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35 posts categorized "Grantseeking"

A Message From GuideStar President/CEO Jacob Harold

October 27, 2014

Headshot_Jacob_HaroldIn 2013, I joined with partners at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator in writing an open letter to the donors of America explaining that "overhead ratios" are a poor way to understand nonprofit performance. We named this campaign "The Overhead Myth."

I'm glad to report that the response to the campaign, including the original Overhead Myth letter to the donors of America, far exceeded our expectations. More than one hundred articles have been written about the campaign. It comes up every time I hold a meeting or give a talk. For many in the field, it's been a deep affirmation of something they've long known. And, indeed, many leading organizations — the Donors Forum, Bridgespan, the National Council on Nonprofits, and others — have been working on the issue for years. 

But we also know we have a long road ahead of us. The myth of overhead as inherently "wasteful" spending is deeply ingrained in the culture and systems of the nonprofit sector, and it will take years of concerted effort for us to move past such a narrow view of nonprofit performance to something that fully reflects the complexity of the world around us. That effort is essential, however, if we want to ensure that we have a nonprofit sector capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. 

That's why last week the CEOs of Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and I released a second Overhead Myth letter — this one addressed to the nonprofits of America. In that letter, we suggest a set of steps nonprofits themselves can take to help dispel the Overhead Myth. We all share responsibility for allowing things to have reached this pass. And it will take all of us to fix it.

We direct this letter to nonprofits not because we feel they are the originators of the Overhead Myth but because they are in the best position to communicate with their donors and funders. We want to recruit nonprofits to help us retrain donors and funders to pay attention to what really matters: results. In the end, that means nonprofits have to throw away the pie charts showing overhead versus program — and  step up to the much more important challenge of communicating how they track progress against their mission.

In simple terms, we must — collectively — offer donors an alternative. In the letter, and on the accompanying website, we call on nonprofits to do three things as their part of this evolution:

  1. Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about their performance.
  2. Manage toward results and understand their true costs.
  3. Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

We have provided a list of tools and resources related to each of these  goals. These tools give nonprofits tangible steps they can take to engage their stakeholders around this critical issue. As the sector develops new resources and tactics, we will add them to the website.

We believe it will take a shared effort to focus donors' attention on what really matters: nonprofits’ efforts to make the world a better place. It doesn't matter whether you work at a nonprofit or donate a few dollars to a favorite charity every year, please join us as we seek to move from the Overhead Myth to the Overhead Solution.

For more information, or if you have a resource related to this issue that can help advance the cause, email overhead@guidestar.org.

GuideStar, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects people and organizations with information on the programs, finances, and impact of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits, serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.

Grantees Sound Off About Philanthropic Funding System

August 15, 2014

MarcMaxson_GG_sweaterI believe that philanthropic foundations could make major progress in serving their constituents if they paid more attention to what grantees were saying about them. Not in the cozy pat-each-other-on-the-back love-fest way. I mean by listening to real, honest feedback.

Recently, we at Feedback Labs (as a neutral third party) decided to ask a group of twelve hundred organizations to publicly share stories about their experiences with funders, adopting our community storytelling approach to the task. That approach emphasizes open-ended narratives with a few follow-up questions, intermediation (people are a little more likely to say something negative if the boss isn't in the room), and confidentiality.

Sample Feedback

I selected these particular comments because the variety of issues addressed in them illustrates the importance of asking open-ended questions. In this case, the question was: "Talk about your experience approaching a grantmaking or funding organization that either did or did not grant you funding. What was the relationship like? Did you receive support from them?" (Feel free to add your own story to the collection here.) What follows are some representative highlights from the stories told by grantees about funders and the grantseeking process:

Comments from GlobalGiving partner organizations:

  • The process leaves little room to establish a relationship with a grantmaker because we're usually just asked to fill in a standard form and maybe attach a project summary and financial documents.
  • It was important for us to understand who the decision makers are. What are their priorities? And what aspects of the project are particularly appealing to the funder, given its vision and mission?
  • It was an unsolicited proposal, and we really didn't attempt to build any relationship with the foundation by writing to them or calling them up to ask where our proposal the previous year had fallen short. That really affected our chances of winning a grant.
  • We got to meet the organization through a mutual friend who had been following our work for years.
  • I was nervous when I sent the first email requesting support for a program in Nairobi. However, the funder responded positively and even made a trip to Nairobi to see the program first hand.
  • We waited endlessly for a decision on our proposal. One of the basic problems in dealing with a large CSR unit is that you have to keep following up and have a person dedicated to making sure that happens.

And here are some comments from smaller, emerging organizations not yet partnered with GlobalGiving:

Continue reading »

A Framework to Communicate Philanthropy

April 25, 2014

(Jeannine Corey is director of grants information management at the Foundation Center. A version of this post also appears on the GuideStar blog.)

