14 posts categorized "Grantwriting"

Top Five Strategies to Raise More Money From Foundations

April 03, 2015

Fundraising-treeWe all know that grants are awarded in response to submitted proposals — not the draft sitting on your desk but the one you actually get out the door. Sounds simple, doesn't it? If you're spending too much time writing, editing and fine-tuning your proposals, you won't get them in front of the decision makers at foundations — or at least not enough of them to bring in the significant dollars you could be raising. That's why my "top tip" for bringing in more funding is to spend more time asking and less time writing.

But getting more proposals out the door isn't a strategy in and of itself. Effective fundraisers need to determine the correct amount to ask for from foundations that care about what they do, and then work to build connections with those funders over time.

To that end, here are my top five strategies for streamlining your fundraising program and ensuring that you spend your time as effectively and efficiently as possible:

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How to Improve Your Mediocre Fundraising Copy

December 16, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannFor most of us, the month of December generally means two things: fundraising letters and holiday parties.

Okay, maybe that's just me.

Still, end-of-year gifts and donations account for a substantial amount of the money raised by nonprofit organizations, which, in an effort to capture every bit of potential support before January 1, typically kick off the end-of-year fundraising season with a series of direct-mail appeals and then move on to email solicitations.  

I'm sure you can relate, but at this point in the year, both my mailbox and my email inbox are stuffed with solicitations from nonprofits. But here is where I'm different from most of you: I actually read every letter I get so as to better understand why I should pay attention and why I should (or shouldn't) give to an organization. In other words, the fundraising nerd in me comes alive!

That said, a funny thing happened to me recently: As I was reading through a stack of direct-mail pitches, I began to feel grumpy, agitated, a little Scrooge-like.

I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me and then it hit me: I've grown impatient with much of the fundraising copy I read. Some of that impatience has to do with all the numbers and statistics I'm asked to process. A few of the letters include language I haven't heard since my high school economics class. I've also noted a growing trend of organizations tossing my name around as if it were a magic incantation. (One solicitation I received included at least ten "Derricks" in the body of the text.) And then there was the solicitation signed by the CEO of the organization which insinuated that only a gift to his organization would make a difference this year and that no organization, anywhere, has the kind of "impact" his does. 

As I was reflecting on the effectiveness of these different approaches, I had an epiphany: there is an alarming amount of bad fundraising copy being written these days. And what's worse, I suspect the people responsible for that copy, and the people in leadership positions who sign off on it, think it's pretty good. 

Why do so many fundraising and development pros write bad copy? And why are so many executives content to let it out into the world? I don't really have answers to either of those questions, but I do have some thoughts about why so many of the fundraising solicitations we receive are just plain bad.

You assume I read your last solicitation. I hate to say it, but there's a good chance I never finished (or even glanced at) your previous solicitation. Fundraising copy writers often make the mistake of assuming that their target audience has read every word they've ever written. As you sit down to finalize your next fundraising appeal, remind yourself that most of the people on your mailing list probably haven't read your previous solicitations, and be sure to remove from your copy any phrase like:

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2014)

June 01, 2014

It was a rough month for Typepad, the blogging service/platform used by tens of thousand of blogs, including PhilanTopic. On two separate occasions during the month, the platform was subjected to significant DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks that knocked it completely offline. In fact, we were down for the better part of six days. Despite the inconvenience, it was a busy month here, as some of our favorite contributors -- Allison Shirk, Derrick Feldmann, and Foundation Center president Brad Smith -- checked in with popular posts. Here's another chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to over the last month that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Throwing in the Towel

May 07, 2014

(Allison Shirk, a freelance grantwriter and grantwriting trainer based on Vashon Island, Washington, serves on the board of directors of the Puget Sound Grantwriter's Association. For more of Allison’s advice and wisdom, click here.)

Headshot_allison_shirkYou know that foundation that never returns your calls? The one you keep sending proposals to that never responds? You've poured over the foundation's 990-PF and its Foundation Directory Online profile. You've scoured the Web for information about its staff and giving. And everything you've found gives you reason to believe that if the good people at the foundation would just read your proposal, they'd want to invest in your organization. But you're still hanging on the telephone. Before you throw in the towel and decide to invest your time elsewhere, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Look at more than one 990-PF. One of the most important tools in the grantwriter's toolkit is the 990-PF -- the annual reporting form foundations are required to file with the IRS that provides information on their mission, programs, and grantmaking. And every good prospect researcher knows that it's essential to review more than the foundation's most recent 990-PF; the last two or three years should be your default, and four or five is even better. When reviewing 990-PFs, keep in mind the following: Does the foundation make a point of funding the same nonprofits? What are the exceptions? Does it make grants in the amount you’re looking for? (If the amount of funding you are requesting is too much – or too little – the foundation is unlikely to fund your project.) While you're at it, be sure to review every page of the form. Sometimes there are additional guidelines or notes tucked into the form that can be the difference between winning and losing a grant.

