Lessons Learned from Grant Writing 101

What the Students Taught ME!

I just wrapped up my online grant writing course – “Grant Writing 101: The ART of the Skill.” No matter how many times I teach my basic grant writing course I enjoy it. Most of all, I always learn something new.

The greatest revelation I’ve had recently is you have to teach true “beginners” from a different perspective. It’s one thing to know how to do something. It’s quite another thing to try to relay that knowledge as a new concept to someone who has no exposure to it.

The past few weeks I’ve been exposed to people who not only don’t have any grant writing or writing experience, but they haven’t even worked in the nonprofit field.

There are so many things I’ve taken for granted because I’ve worked in this field for so long. New students remind me of that.

Now, I must think differently about how I approach my lessons. This is another reason I’ve found the writing assignments to be so crucial. It shows me where people are in their writing, so I can build from that.

The best thing it shows me is how I need to modify my teaching style and adjust my format. That allows me to meet them where they are and help elevate them to where I need them to be.

Upon completion of every course I teach, I take the lessons I’ve learned and incorporate them into my next course. So, my next course is ALWAYS my best course. I keep improving every step of the way.

I’m constantly inspired to elevate my teaching game. Best of all you get the benefit of those lessons learned.

Here are a few things I’m changing for my next course:

1. I’m adding an additional week so I can leave room to build a foundation with an exercise that primes the students for writing. 

2. I’m dropping the recorded modules and making the course ALL live. The students in this last course really benefited from the live coaching. It was their favorite part. It helped them more than anything else.

3. I’m assigning a real grant instead of a mock grant. The mock grant omits too many crucial elements. It makes it harder for the students to engage in the full writing experience. By giving them an actual Request for Proposals (RFP) to guide them, it makes it easier for them to produce valuable content.

4. I will keep the class size small. If I enroll more than 10 students, it negates from the personal attention I desire to give. It’s difficult to effectively coach a large group.

These are just a few things I’m changing. I won’t give away everything. You’ll have to sign up to learn more.

My next course will begin on Monday, April 30, 2018.

Let me forewarn you – this course is NOT for someone who is not committed and who doesn’t want to write. Participating in the writing assignments is mandatory. The only way to learn to write grants is to actually practice writing them.

Registration opens this week. Please revisit my website for more details when it opens.

How Bad Do You Want It?

I’ve been teaching my grant writing course in a classroom setting for the past three weeks. This is a course that was promoted as being hands on, meaning you will have to participate in writing assignments. It was designed this way because so many people have told me they want to actually write a grant in a class setting. Whenever I offer a mini-workshop it never appears to be enough. People want more.  That’s why this particular format was perfect. It allows me to offer more time to develop the skill.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this course experience, as well as a previous online grant writing course I facilitated, most people don’t want to do the work. They seem to want instant gratification.

There is no magic formula to learn how to write grants. You don’t just take a course, listen to the instructor and then go out and get millions of dollars in grants. If it were that easy everybody would have grant money.

As in all things in life, you have to do the work. Grant writing is not for the faint at heart. It requires a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull an all-night writing session to get a grant completed.

It’s never going to be convenient to write and submit an actual grant proposal, even if that’s your only job. Life happens and it’s always going to infringe on your deadlines.

As I have often said when talking to aspiring nonprofit leaders: “You have to put in the time and the work.”

Just because you have a nonprofit organization with a tax exempt status from the IRS, the money is not going to just start rolling in. The same applies for grant writing. Just because you enroll in a course, it doesn’t mean you’re going to instantly know how to write winning grant proposals.

You have to put in the effort. The ONLY way to learn how to write grants is to just write them. You won’t get funded for every proposal you submit, but with every experience, you WILL learn something. Everything you learn will make it that much easier to write the next one.If you’re consistent, and keep getting better, you will eventually get funded.

In the meantime, be committed to doing the work. If not, I can assure you, you will not be successful. The same attitude you have towards participating in class assignments, you will carry over into the real world once you start writing.

There are NO shortcuts. You have to do the work. The competition is too fierce for you to submit mediocre work. The people who get funded give it their all and it shows in their work. When you phone it in, and just submit anything, that shows too. Those types of applications never get funded.

If you want to run a successful nonprofit organization that is consistently funded, then you need to put in the work. If not, why bother?

So, I’m leaving you with this final question, “How bad do you want it?”

Grant Writing 101 Starts Soon!

NEW Fundamentals of Grant Writing course starts Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at Atlanta Technical College. This course is 4 Sessions that will be taught weekly on campus.