Heasdhot_jeannine_coreyLanguage allows us to communicate complex ideas and acquire information using an agreed-on structure and process. Variations in language around the globe increase the level of effort needed to communicate with people across borders, but it's not impossible if you have a way to translate your ideas into a language others can understand.

The Foundation Center is currently undertaking the challenge of devising a language that can be used by philanthropic organizations around the world to tell the story of their work. That common language is crucial for a field as diverse as ours: not too long ago, we determined that U.S. foundations have more than two hundred and fifty ways to describe "general operating support"!

In 2012, the Foundation Center began to rethink the classification system that has been at the core of our work, a system largely based on the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities structure that we helped create thirty years ago. Given how much the sector has grown and evolved over the past few decades, updates to the taxonomy are critical in order for it to more accurately reflect the work of the field and serve as a relevant tool for a 21st-century global philanthropy community. Why is this important? Because a shared taxonomy makes it easier for grantseekers to find targeted support, helps funders collaborate with each other and identify potential grantees, and assists researchers and academics who are analyzing the work of the sector.

To that end, staff at the Foundation Center have spent eighteen months evaluating our codes, mining the text of the nearly five million grants and one million philanthropic institutions in our database, and cross-referencing that information against other international standards to inform the creation of a revised taxonomic system. Our goal is not to create another standard but to develop a framework that meets the needs of the sector and can serve as a language that organizations use to communicate their work to each other. For example, we've added new subject areas related to information and media, including associated technologies. We've replaced "type of support" with two new categories: support strategy, to reflect the goal or approach behind the actual support, and transaction type, to capture the various forms of philanthropy beyond the cash grant that happen around the world.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2014)

March 01, 2014

Tragedy in Syria. Civil strife in Ukraine and Venezuela. Not enough snow in Sochi and more than enough pretty much everywhere else. The Fab Four at fifty and other reminders of boomer mortality. Here at PND, February 2014 was best summed up by a colleague who dubbed it "the longest short month ever." It was also the busiest month ever for PhilanTopic, as readers flocked to Laura Callanan's four-part series on social sector leadership and found lots of other things to like as well. Here, then, are the six or seven most popular posts on PhilanTopic for the month that just wouldn't end....

What did you read/watch/listen to in February that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section....

Foundation Fundraising for the 99%

November 20, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

It’s that time of year again: nonprofit execs are turning over every rock in sight to find the resources they need to close the gap between their ambition to make the world a better place and the hard reality of meeting payroll and paying rent. Many nonprofits rely on government contracts and individual donations, but many also go for foundation grants. Yet a significant portion of the $50 billion in grants made each year by America’s foundations is captured by just 1 percent of nonprofit recipients. Here's something that can help the other 99 percent level the playing field.

FDO_FreeIt's called Foundation Directory Online Free, a searchable database of close to 90,000 foundations and three years of their most recent 990-PF tax returns. Okay, I'm the president of the Foundation Center and can hardly be considered unbiased. But I cut my teeth in this business years ago by using the old Foundation Center print directories and ever since have believed the center to be the most reliable source of information for foundation grant research, period.

Open Foundation Directory Online Free and key in the two-letter code for your state or type a city name to search for foundations in your area. Change the ranking of the list you get by giving, assets, or name. Explore an individual foundation by clicking on its name. The profile will give you contact information, some financial stats, a URL (read on!), and the foundation’s fields of interest. This kind of basic information on foundations is surprisingly hard to come by; 93 percent of America's foundations do not have Web sites. That doesn't mean they don't make grants; they're just harder to find. Moreover, if you really want to dive deep into a particular foundation's grantmaking, FDO Free links you to the foundation's three most recent 990-PF tax returns -- a great source of information that includes a list of all the grants made by that foundation, the recipients of those grants, and grant dollar amounts.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2013)

November 01, 2013

A shutdown of the federal government that lasted sixteen days, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, a well-deserved (!) Red Sox win in the World Series -- October was nothing if not eventful. And now that it's history, it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

Introducing 'FDO Free'

September 17, 2013

(George Ford is Product Manager, Online Subscription Services, at the Foundation Center.)

Fdofree_logoBack in May, the White House issued an executive order and accompanying memorandum which stated that "the default state of new and modernized government information resources shall be open and machine readable." For the nonprofit community, the announcement was intriguing. What would it mean if all that data on foundations and their grants were liberated from hundreds of thousands of IRS Form 990s and, for the first time, made truly open, searchable, and readable by machines?