2. Try to connect, but don't overdo it. Every foundation is distinguished by its own communication style and willingness to connect. If the foundation's policy is "no phone calls," respect its wishes. On the other hand, if the foundation has published a phone number or email address, don't be afraid to use it. Just make sure you've done your homework and, should you reach a person in a decision-making role, that you're ready to ask and answer a few pertinent questions.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2014)

April 01, 2014

March was another busy month here at PhilanTopic, as readers responded enthusiastically to Laura Callanan's four-part series on social sector leadership, our usual weekend offerings (including a great infographic about millennial myths), and new posts by Gabriel Kasper/Justin Marcoux, Dr. Anand Parekh, and others.

It looks like spring has finally sprung, and we've got lots of great content planned for the month ahead, so don't be a stranger. In the meantime, here's a chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to over the last month that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

PND Talk: Burned Out and Don't Know What to Do?

February 21, 2014

Job_burnoutLong-time readers of Philanthropy News Digest may remember PND Talk, the message board we launched back in 2004 and maintained for the better part of a decade (until the launch of our new site in November).

During its heyday, PND Talk was a lively community frequented by a regular cast of generous, knowledgeable nonprofit professionals — people like Susan Lynn, Sheryl Kaplan, Rick Kosinski, Julie Rodda, Tony Poderis, and the late (and much missed) Carl Richardson and Linda Procopio.

Recently, we realized it would be a win-win if we shared some of their advice and wisdom with our readers here at PhilanTopic. To see the first installment in the series, which offered a compelling rationale for giving to the arts when so many people are in need, click here.

In the post below, a mid-career development professional by the name of Maddy sounds a familiar refrain -- and receives some terrific advice from three board participants.

_________

In her original post, Maddy wrote:

I have always worked in NPs (with a BS and MA in NP management) in the fundraising area. I have never really found a great fit (organizationally or position-wise) and have basically job-hopped (nine jobs in ten years). All hops were moves up in title/responsibility, but I've never been happy. I love nonprofit work, but feel totally burned out. I have absolutely no motivation and cringe at the thought of writing another solicitation letter/grant/etc. I have only been in my current job for seven months, but am depressed that once again I hate it. I just don't know how to get excitement, motivation, satisfaction [from my work]. Should I just leave the field completely? Am I the only one feeling like this out there? Thanks for listening to my ramblings....

To which long-time PND Talk community member Julie replied:

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12 Tips for Filling Out/Submitting Online Applications

December 04, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based on Vashon Island, Washington. She is on the Board of Directors of the Puget Sound Grantwriter's Association. This article excerpted from her upcoming book. For more information, visit www.allisonshirkgrantwriting.com.)

Headshot_allison_shirkTrees everywhere are rejoicing as more and more funders switch from paper to online applications. But for some grantwriters, having to disrupt the flow of their narrative to accommodate character-limited text fields is both inconvenient and cumbersome.

If you're one of those grantwriters, here are some tips designed to make the online application process a little more enjoyable and productive:

1. Get organized. As you create a login for the application, make a note of your username and password. Then bookmark the login page in your favorite browser so you don't have to go through the eligibility survey every time you come back to the application. Make a note of the date and time (including the time zone!) that the application is due.

2. Create a road map. Read through the application instructions and the application itself and map out where your organization and project descriptions need to be inserted. Identify the questions in the application that you'll need to write narrative for and make a note of data and statistics that need to be collected. List the attachments you’ll want to upload. Remember, not every organization can fit neatly into online applications, so highlight any special information you'll need to insert later.

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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....

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2013)

October 01, 2013

It's the first day of of a new month, which means it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month just passed. And the winners are:

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

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.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2013)

August 01, 2013

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

What have you read/watched/listened to that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

Tips for Seeking First-Time Support

July 17, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last post, she wrote about how grantwriters can help build the capacity of their organizations.) )

Headshot_allison_shirkNonprofits approaching a foundation for support for the first time often are asked, "Who else is at the table?" That's because foundations and corporate grantmakers are more likely to fund a program or project that others have deemed worthy of support. Not only does it simplify the due diligence process, it makes it easier for a program officer to demonstrate to senior leadership and/or the board that the program or project will be fully funded.

But as any grantwriter or development professional knows, it's not easy to get a funder to actually sit at the table. Here are a few tips designed to help you demonstrate to potential first-time funders that your project or program merits their support:

Craft a strong needs statement. Just as the right music is important at any dinner party, a well-crafted needs statement is critical when seeking first-time support. It's the piece of the proposal that sets the mood and demonstrates how well your organization understands the underlying problem it is working to address. Spare no expense in making sure you have a good one.