There are still seats available. Here’s the link with more information about cost and content.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/help-granted-fundamentals-of-grant-writing-tickets-36905541468 (copy and paste link into browser)

You Have to Pay to Play

The Cost of Fundraising

If I were to ask most new nonprofit leaders to explain their perception of fundraising, they would undoubtedly describe it as the process of asking for money to put into programs and services.

Many would likely overlook the fact that fundraising also requires a big investment on the part of the organization.

Let me explain.

When you are preparing for the ask, it needs to go beyond submitting a proposal or meeting with the donor. Often times it requires much more than an investment of your time if you want to be successful.

I was reading an article about one of the most successful nonprofit organizations in the country. Their annual revenue went from approximately $17 million to more than $400 million in 10 years. Now, its current annual revenue hovers between $300-400 million dollars. Incidentally, this is an organization that was only formed 11 years ago.

Obviously, they clearly have a wonderful cause in which people want to invest. But a key thing they attributed to their ability to raise so much money was, in part, the investment they make in courting donors.

Before you start making excuses that your nonprofit is too small to invest, or that it’s easier for a large organization to do that, you should hear me out.

A former nonprofit I worked for had an annual budget of about 1.5% of the aforementioned nonprofit, but they were committed to investing in fundraising. They made a consistent, concerted effort to court donors.

It’s almost like the old joke of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Do they have a large annual budget because they invested in fundraising? Or are they successful in fundraising because of their large annual budget?

Regardless of what you believe, it is indisputable that you can’t get a return on an investment you didn’t make. For a further explanation on what I mean by that, you can check out last week’s blog on that topic.

So, whether you are a small or a large nonprofit, here are some ways you can invest in fundraising:

1. Host events for donors – a simple strategy several nonprofits use is to host a luncheon or dinner for donors and prospective donors to highlight their programs, celebrate successes and sometimes just to say “Thank You.”

Make sure it’s done with excellence. You’ll have to absorb the costs of a nice facility and good food.

2. Create a promotional video – hire a videographer/editor to create a promotional video that highlights the work of the programs and showcases the impact you’re having on your target population.

It’s more effective to hire a professional to shoot the video and edit it. It may be cheaper to shoot it yourself on an iPhone, but it won’t have the quality you need to be successful.

The video can be used to share on social media, send the link to donors via email, or to show at the beginning of a meeting when you’re trying to appeal to a foundation or an individual donor.

3. Produce a highquality annual report – this is a simple tool that can go a long way. It is worth the money and the time to invest in putting together a really good annual report that showcases the accomplishments your organization has made throughout the year.

There’s a lot of information that goes into an annual report, including statistical data. It also consumes a lot of time putting all the stories together, so you must be strategic about it. If you’re a small organization with little to no staff, then you should definitely consider investing the money to hire a consultant to do this for you.

If you are able to write the content yourself, then you’ll need to invest in a good graphic designer to make it visually appealing. This is a great resource to put in the hands of potential donors.

Many organizations create a digital version of this and also make a few hard copies for distribution to potential and current donors. So, you’ll also have to factor in the cost of printing.

4. Produce a quarterly newsletter – if you don’t want to invest in an annual report, you might consider producing a high-quality newsletter that goes out quarterly or twice a year. Ideally, it needs to be created with the donor in mind, so the content should be of interest to a potential or current donor.

You’ll need to absorb the cost of design, postage to mail it, and printing costs. You want this to be a quality representation of your organization, so putting in the money to do this right is a worthwhile investment.

These are just a few simple ideas you should consider as an investment into fundraising.

It may cost you something on the front end to appeal to donors, but if done well, it will yield a significant return on the back end.

Until next time…
Peace and Blessings!

Reality Check for Start-Up Nonprofits

5 Things You MUST Do for Success

One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve received in recent weeks is this: “You can’t get a return off an investment you didn’t make.”

It appealed to me because of where I am in my career and my desire to get to the next level. I have mentors in my life to help me in this process, but they can’t do the work for me. I have to make an investment of my time, talent and my resources, including finances.

As this advice applies to my business, it also applies to nonprofit organizations, especially start-up nonprofits.

I truly believe the term “nonprofit” has become a disservice to many start-up leaders. It has been my experience that many are misguided and confused by the term.

The term “nonprofit” is primarily a distinction that identifies your tax status. It lets everyone know you’re a charitable organization, and a benefit of that is you and your donors get a tax break from the IRS. Other than that, you are still a business. Therefore, normal business principles apply.

There is no other industry in which you’d start a business and not have the expectation that you need to make a financial investment. Unfortunately, since nonprofit organizations are eligible to receive grants, there is a misperception by many that they don’t need any other funding sources to operate.

That mindset creates a dependency on grant funding and less focus on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial skills. I have also seen it create a “give me” mentality, whereas the expectation is that everything should be free. If you start out with this mindset you will be unable to sustain your organization.

