As someone who has been on both sides of the grant game, I still sometimes wonder who has the harder job: the person hoping for funding, or the person trying to decide which projects get funded. Today I want to share with you some of the things that I look for when reading grant applications in hopes of helping you not to make these common mistakes. While this list is not all comprehensive, it is a good jumping off point. I have seen these common mistakes made over and over again, and it is always disappointing to have to throw out an innovative and exciting proposal for these reasons!
1. Follow Directions!
I cannot stress this enough. While some grant applications are all "narrative" and "free form" and may only ask for a basic budget that you can include as a table, these are the exception, not the rule. When you have a stack of a hundred applications to read and you are only going to fund ten of them, the ones that don’t follow the directions and include all of the required pieces are easy cuts. It may otherwise be an amazing, innovative idea that could change the world, but if you don’t follow the directions, then it is seen as a lack of competence and organization and makes your ability at follow through come into question. Make a checklist and check it twice, cross your “T’s” and dot your “I’s” and don’t get weeded out in the first pass!
2. Make sure your project is a good match for both the grant you’re writing and for the funder.
There is nothing more irritating than reading a grant application and having to struggle to justify why the organization is applying for this particular grant. Don’t try and stretch your mission just to chase dollars. Funders notice mission creep, and it isn’t pretty. If your organization is going after money that is outside of its mission and scope, then be prepared to make a REALLY good case for it. Fully explain why your organization will have the competence and the ability to complete the work you are proposing.
3. Budget Carefully!
Grants will require you to submit a budget, though the amount of detail can vary. When you are putting together your budget, make sure that the numbers make sense and there are allowed expenses. Don’t ask for the maximum amount just to pad your organizations budget, but actually give a good case as to why you need the amount you are requesting. Remember, the total number of grants funded might depend on the budget amounts requested.
Usually, the board of readers rank the projects from the most innovative or complete to the least. Then the fiscal agent determines how many of them can be funded based on the requested amounts. If the total pot of money available can be split among 5 organizations or 10 organizations depending on their budget, then the funder has to decide if they would rather make 10 smaller grants or 5 larger ones. This preference will depend on the funder, so check their past awards (Form 990) and see how many of them are at the maximum grant amount. Check 990's HERE
Need more tips, tricks and information? Join us at our upcoming Grant Writing Events;
Jan. 29th 2020 - Webinar: Grant Writing - Lessons from the Front Line
March 3rd, 2020 - FREE Workshop: Grant Writing's Optimum Role In Your Organization
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Katena Cain, PhD.
Effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills are not merely valuable in the workplace—they are absolutely essential. "When employees understand how to communicate effectively and how to resolve conflicts, the natural outcome is a more productive environment."
On January 16th, I am facilitating Crucial Conversations, a webinar that aims to build those communication skills that will strengthen your organization. By utilizing the techniques reviewed in this session, you will be able to communicate with less emotion and build stronger relationships when it counts.
Participants will learn more about their own personal approach to handling conflict while gaining a better understanding of the consequences of conflict in a work setting. I will offer some tools that will help those in the room identify their own conflict resolution and communications styles.
I invite you and your fellow staff members to join me for this hour presentation, right from your desk and learn concrete tools that you can immediately use to strengthen your team. The webinar will serve as a basic introduction on appropriate words and emotional tone for business interactions.
If you'd like to have a conversation about how to address the communication norms of your organization, or if you'd like to bring this to your organization as a training workshop please reach out to me. I'd love to talk about how I might serve you!
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“One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.”
-Anne M. Mulcahy, Former CEO and Chairwoman, Xerox
As we enter a new year, it seems all but impossible to not think about ways in which we hope to improve over the past and establish good habits. The challenge, of course, is sticking to our resolutions and embedding them into our lives so a year from now we can look back with the pride of knowing at least one of our resolutions stuck.
Here’s a resolution challenge for 2020: Succession Planning.
Succession planning doesn’t just happen, but (and this is a big BUT) it doesn’t have to, and frankly, shouldn’t be a separate organizational activity. Upon realizing we are all dispensable and “things” happen, one habit I developed many years ago, was to always do my work so that anyone could take over at any time. Not only was a succession planning mindset great for the organization, but it also benefited me personally.
Think about the planning you have to do before going on vacation, taking maternity/paternity leave or caring for an ill child or parent. If you create succession habits regularly, anyone should be able to pick up the mantle of your job.
Throughout my career. folks who took over positions from which I moved on have gone out of their way to thank me for “leaving a trail that was easy to follow.” How did I do it? It was easy once I approached my job with a succession planning mindset. In this digital age, it is easier than ever to insure that our successors have every advantage at succeeding.
So, how do we embed succession planning in our daily work lives?
