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

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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.

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One of my most dreaded, yet rewarding jobs I will ever do is review grants for the federal government. It’s dreaded because it requires A LOT of work!

In particular, it takes a lot of time to review one grant. On average, it takes about 3-5 hours to review one application. This review I just wrapped up it took about 5 hours to review one grant.

The rewarding part is how much I learn from the experience. I learn so much about the do’s and don’ts when it comes to getting funded by the Feds. Reviewing grants gives you an inside look at what the Feds want to fund. Yeah, they spell it all out in the Request for Applications (RFA), but when you work with the authors of the RFA it’s an invaluable experience. The value you get is far more than the money they actually pay us.

Of course, I had to share this information with my tribe! I want you to have an inside look. So, I’m devoting this week’s video to the lessons I’ve learned as a grant reviewer. Trust me, you want to check this out!

A Fail-Proof Formula for Program Success & Funding

Formula for SuccessThere is a very familiar quote that most of us have either heard or said at one point in time – “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”

When it comes to starting and growing a nonprofit organization, planning is fundamental.

You can only get so far without it. I know a lot of people who simply started their nonprofit organization out of a sincere desire to help or improve their community. They never intended to become an entrepreneur they just got busy helping and found themselves running a business.

I happen to love stories like this. It’s very inspiring to see.

However, once you find yourself in the midst of a business, one of two things tend to happen. At some point you hit a wall in your business. You’re no longer growing. You’re just keeping pace with what you’ve been doing and generally reacting to everything. Being proactive is rarely an option.

The second scenario is when you get to the place of stagnancy you do some course correction. You evaluate what’s working and what’s not working, and then make adjustments accordingly. Eventually you get on the path to success.

Obviously, the latter of these two scenarios leads to prosperity in the business and/or program.

There is one thing that will prevent these paths – having a plan BEFORE you jump in. For some that’s easier said than done.

In the field of prevention we have an evidenced-based model we use to plan community programs. It’s called the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). It’s a public health model that is typically used to reduce substance abuse, but these principles can be used in any business setting.

The SPF’s five key steps and two overarching elements assists organizations in developing the infrastructure needed for community level change and sustainable outcomes.

  1. Assessment –an assessment is a comprehensive and systematic gathering and analysis of data to identify and address local problems and resources. Conducting an assessment will ensure that you get all the relevant information you need before you make a decision on the course you should take with your organization and/or program.
  2. Capacity Building – this step involves taking a close look at your assessment data, finding the gaps that lie therein, and developing an action plan to address those gaps. Key components of capacity building include increasing the availability of fiscal, human, organizational and other resources.
  3. Planning – this step includes developing a comprehensive strategic plan that is logical, data driven, and focused on evidenced- based strategies to address problems identified in the assessment.
  4. Implementation– It’s time to put your plans into action. This step is where you execute your plan.
  5. Evaluation – this step is the systematic collection and analysis of information about program activities, characteristics, and outcomes to reduce uncertainty, improve effectiveness, and make decisions.

The two overarching elements that must be considered at every step of the SPF are cultural competence and sustainability.

Cultural competence describes the ability of an organization or individual to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Essentially, it means being respectful and responsive to the health beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse population groups.

Sustainability pertains to ensuring your program is around for the long haul. It includes sufficient fiscal resources to sustain the program, strong leadership, technical expertise, as well as strong administrative and financial management. It also includes support and engagement from policy makers, the community and other key stakeholders.

The most important thing to remember about the SPF is that it’s not a linear process, it’s a continuum. These five steps should be ongoing.

If you can go through these steps before you get started, you will dramatically increase your likelihood for success.

You will also position your organization to receive major funding. This is an evidenced-based model that is recommended by the federal government so if you’re using it, it will make it easier to get funded. It will give your organization a systematic way of getting things done and reaching your outcomes.

Now I have a question for you: Do you think these steps can help you run your organization more effectively?

6 Tips for Establishing an Effective Community Collaboration

collaborateEvery day someone is starting a new nonprofit organization somewhere in the world. In fact, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.

Each of these nonprofit organizations is created to do a variety of things. But there is one core reason most get started – the identification of an unmet need in the community. Usually, some concerned citizen had an experience that compelled them to take action.

Even though it may have begun by the solo efforts of one person, the overall success of the organization will often require the participation of others. When you’re doing community work it’s impossible to accomplish anything significant on your own. Eventually you need the help of others.

A lot of times that’s easier said than done.

