3 Simple Strategies to Solicit End of Year Donations

endofyeargivingThere are less than 50 days remaining in this year, and it’s not too late to finish it with a bang.

The holiday season is the start of the most charitable time of the year. Donors give big bucks during December. It’s the time they are writing those last-minute checks to maximize their tax breaks. This is why you need to be a nonprofit organization with a tax-exempt status from the IRS.

If you want to get the most funds you can, then you need to be preparing your strategy to inspire your donors to give. The year is almost complete, so this is the best time to create a compelling story that demonstrates what your organization has been doing all year.

The reason those sad TV commercials featuring poor kids from another country or stray animals that need to be rescued are so successful is because they tell a compelling story. They give the viewer a reason to give.

You may not feed starving kids or save stray animals, but the work you do makes a huge difference in your community. Tell that story.

Donors like to see where their money is going. In particular, who is benefiting from it.

So, if you don’t have your end of year strategy in place, let me give you some ideas of things you can do.

  1. Create a quasi-annual report highlighting what you’ve done this year. The main thing you want to show is who you’ve been serving and how your program has impacted their lives. Use good pictures and the most compelling data. Show how many kids/families/people you’ve served or impacted.

It doesn’t need to be a formal report. The key thing is to demonstrate the difference you’ve made. Demonstrate how this wouldn’t have been possible if your organization were not around. You can also share powerful testimonials of people you’ve helped. The testimonials should be in their words, and include a picture of them to help bring their story to life. It makes them real to the donor.

  1. Send a thank you letter to your current donors – both large and small. Reiterate your appreciation of their financial support and share the highlights of what you’ve been able to accomplish this year. Make the letter personal. Have the CEO and/or Executive Director sign it. Thank you letters are more impactful if you send them by regular mail instead of email. Include an attachment with a one pager (newsletter format; can be front and back) that includes great pictures that tell your story.

You don’t have to make an official ask for money in the letter, but you can include a donation envelope. This will prompt them to give if they are so inclined.

  1. Create a simple e-blast that you send electronically. This can be a combination of the annual report and the thank you letter. In this format, you don’t have to make a direct ask. But make sure you have a visible “donate” button that allows them to give. If you’re a nonprofit organization without a website that allows people to give online, you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice.

A colleague of mine who is a professional fundraiser describes his job as providing potential donors an opportunity to give. These simple strategies allow you to provide your donors that same opportunity.

Finally, don’t over think it. Keep it simple. But make it personal.

Remember, time is of the essence, so get started now.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

Giving Tuesday is Coming Up – Are You ready?

It’s probably safe to assume that most people have heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But how many of you are familiar with Giving Tuesday?

givingtuesday

If you’re working in the nonprofit industry you need to be. Giving Tuesday is the third biggest giving day of the year. It was created in response to the two biggest retail days of the holiday season: Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Giving Tuesday provides charities, families, businesses and students around the world the opportunity to come together for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.

Giving Tuesday is always the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year it will be on Tuesday, November 29th.

If you haven’t made plans to participate in this day, there is still time to get on board. You can inspire your followers and donors to give in support of your cause.

Your campaign can last through the remainder of the year by capitalizing on the fact that December is the biggest giving month of all. That’s when many businesses make charitable contributions to take advantage of tax credits.

Why shouldn’t your organization benefit from that?

The most important thing you need to do is provide them with an opportunity to give. The only way to do that is to ask.

Here are some things you can do to get ready.

  1. Warm up your donors before you make an ask. Start sending out emails prior to November 29th to let them know about Giving Tuesday.
  2. Create a compelling email that inspires them to give. Tell your organization’s story. Explain how you’re making a difference in your community. Highlight a success story if possible.
  3. Visit givingtuesday.org to download the toolkit to help you ensure your campaign is successful.

The more people from your community and organization that you can get involved in this worldwide effort, the better.

Even though the primary focus on this day is about people giving money, there are other ways to participate. If people can’t give money, encourage them to give their time. Volunteers are the backbone of successful nonprofit organizations. They are always needed.

So, as we approach this holiday season, help people remember what the Thanksgiving and Christmas season is all about. It’s not about how much money we can spend on things, it’s about gratitude and being of service to others.

Good luck with your campaign!

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

5 Tips to Get a Jumpstart on Applying for Federal Grants

Happy New Year! Yes, you heard me right. I said, Happy New Year!

