Five Reasons Faith-Based Organizations Fail to Get Federal Funds

When I started writing grants 16 years ago I was very intimidated. I wanted to do a good job for the organizations I worked for because I wanted them to get the funding.

In this industry, practice makes the difference. The more grants I wrote, the more confident I became. But what gave me the most confidence was reviewing grants. It taught me what to do and what not to do. It also gave me invaluable insights into the competition, which I used to help my clients.

Over the years, I noticed there was a disparity in the successful applications. In particular, among the faith-based organizations (FBO). It’s not that the federal government doesn’t want to fund faith-based organizations, they do. It had more to do with the quality of their proposals.

My initial motivation for entering the grant writing field was to help faith-based organizations, especially churches, gain the skill sets to obtain federal funding. So, I can’t overlook this teaching opportunity.

There are five common mistakes I find among the proposals from FBO.

  1. Lack Capacity –one of the fundamental things the Feds want to see is whether or not an applicant has the capacity to implement the programs at the level expected. They measure capacity from an organizational standpoint as well as a fiscal standpoint. Applicants need the human resources and financial resources, and many FBO lack both.
  1. No Structure – Feds want to ensure the organization is sound and has competent leadership in place. Many FBOs fail to demonstrate the competency and relevant experience of their board of directors. Whether the board is a governing board or an advisory board,  they need to possess the right skill sets and experience to ensure the success of the organization. Feds want to see executive level experience and the financial qualifications necessary to manage a substantial, and many times, multi-million dollar budget. Therefore, it’s important to demonstrate who is on your board and why, and their roles and responsibilities. Many FBO have a board of directors on paper only. They were only chosen to fill the mandated slots as recommended by the Secretary of State, not to have any key role in the decision making process.
  1. No Strategy – many FBO cannot demonstrate they have a strategy for the long term. Typically, they form out of necessity to meet an immediate need in their community. They operate from survival mode and rarely take the time to develop a viable strategy. Feds want to see your goals and objectives, which must lead to sustainable, measurable outcomes. If you don’t have a strategy, then it’s hard to ensure a positive outcome.
  1. No Funding – part of demonstrating fiscal capacity is the availability of multiple streams of revenue. If you’re solely dependent on the funding in which you’re applying, that doesn’t assure the feds of fiscal capacity. Grantees must be able to demonstrate that their programs can function as intended until the funding is available for drawing down. Federal grant funds are reimbursable, which means you have to perform the work first and then get paid.  It’s also not a good idea to be solely dependent on grant funds – fed money or otherwise- to operate your organization. It helps to consider other means for generating revenue. Many FBO don’t diversify their funding streams, so when the grant funds expire, so do their programs. No funder wants to invest in an organization that is not going to be able sustain itself beyond grant dollars.
  1. No Programming – Feds want to see that organizations are implementing programs that have been proven to work, especially among their proposed target population. They typically require their grantees to utilize evidenced based programs and strategies. Unfortunately, many FBO confuse ministries with programming. They’re not the same. Programs are strategic and structured. They also yield an expected, sustainable outcome. Ministries generally operate from a need-based approach, and often times their efforts aren’t evaluated.

Now, having identified these common mistakes, please know there is hope. There are many faith-based organizations getting federal funds. I just want to ensure that even more organizations can access those funds.

I’m opening registration this week for a new coaching program that specifically targets faith based organizations. I’ll work with 10 faith-based leaders who are ready to elevate their organization and programs to the next level.

Check out this link to get more information.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

It Takes a Village to Run a Successful Nonprofit Organization

One of the most valuable lessons I learned while working in substance abuse prevention is that good prevention programs can’t operate in silos. What that means is you can’t work alone. You need others to be successful.

Yet, I’ve too often encountered nonprofit leaders who don’t want to work with other organizations. They don’t usually say that, but their actions do. This lack of cooperation becomes extremely detrimental when they pursue grant funding. Funders want you to play nice with others. The technical term they use is to “collaborate.” Every request for proposal you read will ask you to describe your community partners.

Community partnerships take on various forms. The most common form is the use of volunteers. They’re primarily used for programmatic and administrative purposes. Helping kids with homework, setting up for events, making calls, answering phones, making copies, etc.

Volunteers also function in more official capacities like serving on boards of directors. Unlike most for-profit corporations, nonprofit organization’s board of directors are comprised of volunteers. However, these roles require a greater depth of expertise and credentials.

You should also consider going a step further to form steering committees and advisory boards. These can work in conjunction with your board of directors. Many board of directors are for governing purposes, but advisory boards can help set guidelines for programmatic activities.

As the CEO or Executive Director of your nonprofit organization you want to set yourself up for success. There is no better way to do that than by recruiting the right people to help you.