Establishing effective community partnerships takes finesse and skill. Since it’s not a natural skill for most people, I want to offer some suggestions as to how to ensure an effective collaboration.

  1. Do your research. As you prepare to meet the needs of your target population you must be familiar with your allies. Look for partners who serve your population and also have a vested interest in the success of that population. This could be a faith based organization, schools, government agencies, etc.
  2. Make sure all efforts serve the best interest of the target population. The biggest obstacle to establishing an effective collaboration is that many times people have ulterior motives. They’re looking for what’s in it for them. What can their organization get out of it? Those kinds of motives will always hinder progress. Real community work is primarily about serving the people of the community.
  3. Set egos aside.  If you are more concerned about who gets the credit for everything you will have a hard time with collaboration. If your organization has to always be in charge it’s not going to work. You need to be prepared to do whatever it takes for your population to succeed. Sometimes that means relinquishing control and allowing someone else to take the lead.  
  4. Set clear expectations. All parties need to understand the expectations. If you’re not clear about what is to happen, then there will be confusion. When there is confusion, your target population will be the ones who suffer.  
  5. Get the agreement in writing. It doesn’t need to be a complicated legal document. A simple memorandum of agreement (MOA) will suffice. The MOA outlines the role and responsibilities of all parties. This is especially helpful when it’s time to apply for funding. This will be evidence of those key partnerships that donors want to see. Also, the arrangement should have a timeline. Even if you anticipate it will be a long term agreement, I suggest making the agreement renewable every year. This accounts for any major changes in leadership that may impact the arrangement since it will be the authorizing official of the organizations who sign the agreement. In some cases it could be a board of directors that has to approve it.
  6. It’s not about money. When real collaboration happens, money isn’t in the equation. It’s typically about an exchange of services and resources.

So, if you’ll keep these suggestions in mind as you venture out to form more community partnerships, you have a good shot at success.

Now I have a couple of questions for you: Has your organization established effective community partnerships? If so, what has been your key to success?

Please share your response in the comments.

5 Benefits of Collaboration

community collaborationThere is a popular African Proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote a book about it several years ago.

When it comes to doing effective community work we can apply that concept to how nonprofit organizations should operate. From my years of working in community development and community programming I can tell you first hand that it takes the work of the entire community to produce successful outcomes.

In some form or fashion most nonprofit organizations are created to effect community level change related to improving youth, education, families, crime rates, or the community at-large. So, if we want to make sustainable change in any of these areas it’s going to take the efforts of everyone.

Community collaboration is the key to sustaining programs. I’ve worked in the field of substance abuse prevention for about 10 years and one of the things we always say is prevention programs can’t operate as silos. We can’t do our work on our own without including others.

I believe there are some misconceptions associated with collaborating that are impeding progress. What I know for sure is that collaborating with others isn’t going to diminish your work or take resources from your organization.

So, allow me to share some key benefits of collaboration.

  1. It builds your organizational capacity. It’s difficult for one organization to be able to meet the needs of everyone. Partnering with other organizations allows you to expand your resources. It benefits your organization and the target audience you serve. It also alleviates the feeling that you alone have to do everything.
  2. It makes your organization more fundable. Donors always like to see that your organization is collaborating with other agencies. It’s often a requirement in many federal grants. When you have other partners at the table it’s an indication that others are invested in your work. It also shows funders that your program is likely to be around for the long run because the community is invested in your outcomes. Invested partners will always do what it takes to keep a good program up and running. Funders don’t want to give money to a program they think won’t be around for the long haul.
  3. It provides extra support to your target population. When you’re trying to address the needs of an under-served population the more resources and support you can offer them the better for them. Additional support being offered without them having to go find it on their own, alleviates a lot of stress for the people you’re trying to help. It also prevents them from falling through the cracks once they leave you.
  4. It improves the likelihood of your program’s success. Having the right community partners helps your organization produce positive outcomes. If you have the right people involved in your efforts it enables you to help your target population more effectively. Consequently, you can sustain your outcomes, which is more important than sustaining a particular program.
  5. It gives you more human resources without fiscal obligations. It costs you nothing to make a referral. You get the assistance and expertise you need for your target population without absorbing the expense of extra personnel. Expending your financial resources into programs as opposed to personnel is much more cost efficient and more appealing to funders.

So, if you’re not collaborating with other community agencies to serve the best interest of your target population I hope these benefits will sway you to do so.

If you are successfully collaborating with other agencies, I’d love to hear how you’re making that work for you organization. I’m sure others will benefit from your input. Please share your comments.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!