While it looks like we'll have to wait to find out, here at the Foundation Center we've decided to take a step toward that goal with the release of Foundation Directory Online (FDO) Free, a new search tool that provides free, public access to essential information about nearly 90,000 foundations and more than 250,000 of their 990-PF tax returns. Yes, there are plenty of excellent tools around for retrieving the 990s of grantmaking foundations, including our own 990 Finder. What has been missing, however, is the ability to unlock the rich information available within those forms by searching across them with keywords relevant to your nonprofit's mission and programs. Until now, that was only possible through the Center's premier subscription product, Foundation Directory Online Professional. The launch of FDO Free changes that.

Indeed, FDO Free represents a significant step forward in the Foundation Center's efforts to make more funding data available to a larger portion of the grantseeking public. In addition to the ability to keyword-search across foundation 990-PFs, FDO Free allows you to search the profiles of nearly 90,000 private foundations by name, EIN, or location and to search their last three 990-PFs by name, EIN, location, or keyword.

Continue reading »

The 'More Asking – Less Writing' Approach to Grantseeking

September 12, 2013

(Marilyn Hoyt has been active in the philanthropic sector as a funder, teacher, grantwriter, and consultant for more than thirty years. A co-author of the Foundation Center book After the Grant, she also serves as a trustee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-New York Chapter and is program co-chair for Fundraising Day in New York. A version of this post appears on the Philanthropy Front and Center - Washington, D.C. blog.)

Headshot_marilyn_hoytWhen I moved from being a grantmaker to a fundraiser, my first thought was "Where am I going to find funders for our work?" Today, after raising over $200 million and working as a consultant, I find it's still the most common first question in fundraising.

As soon as we start researching potential funders, though, the question should be, "How are we going to find time to approach all of these folks?" It's a key question, and how you answer it will determine your success in raising resources to advance your organization's mission and work. Obviously, you can't approach them all. You need to develop a time-efficient method for prioritizing those most likely to fund your work in the near term, and then see what stands between you and securing funds from some of the others.

Funds are not raised by writing; they're raised by asking. Which means you want to increase the time you spend on tasks related directly to asking and reduce the time you spend on writing proposals. To that end, I always tell clients to identify the most fundable parts of their work and learn how to write generic base proposals -- essentially, templates -- that can be revised as needed for individual funders. Just a few of these will go a long way to reducing the time you spend writing proposals and will increase the amount of time available to focus on refining your potential funder list and building relationships with your current funders.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2013)

September 02, 2013

It's the start of a new month, which means it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic over the last thirty days:

What did you read/watch/listen to in August that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

The Art of the Phone Call: How to Stand Out With Funders

May 03, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last post, she shared ten tips for making the best use of your grantwriter's time.)

Telephone-largeIn today's world of high-speed communications, it can be hard to make a meaningful connection. Remembering the art of the personal phone call is a great way to stand out in the crowd. Here are some tips when reaching out to a potential funder by phone.

Leave a short but detailed message. Most funders receive dozens, if not hundreds, of phone calls a week. Voice-mail messages that don't include the right amount of detail will be ignored. Leave your name, phone number, and the elevator pitch for your organization/project. Speak clearly and slowly.

Make a plan to connect. Be sure to include a time (during regular business hours) when you can be reached. Mention that you'll call back in two days if you haven't heard from them. Follow up with an e-mail that includes your contact information and a link to your organization's Web site.

Don't drop the ball. If they call back and you miss the call, call them back within forty-eight hours and follow up with an e-mail. Be persistent but respectful.

Continue reading »

Ten Ways to Make Your Grantwriter’s Time Count

April 25, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. A version of this post appears on her Web site.)

Alarm-clockThe decision to use a freelance grantwriter can be a smart investment for a nonprofit organization, especially if it knows how to use that freelancer effectively.

With that in mind, here are ten tips (plus a bonus tip) to help you make the most of your freelance grantwriter's time:

1. Get organized. Make sure your grantwriter has everything she needs to be as autonomous as possible. This is likely to require a substantial amount of time in the beginning, but it will also save you time in the end. Ask your grantwriter for a checklist of things she needs, as well as a wish list. The basics include audited financial statements and organizational budgets. Go a step further and provide her with project budgets for every program or capacity-building initiative that may be eligible for the grant. Also, be sure to provide letterhead, photographs, .jpegs of logos, and anything else she'll need to tell your organization's story.

2. Single point of contact. When working with a contractor, it's always best to have a single point of contact. Make sure the individual assigned to be that person is a decision maker who can delegate effectively to every department/function within the organization. Development directors of small organizations may be too busy with special events to give grant proposals the attention they require on a regular basis. Having the grantwriter report directly to the executive director is optimal, in that it will give him/her better access to the "big picture" and help ensure that the information he or she needs is produced in a timely fashion.

Continue reading »

Rules to Communicate By

February 11, 2013

Darts_bullseyeAs former foundation CEO Martin Teitel reminds us in The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants, success in grantseeking boils down to two things: great organizations doing great work; and effective communications.