Need help getting started? We can assist you with establishing good succession planning habits in your day-to-day operations or with developing a succession plan.
**Originally posted Dec. 2017, updated for Jan. 2020
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The last six weeks of the calendar year can be the last opportunity for nonprofits to meet their annual budget. In fact, by some accounts, 30% of ALL charitable gifts made in the United States are made in December.
However, there are trends the wise nonprofit needs to be aware are happening. Those who acknowledge this trend, consider modifications to their fund development efforts and take action could possibly avoid a nonprofit ill wind.
My blog title references “The Grinch” because the trend is one of declining contributions and specifically a trend to give differently during this six week period of the year. A scholar named Amy Schiller recently wrote an article that speaks to the impact of the new tax laws and the report by Giving USA that tracks donations on an annual basis. I want to share some of the wisdom from these sources.
One note of caution: Due to the timing of data collection, we might be farther into this trend than the numbers tell us. If that is so, taking corrective actions sooner rather than later may be that much more important. (The 2019 Giving USA report analyzes donations made in 2018).
So here’s the bad Grinchy news: We know individuals give nearly 70% of all charitable gifts. Except for one single category, all domestic giving by individuals across all recipient categories IS DOWN. Total individual giving was down 3.4%. Within recipient groups these declines ranged from, -3.9% to Religious Organizations (the largest recipient annually), -6% to Public Benefit like United Ways, -9.1% to Foundations, -3.7% to Education and -2.1% to Arts and Culture. The sole domestic recipient that saw ANY increase was a +1.2% increase to the Environment/Animals. And this giving is within the backdrop of one of the hottest economies the US has experienced for a while.
Schiller also reports the trend of a decline in universal small gift giving. She opines this universal giving my many has given way to what she refers to as “megadonors” giving extremely large gifts to fewer entities. She shares that after the 2017 tax cuts, which raised the individual standard deduction to $12,000 removed some incentives for donors whose deductions didn’t reach that level. The share of taxpayers who took the charitable deduction went from 24% of the taxpayers to just 8.5%.
As you already know, this is a complex issue and requires a thoughtful deliberate action plan to address it. The steps to address it will be varied from one nonprofit to another. The solution will be one of knowing your donor base and possibly the courage to implement changes to your fund development approaches. One tool available to you is your Nonprofit Network membership. It entitles you to regular phone consultations with an expert. If you need a thought partner on your next steps, give us a call to discuss it.
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- Tom Williams, Capacity Builder
No one likes to be rejected. This "fear" can hold us back from progress, including seeking the funds needed to meet our mission. We camouflage this fear sometimes with explanations like not having time or haven’t gotten around to it yet or even I don’t know that person.
Eventually, asking people for money becomes a lower priority and we seek out less threatening ways of getting the money, like a new event or searching for more grants.
However, you should take note: individuals are the leading funders of nonprofit organizations, contributing as much as 85% of all gifts to nonprofits, and those organizations with a broad base of financial support from many individuals are more sustainable for the future.
Individual donors are an important part of your funding plan.
One way this “fear-of-the-ask” can be overcome is by rearranging your fundraising perspective. Statistics say that a response of “no” is something to expect at least 50% of the time and this rarely has anything to do with you. Another reality to consider is that your request for funds provides the potential donors with an opportunity to make a difference in their community. Why would you want to deny them this privilege?
If you are looking to overcome your fear, give us a call and let’s talk it through. Better yet, grab your board members, leadership staff, and some key volunteers and let's plan a workshop. It's always better to do something hard with the people who can help you and support the process.
Katena Cain, PhD.
Nonprofit Management Consultant
Katena Cain, PhD.
Katena Cain, PhD.
Nonprofit Management Consultant
Nonprofit Management Consultant
Nonprofit Management Consultant
The board's role in fundraising is to provide leadership, financial support, and connection to donors and potential donors. The board must be structured to meet the primary needs of the organization. And it needs to be prepared to effectively pursue the fundraising goals it establishes in support of the organization. The board works in conjunction with the staff to bring great influence and strength in support of the organizations broader fundraising plan with the staff driving the day-to-day execution of most activities.
Preparation for fundraising is greatly aided when all board members participate in the planning process;
Advocating on behalf of an organization is an important early part of the fundraising process. Board members bring two critical forms of leverage to the process: reach into the community through their own spheres of influence and the collective volume of their connections. Board members should look for opportunities to introduce others to their organization and to educate them about the importance of the mission. As advocates, board members should always be ready to tell the story of the organization and articulate the mains points of case for support. Now, it is not necessary for board members to walk around with every detail and statistic but a few key statistics and a story or two illustrating the good work of their organization, combined with the board member's passion are more than enough to initially engage the prospect.
