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!

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!

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.