What does the latter entail? Teitel offers these three easy-to-follow rules:

Be Clear

  • Eliminate jargon
  • Write for your real (as opposed to imagined) audience -- i.e., funders who don't know your organization that well
  • Leave out the math and formulas

Be Concise

  • Not one word more than the length specified in the funder's guidelines
  • Use a spear, not a club -- i.e., make your point and move on
  • Revise, revise, revise

Be Compelling

  • Share your enthusiasm for the work you and your colleagues are doing
  • Base your request for funding on facts, not hopes or wishes
  • Put your organization's story at the center of your appeal

Sound advice. What would you add to the list? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Mitch Nauffts

The Grantseekers Guide to Foundation Transitions

September 05, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about philanthropy's data dilemma.)

Foundation_transitionsThings are going just great for your nonprofit. You've painstakingly constructed a stable group of foundations that is providing a steady stream of grants to your organization, program officers like you and invite you to their convenings, and you've achieved that much-desired goal of having a diversified funding base.

Then comes the press release: "Mary Doe, president of the Acme Foundation in Anywhere, USA, has announced that she will retire after twenty years of service. The foundation’s board has contracted the services of Russell Reynolds/Spencer Stuart/Heidrich & Struggles/Issacson Miller to conduct a national search." The Acme Foundation is your main funder and the future is in doubt. The headhunters call you to inquire about what qualities the foundation should be looking for in their next leader, and you have to stifle the urge to scream, "Just find somebody who won't feel s/he needs to change everything and screw it up!"

Then the first symptoms appear. Big-name consulting firms start lining up at the foundation's door. Foundation communiqués include phrases like "no new commitments will be considered while the foundation undergoes a strategic review." Your program officer is unable to commit to your proposal. It's difficult to get a meeting with someone at the foundation who can tell you what's going on. After a year or more, a letter from the president explaining how the foundation's new priorities will further its mission appears on the foundation’s Web site. Eventually, you learn that the "urban poverty" program under which you've been funded is being phased out in favor of a new "innovation economy" initiative.

Continue reading »

Foundation Center Adds CSR Data to Foundation Directory Online

June 04, 2012

(Andrew Grabois is manager for corporate philanthropy at the Foundation Center.)

FDOWhen Deep Throat advised Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to "follow the money" in that underground garage back in the '70s, he could just as well have been dispensing advice to a corporate grantseeker. That is, until recently.

For many years, individuals and organizations looking for funding from companies or their foundations were only concerned about the availability of funds and meeting a company's grant requirements, not whether a grantmaker was a "good corporate citizen" (with the exception, perhaps, of anti-apartheid activists). And while notions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have been around for decades, CSR only recently has gained traction with the general public.

According to a 2010 CSR Perception Survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 55 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to purchase a product with an added social benefit; 70 percent said they would be willing to pay a premium for a product from a "socially responsible" company (and 28 percent said they would pay up to $10 more); and, perhaps most surprisingly, 34 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible firm. It would appear the CSR train is leaving the station. Indeed, in the last month alone, Morgan Stanley announced the launch of a new "impact investing" platform to "help clients align their financial goals and personal values," while Bloomberg LP, which already provides more than one hundred CSR indicators through its Bloomberg terminals at no extra cost, announced that it will publish the results of The Civic 100 survey conducted by the National Conference on Citizenship and Points of Light in the November issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Recognizing the importance of corporate social responsibility information to today's grantseekers, the Foundation Center has been busy collecting over forty separate CSR data points, including carbon emissions and energy usage metrics as reported to and analyzed by folks at the Carbon Disclosure Project, employee volunteer hours, workforce diversity percentages, and recognition by eleven "green" or "best practices" lists, including those compiled by Boston College, Corporate Responsibility magazine, DiversityIncHuman Rights Campaign, Newsweek, and Working Mother. We're also collecting corporate CSR pledges tracked by the Global Reporting Initiative, the United Nations Global Compact, and A Billion + Change. And, starting tomorrow, we'll be making all that data available in Foundation Directory Online. Appearing as a separate tab on individual company profiles, more than fourteen hundred companies will have at least one CSR measure that users of FDO can incorporate into their prospect research.

We think the addition of corporate social responsibility data to FDO is the most significant enhancement to our company information in years, and we know it will provide FDO users with the most complete profiles of corporate citizenship and transparency in any single database around. For today's corporate grantseeker, just following the money is no longer enough.

-- Andrew Grabois

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts of 2011

December 28, 2011

As we put the final touches on our special year-in-review issue and clear the decks for 2012, we thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular PhilanTopic posts of the year. Written by a diverse group of bloggers and covering a broad range of topics, here are the ten most popular posts of 2011.

What were your favorite posts -- here on PhilanTopic or anywhere else, for that matter -- of the year? Inquiring minds want to know...

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