There are more than a million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. Many of them aren’t operational. A large percentage of those organizations exist in name only. They registered with the secretary of state, they applied for their tax-exempt designation with the IRS, and then expected the grants to start rolling in.

They didn’t prepare for success. They didn’t set up the right structure or governance with their board of directors, and they didn’t have any skin in the game. Basically, they made a minimal financial investment by paying the fees to get organized and did nothing else.

For many, the expectation was they could get free labor, free resources, and free money (grants). Once the reality set in, they were stuck.

Obviously, there are a lot of successful nonprofit organizations that exist. I’ve worked with or for several of them. But they all have something in common. They are organized, strategic, collaborative, and fiscally sound.

They realize they need multiple streams of revenue, and raising money through grants is just one part of their overall fundraising plan.

It’s naïve to think you can be a successful nonprofit organization without a strategic plan. It may be cliché but it’s true – if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

So, here are five tips to help start-up nonprofit organizations succeed: 

1. Develop a Plan BEFORE you become operational. Commit the time to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that includes a plan for funding that goes beyond just applying for grants. You need multiple streams of revenue. Funders want to see that. It demonstrates your fiscal capacity.

2. Start small. Before you start trying to serve the masses, serve from your current capacity level. You may not be able to serve your entire city, but perhaps you can serve the people in your immediate community. This allows you to fund the work you’re doing, get a realistic idea of what it costs to operate your program, and it gives you the experience funders want to see before they feel comfortable funding your organization.

3. Collaborate with other organizations. Use the first year to build relationships with key community partners, especially people who provide similar or complementary services and programs. It could be an organization that offers wrap around services that your target population needs. The important thing is that you establish a credible reputation. Allow people to get to know your work. People do business with people they know. If nobody knows you, then it becomes more difficult to get organizations to work with you or agencies and foundations to fund you.

4. Make a financial investment in your organization. If you haven’t put any skin in the game how can you ask someone else to. If you and your board members aren’t willing to make a financial investment in your organization, nobody else will. Most funders want to see your financials before they make an investment in you. If you don’t believe in your vision enough to put your own money into it, then you shouldn’t even start a nonprofit.

5. Invest in professional development. Get the training and the credentials you need to do your job effectively and successfully. There is some education and training you can access for free, but you need to allocate funds in your budget for professional development. You need to recognize the value in paying for training and services that will benefit your business and your clientele.

Once you’ve put the time and energy into setting the right foundation for your nonprofit organization by doing these things I’ve suggested, then you can start pursuing major funding to help you get to the next level.

If you’re not willing to put in the work and get some skin in the game, you need to seriously consider why you’re doing it.

Until next time….

Peace & Blessings!

The Final Ask

Preparing for Year End Fundraising

We are rapidly approaching the final quarter of the year and for nonprofit organizations this is not a time to hunker down, but to get geared up.

The end of year is a prime time for fundraising. That’s because donors will be making those last minute donations to offset taxes.

What better way to get a tax write off than to make a donation to a charitable organization.

You don’t want to wait until the last minute to try to take advantage of this opportunity. Now is the time for you to begin preparing what that ask will look like.

Here are a few things you should consider:

1. What were some of your major accomplishments this year? It’s always good to highlight what you’ve done to make an impact among your target population. Demonstrate how you’ve been able to successfully accomplish what you set out to do at the beginning of the year.
2. What were some areas that you fell short and why? Don’t be so quick to hide your failures. We learn way more from failure than we do from success. If there is a lesson you learned that can improve your processes that’s a good thing. This could present an opportunity to ask a donor to help you make necessary improvements. Remember, donors are motivated by the opportunity to provide solutions to community problems.
3. Who were key players that attributed to your success? This is a good time to thank those people. Think of your volunteers, community partners and your donors. Think of how you can express your gratitude to them for all they’ve done to support your organization. Show them how you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish your goals without them.
4. What will be your method of asking? Give careful thought to this area. Do you want to write a formal letter? Will you produce a high quality newsletter with great pics and personal stories? Will it be a video? Whatever method you choose make sure it’s personal and can properly tell the story you want to share.

Now is the time to start gathering everything you need to prepare for the big ask, which may not be an “ask” at all. Sometimes the “no ask” approach is even more effective.

A nonprofit I previously worked with had a method that was an ask without asking at all. They just told the story they wanted to tell, thanked the donors for making it happen and then included a donation envelope in the letter/newsletter. Without fail we received those envelopes back with substantial donations.

Please don’t let this be a last minute thing you throw together because it won’t be effective. Let this be a thoughtful process. Create a plan and then execute it.

If you do this the right way you will have a great end to this year, and some tremendous momentum for the new year.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!