While there are many opportunities for individual board members to participate in fundraising, they can be most effective in securing major gifts. As leaders for whom the nonprofit organization is a priority, board members begin all fundraising efforts with their best prospects - themselves. Understanding that in the nonprofit arena time is NOT money, board members make their cash gift first in order to be comfortable asking others to do the same.
Is it realistic to expect others to do something that you are not willing to do yourself?
Board members who cite time as their gift are in a good position to ask others for time. However, time does not pay staff, utilities or the other hard expenses required to operate the organization.
An individual who gives time is a volunteer. An individual who gives money is a donor. A board member must be both a volunteer and a donor.
Nonprofit Network’s mission is to strengthen nonprofit governance and management and we do this in a variety of ways. Reach out to us to learn how to become a better volunteer and donor for your organization.
This time of year, many nonprofit boards are knee deep into the process of identifying candidates to join their board. Some of you have a fiscal year that makes your pending elections near.
If you find yourself on the “governance committee” or what some refer to as the “nominating committee” and are responsible for this extremely important effort to recruit the best board member candidates, I’d like to share some insights.
I’m sure you have adopted the standard process of evaluating the makeup and skills possessed by your current board. This review and comparison to the desired skill sets and makeup of your board often identifies the “gaps” that guide your search for leadership. This process answers the question of how do we make our board stronger.
In this effort to find board members, we sometimes are tempted to just fill the seats in order to conclude the process speedily, but I suggest that quality be the driver in this important process. In fact, I’d like to make the case that developing the slate of new board members is one of the most impactful activities for any nonprofit. It literally is creating your organization’s future. So slow down and introduce some intentionality. Ultimately your organization will benefit from it.
Your community has a makeup. It includes people with different histories, skill sets, current experiences, races, sexes and ages. Developing leadership that all has the same skills, experiences, races, sexes and ages hampers an organization from making the best decisions possible. Decision making (the primary role of the board) can only be done well when good data is used to make those decisions. Good data comes from numerous sources, but a primary source should be the life experiences of your leadership.
Recruiting for those vast experiences requires intentional effort. I’ve often heard this intentional effort is “more work”, “harder”, or “extra steps”. I’d suggest the results from this effort far exceeds the energy required of any deliberate steps. Recruiting to reflect your community enhances your perspective on program delivery, fund development, staffing and communications. Having a leadership group that has a makeup that is comparable to your community leads to better board conversations. Those better board conversations lead to better board decisions which-again-is the board’s primary work.
Having a board table surrounded by a diverse experiences, views and skills and including each of their perspectives in the discussion and decisions is a recipe for connecting with the community. Connection gets your story out. Connection gets your story heard. Connection places your organization in an enviable position to deliver impactful services to your community. Go and be impactful.
Need assistance with any of the above steps? Use your membership benefits and give us a call. Not a member? Join (it’s very reasonable) and we're here to help!
Many kudos to you as a board of directors if you have already conducted a Performance Evaluation of your Executive Director this year.
If you haven’t even considered it or maybe even deliberately shoved it down the priority list, I’m about to share how your organization can get an renewed edge, get higher quality output and make your Executive a happier professional. If this sounds appealing, please read on.
Historically, executive performance evaluations have been disliked not only by boards but also by the executive. One key reason is that the evaluation has been structured, perceived and used as a tool to sit in judgment on the Executive’s performance. Boards don’t like to do that and executives like it even less. Better structured processes are not perceived this way and result in significantly better conversations, which incidentally is one of the reasons you’d want to do an evaluation on a regular basis. If you are seeking a solid process, may I suggest you search our blog archive for a great one called “Evaluate your Executive in 7 Steps”. Additionally, our on-line store offers an Executive Director Evaluation Tool if you need a better incentive (it’s half price if you are one of our members).
However, the intent of this blog post is one of exploring why.
Performance evaluations are all about getting better. As skilled, visionary, personable and professionally engaging as your Executive is, they can improve. In fact, we at Nonprofit Network invest much of our work with professionals telling us they want to get better. And as a member of the board, you want the very best Executive you can have implementing your vision and achieving the organization’s mission. Your organization’s performance evaluation process should be structured and delivered in the context of “how do we get better than we currently are”.
Evaluations are also about having better conversations. When your executive can depend on getting constructive feedback consistently they gain confidence that the channels to introduce enhancements and seek remedies to issues are open. Engaging the Executive in the evaluation process on how they can get better guides the conversations towards new approaches and highlights areas important to the board and the executive.
Evaluations are also about recognition. Structured well performance evaluations permit the board to fully acknowledge accomplishments and for the executive to receive confirmation that their performance is appreciated. The Executive role can be a very lonely one. Equipping them with assurance of support is a solid approach to sustaining their view as part of a larger team that is addressing the mission. Making a difference is a primary reason some professionals choose serving a mission-based organization over a profit-based entity. Regrettably, we at Nonprofit Network encounter professionals that change employment due to the absence of this assurance.
