should take the first step and start a conversation by calling the foundation’s leadership. This should be done before any written grant request is submitted.

Starting a dialogue is not a problem when a nonprofit has stories to tell. Such as how they improved someone’s life. They can talk about documented results and plans for the future. Things stated in a written request, anyway.

This is what it’s about: people talking to each other. Many nonprofits write grant requests without ever talking to the foundation, hiding behind the submission process. Having a dialogue is a substantial bonus.

It gives the nonprofit’s managers a more personal way of telling who they are, what they are about, and why they want to help people. However, at this time they should not talk about the money.

That is only for the written grant request. Conversations are about building a relationship, which should lead eventually to a visit between the two organizations.

Whether the nonprofit’s managers talk to the foundation’s leadership or not, I always try to talk to the foundation’s staff before applying for a grant. I have had some great conversations that were very helpful in writing the grant request.

Nonprofits and foundations should talk to each other to get a better understanding of each other’s needs. This so they can continue succeeding.

P.S. which cow is the nonprofit and which is the foundation?