Here are some suggestions to help you do this effectively:

  1. Set some goals. What are three to five key things you need to accomplish with the organization. Think big picture. Consider the long-term, not just immediate needs.
  2. Determine the expertise necessary to accomplish those goals. Who are the experts in your field that you will need to accomplish your goals?
  3. Identify key sectors that need to be involved. Which stakeholders must be at the table? (i.e. schools, law enforcement, churches, parents, etc.)
  4. Develop a recruitment strategy. Check your sphere of influence. What people do you know that can help attract the people needed from each sector?
  5. Articulate what’s in it for them. It could be a big picture appeal or an individual appeal. Some people care about service and making a difference, others are motivated by personal agendas. Find out what those reasons are for each person you approach.
  6. Set the expectations. Knowing what they will be asked to do and for how long will facilitate the decision-making process for them. Most people are already over committed to projects, so their time is valuable. Show the value of your program/organization.

Most people won’t pass up the opportunity to get involved in something worthwhile and that will yield a positive return. Your job is to make sure you demonstrate why your project is worthwhile. Give them a reason to want to help you.

Remember, when it comes to making an impact at the community level, it really does take a village.

The Key to Sustainable Outcomes

If you have worked in the nonprofit sector for an extended period of time you know that times are changing. With more and more nonprofits forming every day, the competition for funding is tight.

So, funding agencies are looking more closely at results. In particular, they want to know that any organization they fund will be around for the long haul. If a funder is giving money to your program or organization, they want to ensure you are yielding results – positive, sustainable results.

Unfortunately, for many organizations that doesn’t come easily. There’s a reason for that. It has to do with how they start off. Having a successful end game, has everything to do with how you start.

In this week’s video blog, I share the one thing that is tripping up many nonprofit organizations and preventing them from getting the funding, and ultimately, the outcomes they need.

How to Make 2017 Your Best Year

Believe it or not, there are only two weeks left in this year. If you’re like most of us, you can’t figure out where the time has gone. Nor can you believe how quickly it has gone. These are the same things we say at the end of every year.

Another thing that happens this time of year is we take time to reflect. Reflect on our personal and professional lives. For me, it was this time last year that I took a close look at my life and decided it was time for a major change. I was no longer happy in my personal or professional life. So, I took stock of those things that I had control over. For the most part, I had control  over all of it. I knew that I am the source of my happiness.

I also knew the greatest source of my frustration was Atlanta, especially the traffic. I was spending two hours a day in traffic just getting to work and home. It was robbing me of my quality of life. And I knew moving to another part of the city wasn’t the answer. After 10 years of living there, I’d pretty much lived in most of the areas that were appealing to me. I knew that wasn’t going to work anymore. I needed to shake things up in a drastic way.

So, I decided to leave Atlanta and to leave Georgia altogether. I wasn’t sure where I’d go, but I made the decision to move. Within weeks of sitting with that decision I narrowed down my choices. I set a goal to be moved by June 2016. I took all the steps to make that happen, and by the last week of May, I had sold my house and was on my way to Jacksonville Florida. By June 1st, I signed the lease on my new apartment.

I’m still amazed by how my life changed so quickly. I think my head is still spinning by how quickly everything happened.

So, as I’m again at the end of another year, I’m re-evaluating my life. I’m trying to determine what I’d like to see happen in the new year. How can I make my life better? The biggest change I’d like to see is professionally. I’d like to build a better foundation for my business in Jacksonville. I still have clients in Atlanta, and I’m fortunate to be able to work with clients anywhere in the country. However, I need to assimilate to my new environment. That’s going to require strategy and a commitment to do whatever it takes. Starting over is exciting, but it’s also very hard.

If you’re running a business, especially a nonprofit business, you are constantly reinventing yourself. You have to stay relevant and you have to continue to make an impact. That’s why I need you to give serious thought and consideration to what you want for yourself and your organization in the new year. Trust me, it won’t happen just because you wish it. You have to behave your way to sustainable change.

Here are a few tips I can offer you to facilitate that process.

  • Take a close and comprehensive look at what you accomplished this past year. The best way to plan for the future is to evaluate your past. What went well? Those are probably things you want to build on.
  • Next, look at what went wrong. Were there initiatives that didn’t go as planned? Were there any projects that were ineffective and didn’t yield a return on the investment you put into it? Whether that investment was time, money or resources. Perhaps, these are projects that you need to improve or drop all together.
  • Is your organization better off today than it was 11 months ago? Are your clients or target population better off as a result of working with you?
  • Of course, you also need to examine your finances. Did you attract any new donors? Did you lose donors? If so, why? What could you have done better to maintain donors? Were there funds you anticipated that didn’t come through? Were there funds you received that you didn’t anticipate having? If yes, how can you build from that?

Once you’ve examined these important areas of your organization, you need to set some goals. Attach timelines to those goals, and measurable objectives to help you accomplish those goals. Then, get to work to make it happen.

Congratulations for all you’ve accomplished this year, and I wish you all the best in 2017.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

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!