I know some of you probably think I’m either crazy or extremely late with my New Year’s greeting. But those of you who are familiar with the federal government, you realize I’m acknowledging the federal fiscal year. 

federalgrantsFederal FY 2017 started October 1. If you’re a nonprofit organization that receives federal funds, or aspires to, that’s a significant milestone.

Here’s why. Once the new fiscal year begins the race is on for the release of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). The funding cycle kicks into high gear the end of this year and the beginning of 2017. When January begins you can expect to see a massive release of funding announcements. So, if you want to get access to those funds you need to start preparing now.

Federal grants are the hardest to get. They yield the greatest returns as far as funding amounts, and as a result, the competition is fierce. You have to bring your “A” game. To do so, you have to prepare early. Time is of the essence. Once the announcements are released you have about 45 days to get it submitted. Believe me, that is not enough time to thoroughly respond to a major grant application, especially if you’re new to the process of applying for federal grants. 

The biggest difference between organizations that get funded and those that don’t is preparation. As a federal grant reviewer I can tell you that we immediately notice when an organization had adequate time to prepare their proposal. When it’s rushed there are tons of mistakes. Costly mistakes. When you are competing against hundreds of applicants everything matters. The little things make a big difference. 

So, I want to offer some simple tips to ensure you’re ready to apply for federal grants.

  1. Make sure you’re registered in grants.gov. This is mandatory for all organizations applying for a federal grant. Since there are several steps to this process, it can take weeks to complete the registration. You don’t want to wait until the announcements are released to register. You want to use that crucial time for proposal preparation.
  2. Get your letters of commitment and/or memorandums of agreement in hand now. This is always required with federal grants to demonstrate community collaborations. Once the clock starts ticking with the grant you don’t have time to start rounding them up. Avoid rushing your partners, give them adequate time to respond to your request for help. This will alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress for you. 
  3. Get a jump start on writing components of the grant that you know will be required and won’t vary from grant to grant. Write parts of the narrative including your program description and organizational background. Also, lay the foundation for your proposal by working on the need justification. Describe why your program is needed. Use relevant data to validate your justification. You can also describe your target population and community. 
  4. Draft a budget. You should be aware of what it takes to fully fund your program. Start preparing a draft budget. This might change slightly once the announcement is released. There may be certain expenditures the grantor won’t fund, such as equipment or certain operational costs. 
  5. Identify an evaluator. Every federal grant requires an evaluation component. You will need to identify an independent evaluator. Don’t wait until the last minute to secure this person. They will need to write the evaluation section of the grant, so it’s better to get this person on board ASAP. You don’t need to hire them, just get a verbal commitment from them so they can plan accordingly. Good evaluators stay busy, so this allows you to confirm them in advance. 

I can assure you, if you start working on these areas now, you will be much more prepared once the grant you like becomes available. So, when the RFP is released you can address the specifics of the grant and insert relevant data for the specific program.

Remember, you’re not chasing dollars, so you won’t be applying for every grant that comes on the market. You will be strategic and only apply for grants that align with your organizational mission, and supports your type of program. 

If you follow these suggestions, it will drastically improve your chance of being funded.

Good luck this grant season. You CAN do this!

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

3 Steps to Ensure Your Nonprofit is Impactful

One of the primary reasons I decided I wanted to work with nonprofit organizations is because I respect the work they do. I value the difference they try to make in the lives of the people they serve. Often times it’s with very little money and minimal resources. Nevertheless, they seem to get so much done.

impact

At the end of the day, nonprofit leaders aren’t in it for the money. They want to see real change. Most are willing to do it one life at a time. And I believe the ones who are in it for the long haul take this to heart. They don’t try to change every body, they just want to make a positive change for some body.

I’ve been working for and with nonprofit organizations for the past 15 years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some honorable organizations that really care about what they’re doing. They care about the people they’re doing it for. Those with ulterior motives, don’t make it.

Running a nonprofit organization is hard work. Just like any other business. When the funding gets low, the grants are few, and the staff is dwindling, it’s tempting to throw in the towel. Many question if it’s all worth it. Well, when you inevitably get to that crossroads, and consider throwing in the towel, I want you to ask yourself a question.

“Will people miss you when you’re gone?”

