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.

Two Problems Preventing Faith-Based Organizations From Getting Funding

When I decided to get into the grant writing field, my initial intention was to help faith-based organizations find funding to support their work.

I know a lot of faith-based organizations that do a lot of good work for the community. They offer after school programs for youth, they feed the homeless, they even work with ex-offenders to keep them out of prison and get them into the workforce.

These are all wonderful acts of service. Even better, they are all fundable activities. Faith-based organizations can get money from private donors as well as federal agencies. Yet, many are unsuccessful in securing funding.

Based on my experience, I believe there are two primary reasons for that:

  1. They aren’t telling their story effectively.
  2. They aren’t demonstrating their successes.

One of the downfalls of faith-based organizations, especially churches, is they don’t always operate their ministries as a business. Fortunately, most of them are aware they need to establish a separate nonprofit organization that operates independently from the church. That’s an important step, but there are still other business practices from which faith-based organizations can benefit.

The chief among those practices is marketing. Marketing beyond the walls of the church. It is important to invest the time in creating a marketing plan that is customized to your organization, and based on your community, access to resources, and your budget.

Sometimes marketing requires spending money on traditional outlets like TV, print, and radio. That’s only a part of it.

The other aspect to marketing is social media. Though social media marketing is key, it’s not everything. Too many organizations think this is all they need to do. So, they set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and that’s their marketing strategy.

That one tactic is not enough. To be successful in fundraising you have to be able to tell your story comprehensively – through various mediums and formats. This includes attending community meetings, networking, distributing newsletters, etc.

The second reason many faith-based organizations aren’t able to get funding from major sources is they aren’t able to demonstrate their success. Major funders will need to see something more than just a good program. They need to see successful outcomes.

Those outcomes have to be based on more than anecdotal information. Funders want to see the data. Unfortunately, many faith-based organizations are not gathering data in a consistent, effective way. Some aren’t gathering it at all.

Major donors want to be assured they’re investing in a program that will be successful and will yield sustainable outcomes. Sustainable outcomes ensure a positive return on their investment.

The only way to demonstrate sustainable outcomes is to use evidenced-based practices and to consistently track the program’s success.

Super Bowl LI…

How I Turned a Loss into a Lesson About Fundraising

It’s the day after the biggest night in sports and I – like many Falcons fans – woke up devastated. Unless you live on another planet, you know the Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl Championship last night. And by now, you also know my beloved Falcons lost.

falcons

It was such a close game. It was a historical game since it was the first time in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl that the game went into overtime.  Obviously, the fourth quarter of the game was an emotionally charged nail biter to the very end. So, it’s understandable that I would be disappointed by the loss.

But what I woke up wondering is why I couldn’t just let it go. I’m not a player. I wasn’t getting any type of monetary gain if they’d won. I had absolutely no skin in this game. Yet, I woke up feeling like I was mourning the loss of a loved one.

Just as I was beginning to blow it off to being a woman and having intense emotions, I read something that shed some light. In fact, it’s very relevant to nonprofit work and charitable giving. Hence, the reason I’m sharing this blog with you. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d care one way or the other about my grief over this game loss.

It was a quote from a blog by Seth Godin. He wrote about fundraising. He explained his theory of why people give to charity or why we buy into a particular brand. Meaning, why we accept the story the brand tells about the organization.

He said: “We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”

That last sentence stood out to me. “It gives us a chance to love something about OURSELVES.” Now, I get it. I know why I can’t let this go.

You see, the reason I was pulling so hard for the Falcons goes way beyond my love of the game and my respect for the players. I love the story of the Falcons.

They have overcome some rough seasons to get to where they are now. They got a new coach last season, and this year they were the comeback kids. Going into the game everybody saw them as the underdog.

For me, they represented the classic American story of hard work paying off. They have put in the work as a team. The players formed an unbreakable brotherhood. They played better this year than they have in a long time.

I predicted this would be their year because I felt like they’d earned it. The stars were aligned and it was their time.

That’s the parallel of how I see my own story. I have had some rough seasons in life, especially the last couple of years. Last year I moved to Florida to get a fresh start. Things started out a little rocky, but I’m starting to feel like I’m getting some footing.

A victorious end for the Atlanta Falcons, was a premonition of what I believed was to come for me.

But…that didn’t happen!

The stars didn’t align, and despite all of their hard work, they didn’t win the ultimate prize. They didn’t win the championship.

I made the Falcon’s journey all about me. I had my own hopes and dreams wrapped into their journey. A loss for them was a personal loss for me.

Now, let’s look at this from your perspective as a fundraiser. When pursing funds from a donor, most fundraisers tend to get wrapped up in their own passion.

One writer put it this way: “fundraisers universalize their own passion. Because they’re focused on their mission, they think everyone else is focused on their mission.”

Here’s what you’re probably missing. Donors give “through” your organization to achieve their own desires – to fulfill their own aspirations – to live out their own values. Your organization is the means to the donor’s end. (Nonprofit Quarterly)

Here are the key points:

  1. Fundraising and giving isn’t about money.
  2. Identify the donor’s mission and seek to fulfill it, instead of your own.
  3. Figure out how to solve the problem the donor has identified. If it aligns with your mission, you have a winning combination.

If you can stop focusing on what you can get and instead focus your energy on what you can give, your luck will change. You will likely have more success with your donors.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!

 

What to Consider BEFORE Responding to an RFP

When the federal government releases a Request For Proposals (RFP) it can spark a variety of emotions, including excitement, intimidation and fear. Most people get excited about the amount of money available. But, depending on the size of your organization, and your capacity, it can also incite fear.

I want to help you overcome your fear and anxiety, and help you make an informed decision. So, in this week’s video message I discuss some critical things you need to consider before you decide to respond to an RFP.