Evaluations benefit from routine. Settling on a process and a tool to conduct the evaluation eliminates some unknowns for all parties. Consistency permits improvement. Clarifying responsible parties to initiate or deliver the evaluation helps immensely. Establishing a consistent month during which the evaluation will be conducted also benefits all parties.
If you need assistance in any of these elements of performance evaluations use your membership benefits and give us a call to discuss it. Not a member? Join (it’s very reasonable) then call.
By: Sharon Castle
“How do we engage our board members” or “How can I engage as a board member,” is a frequent request we receive at Nonprofit Network. We’ve developed an excellent workshop on said subject; it’s a great tool, but it’s ONE workshop so here are some ways to make your nonprofit board experience more fulfilling.
First and foremost, make sure when you agree to serve on a board, you have a real interest in the organization’s mission. Think about what talents, relationships and other support you can and are willing to share. Be honest about how much time and energy you are able to devote. A mentor once told me “When you make a commitment to serve on a board, don’t check your brain at the door when you attend board meetings or other sessions because if you do, you will be bored very quickly and a boring life is no fun.”
When facilitating, I almost always begin workshops by reminding attendees that the session will be more meaningful and interesting if they think about the information they are hearing and how it relates to them and their organization. If you embrace this philosophy in your board role and thoughtfully participate in discussions, I promise your involvement will become much more meaningful and interesting.
Strong organizations have a high level of trust and one way to build trust is to do what you say you will do. For instance, if you are the board secretary charged with taking minutes, please do so and get them out in a timely fashion; preferably within a week of the meeting. And if you aren’t able to attend a meeting, ask another board member to handle the minutes instead of defaulting the task to staff. This models great board behavior for other members and shows staff that you understand your role and are taking your responsibilities seriously. Follow-up with the board member who took the minutes in your stead and make sure they go out as per usual.
Find ways to make board meetings interesting. Suggest inviting a long-time donor with a passion for your organization’s mission to a board meeting to share their reasons for supporting you and have members thank them for their support. Or, suggest inviting a client or program recipient to a meeting to share how their lives were impacted by your work. By doing this, participants will feel special, board members will learn why folks support you or benefit from your services and it gives all involved a chance to connect in a different light. AND, it’s way more enjoyable than listening to reports. Which, by the way, should have been in the board packet and been read before the board meeting. Just saying...
Most importantly, embrace your role and help foster a culture where folks share and test new ideas that help deliver your mission, programs and services in an even more effective way.
What Our Website Has To Offer:
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Our staff of experts is always available to answer your questions and explore solutions. Each Capacity Building Consultant is certified in Adaptive Schools facilitation and familiar with all aspects of nonprofit governance and management. Don't hesitate to reach out to us via phone 517-796-4750 or email; Info@NonprofNetwork.org. We are here to serve you. (About Us)
Our workshops are engaging, inclusive and designed to help your organizations or an individual's mission move forward. So if you're looking for assistance in Starting a Nonprofit, fund development, or a deep dive into governance we have the training for you! New sessions are being planned now for 2020!
Check out the full workshop calendar often, register early and do not chance missing out on the training you need to impact and improve your performance.
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Did you know NN offers different Products, Tools & Resources to help you drive your mission forward? We offer recorded webinars on board governance and other topics, assessment, evaluation and risk reduction tools. We even developed a 7 part Video Course for nonprofit boards when it's difficult to get everyone in the same room!
5) Other Resources Link
Here you will find the links to our NN Blog, Census 2020, Newsletter, Policies pages and so much more. Our team of nonprofit experts publishes blog content here every month and page updates are made sometimes daily as new information becomes available. As a nonprofit professional and volunteer, we know that time is short and your to-do list is long. These resources are a way we work to provide tools, insights, and up to date perspectives that equip you to succeed.
6) Professional Development
NN offers Executive Director Academy and Peer Coaching for those looking for that deep, meaningful professional development that will impact your ability to lead.
The ED Academy is a multi-session event that covers topics like understanding the responsibilities of the ED and board relationship, Fund Development, Trust, Change & Crisis Management.
Peer Coaching is also a multi session event designed to facilitate goal-setting, coaching and action learning within a small group of peers. Groups are customized for when you are available, where you want to meet and with your goals in mind.
We know that organizations who employ equitable policies and programs are more sustainable and successful. Bridges Out of Poverty and ACEs are powerful framework sessions that can help you be more successful and effective as an employer and as a service provider. Join us at the next ACEs on Nov. 26th 2019 and new Bridges Out of Poverty dates are coming in 2020!
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