If you packed up and stopped delivering services to your community, would it make a difference? What would change? What would happen to your target population?

This a powerful question for a couple of reasons. One, it will show you what you’re doing right. Or two, it could show you what you’re doing wrong.

If you’re making an impact, and can honestly say that your organization would be missed, then that’s great motivation to keep going.

On the other hand, if you don’t think your absence would make a difference, then you may need to reassess what you’re doing.

Here are some things I want you to consider:

  1. What was your initial intention when you started? Has your intention changed? Have your priorities shifted? It could be that your services are no longer relevant, or your services may no longer be necessary with your target population. It’s a good idea to get with your board of directors to reassess your goals and objectives every 3-5 years. This will help ensure you’re staying focused and accomplishing your goals.
  2. Define your niche. What is it that you do that nobody else does, or at least can’t do as well. If you’re just duplicating services in your community, it could easily render your organization ineffective and unnecessary. If this is the case, you may want to collaborate with the organization that’s more effective in that area. On the other hand, if you’re not playing up to your organizational strengths, you need to consider making some changes.
  3. Figure out what you can do differently to improve your standing. How can you make things better for your target population or community? Solicit their feedback and get the truth on how you’re performing. Conduct surveys or focus groups. Find out what they want and need. Then, get busy trying to make it a reality.

Most people who start a nonprofit organization do so because they have a genuine desire to effect change. You want to make an impact. If you’re not making an impact, why do it?

So, here is my final word of advice – ask yourself the tough questions. Let the answers propel you to the next level.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

 

One of my favorite things about nonprofit organizations is their ability to get things done by any means necessary.

If they don’t have the funds to hire staff… they recruit volunteers.

If they can’t afford a facility to serve the kids in their community…they work with the churches or the schools.

So, it’s with that same tenacity and collaborative spirit they can acquire funds without a tax-exempt status.

I know this sounds contradictory to what I’ve always taught. I’ve said on many occasions that the primary criteria required to receive grant funding is to be a nonprofit organization with a tax-exempt status from the IRS.

But what I haven’t discussed too often is the fact that there is a way around this, if necessary. A nonprofit organization can receive grant funds without having a tax-exempt designation.

The key is to have a fiscal agent who can apply for the funding on your behalf.

I realize there are many people who don’t know that that means or how the process works.

So, to clear up any confusion about the circumstances in which this is appropriate, I address it in this week’s video blog.

The Real Truth About “Business” Grants

free money

I have worked in the grant writing industry for 15 years and still to this day, the most common question I get is – “How can I get a grant to start my business?”

There is still such a huge misconception about the availability of “business” grants. Honestly, I blame the marketing from people with ulterior motives. There was a period of time several years ago when people were going all across the country advertising workshops to teach people how to get FREE money – grant funds- to start a business. Auditoriums were packed with people trying to get information about how to access that money.

Even now, if you type in grants for businesses in Google, you get several pages that appear. If you look closely, they’re really marketing loans.

Here’s the deal. There are no grants to start a business. Not in the way most people are seeking. The majority of the questions I receive regarding this topic is for starting or expanding day care centers, transitional housing for people in recovery, or veteran services.

By definition, grants are free money. As long as you use the funds as they were intended, you don’t have to pay it back.

Traditionally, grants are designed for charitable organizations. That’s why funders require that you have a tax exempt status from the IRS before your organization can be considered eligible. You must be a “non-profit” organization.

If you want to create a “for-profit” business, the best you can expect are special loan programs and incentives for certain types of small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration website:

“Some business grants are available through state and local programs, nonprofit organizations and other groups. For example, some states provide grants for expanding child care centers; creating energy efficient technology; and developing marketing campaigns for tourism. These grants are not necessarily free money, and usually require the recipient to match funds or combine the grant with other forms of financing such as a loan. The amount of the grant money available varies with each business and each grantor.”

The other scenario for receiving business grants is for research. Some federal agencies award grants for research purposes. Those are very specific cases and there are a lot of criteria for eligibility. You can access those types of projects through www.grants.gov.

So, despite all the misinformation there is out there about business grants, just remember this rule of thumb. If your organization is not set up as a nonprofit organization for charitable purposes, then you are typically not eligible to receive grant funds.

If you need information about what the IRS considers a charitable organization, you can visit their website at www.irs.gov.