Don't forget about letters of support. One metric that nonprofits often fail to mention is the number of letters of support they receive and the time it took to solicit those letters. For example, you might mention in your proposal that, "We asked members of the community to send letters of support on behalf of the project and in just two weeks we received more than two thousand." (Good for you!) If the funder doesn't discourage the submission of additional materials, you might even want to include a few of the best as attachments to your application -- especially if those letters demonstrate financial or volunteer support or tell a story that supports your needs statement.

Don't hide your volunteers under a bushel. What's better than a letter of support? Sweat equity. Being able to show that members of the community are pulling together with their time and talents is worth its weight in gold. Be meticulous in documenting the amount of volunteer time already allocated to the program or project and put a dollar value on it. (Independent Sector updates that information every year and provides it in a user-friendly table on its Web site.) And if a professional in the community has donated time on a pro-bono basis, count her time at her hourly rate rather than the standard volunteer rate.

Show that you have broad support in the community. Have you already started to receive individual donations in support of the project or program? Share the number and amount with the funder. A large number of individual donors can be just as impressive as a sizable grant from a single source.

Solicit matching grants. Ask one of your loyal supporters if it would be willing to put up a matching grant. Matching grants with the potential to double, triple, or even quadruple the value of the original grant are viewed by many funders, first time or otherwise, as an opportunity to leverage their own grant dollars.

Be happy with small grants. You don't have to hit a homerun every time you step up to the plate. Even grants of a few thousand dollars can take your fundraising efforts to the next level. Indeed, sometimes the real value of a grant is the credibility it confers on your program or project.

Cast a wide net. Spending a few hours with a tool like Foundation Directory Online is almost guaranteed to lead you to new prospects. Avenues for identifying new sources of funding in FDO include searching for companies in your geographic area and then clicking on the "grantmaker" tab, or searching grants made to projects similar to yours. For more search tips, check out the online FDO tutorial.

Prospecting for first-time support is something that even large nonprofits and charities do, so don't be bashful about approaching a funder who has never supported your organization. Once they're actually sitting at the table, they may never want to leave.

What strategies have you used to get first-time support for a project? We'd love to hear them. Use the comments section below....

-- Allison Shirk

Spice It Up!

July 03, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last article, she shared some tips to help grantwriters build their organizations' capacity.)

Help_keyboardDoes it feel like the grant proposals you're writing are getting old and tired? Maybe you've been working for the same organization for a number of years and writing proposals for the same programs month after month. If you can recite from memory the first three paragraphs of the last grant proposal you wrote, it's time to spice things up! Here are some tips for freshening up your writing and reinvigorating your passion for your organization's mission.

1. Tell a story. Rather than starting with the mission statement or leading with a litany of dry statistics, tell the story of your organization as if it were a novel. Put the funder into the shoes of the clients served by your organization. Show him or her the world through the eyes of the people whose lives are changed. If it's an arts organization, put the funder in the front row as the curtain comes up, the music swells, and the show begins. If it's an environmental organization, make your reader see the colors, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the habitat your organization is committed to protecting. Spark your reader's imagination first, then hit them with facts and figures.

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Managing Up: The Grantwriter’s Dilemma

May 28, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last post, she wrote about the art of the phone call.)

Managing_upGood grantwriters have a unique perspective with respect to nonprofit organizations: We know what grantmakers want to hear and we know what we'd like to be able to put into grant proposals. But when conspicuous gaps begin to show up in proposals, what should you -- the grantwriter -- do? Here are six elements of a good proposal that often are missing or inadequate, and some resources to help you and your employer/client address the problems they might be hiding.

1. Mission Statement: Does the organization's mission statement cause you to scratch your head? I've seen mission statements that fill an entire page and mission statements that no longer reflect the priorities and/or activities of an organization. Unfortunately, like an old quilt, board members tend to become attached to the mission statement they know, so proceed gently. Here are a few good resources about the art of the mission statement you can share with the board when the time is right: 1) how to create an effective mission statement; 2) the one-sentence mission statement; 3) eight words can be effective, too.

2. Board of Director Affiliations: When funders look at a board roster, they typically are assessing both the size and quality of the board. When they ask for "affiliations," they want to know the name of the company or organization where a board member works, or, if retired, most recently worked. For bonus points, feel free to describe the particular competencies (e.g., financial expertise, knowledge of IT systems, fundraising experience) that individual board members bring to the table. When a board member balks at providing information for this part of the proposal, explain why the funder wants to know and be sure to let the hesitant board member know that personal contact information is not part of the deal.

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