Still More Myths About Grant Writing (continued from last blog)

8. Some professional fundraisers can raise grant money “guaranteed.”

Anyone who guarantees that they can obtain grants fr your organization had better be speaking in colloquial terms.  If someone pitches to your organization that they can actually guarantee raising your organization money – be very leery.  While most strong nonprofits have excellent chances at raising grant money – there are no guarantees.  This is why any fundraising process must be long-term.  An organizational investment in the process must be made.

9. Grants are just for start-up nonprofit organizations.

No.  Do not leave potential donations on the table.  If your organization is raising money in many methods but not grant writing, ask yourselves ‘why’ and learn about it.  Consider doing it!  Grant writing’s cost/benefit ratio, when the program is well managed, is excellent.

10. Start-up nonprofit organizations should only try to raise grant donations.

Any support that you raise at this stage of the organization will pay off in spades if you maintain it well – into the organization’s future.  Go from thinking ‘start-up’ to thinking ‘long-term.’  Diversified fundraising provides more safety and security to your organization’s financial future.

11. Public relations isn’t important to our raising grant money.

Control what others are saying about your organization by disseminating your strong track record and successes.  Be sure that your board is telling friends and colleagues why they volunteer with your organization.  Provide clients, constituents, and potential donors with information.  Call the press after a big success or when you launch or break ground on  a new innovative initiative.  Grant donors are just like any other kind of donor.  They invest in successful organizations working for causes that they’re passionate about.  Get the word about your organization out there.

12. We board members and/or I, the executive director, can just take a leadership nonprofit position without being responsible/proactive about learning the latest in nonprofit governance, without understanding my legal and fiscal responsibilities to the organization, and without learning about fundraising and its latest paradigms.

Anyone working for a nonprofit whose leadership acts this way – be warned.  You are not working for a well-run or healthy organization.

13. Nonprofits are meek organizations that are lesser than ‘for-profits,’ provide an opportunity for people to contribute to their community, and hardly receive government oversight.  We can be lax and get away with stuff.

Read the latest press on Congress’ recent initiatives to increase American nonprofits’ reporting to the federal government.  In particular, they want to oversee what percentage of funds raised is going to your mission’s programs, and whether you’re legally and professionally accounting for your receipts and costs.  Meanwhile, donors are smarter and more proactive today.

14. Straying from our mission statement (or the scope of its work) is OK.  Nobody will know or care.  We can still raise donations, including grants.

Nonprofits succeed with community support – not in a vacuum.  Your reputation is everything in fundraising, let alone grant writing.  If you aren’t on your mission statement’s message, why are you still operating?  Either correct the scope of your work, close shop, or reorganize as a new agency with a new mission statement.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$224,000 for a chain of private schools – for renovations of buildings and playgrounds, computer hardware, and tuition assistance

$68,000 for a shelter for children and families affected by homelessness – for general operating expenses

$32,000 for an organization that provides programs for abused and neglected children – for a program that provides temporary shelter for children removed from their homes by CPS

$30,000 for a mental health advocacy agency – for a program that teaches children how to avoid becoming victims of violence

$30,000 for an organization that meets the critical needs of homeless children – for products for homeless children

$25,000 for a domestic violence agency – for general operating expenses

$25,000 for an organization that provides housing for the homeless – $15,000 for general operating expenses and $10,000 for an employment initiative

$20,000 for an agency that empowers inner-city residents to fight crime on the street – for general operating expenses

$12,500 for an organization that provides last wishes and gift for children terminally ill with cancer – for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principalmurraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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More Myths About Grant Writing

1. Our organization needs to just go get a grant or two, and we’ll be set.

Wrong.  Grant writing must be a part of a diversified, long-term, supported fundraising (or development) plan.  For example, your fundraising could include grant writing, an annual appeal, bequest planning, envelopes in your monthly newsletter, a major donor program, and a walk-a-thon special event.  This takes experience, commitment, and work. A new fundraising method often takes two or three years to make money, and it takes a lot of planning. Your fundraising must be ongoing and diversified.

2. Grant donors are just the wealthy giving their money away so that they can feel good.

Wrong.  Today’s grant donors are savvy.  They do not just sign away checks.  They select causes that they are passionate (and informed) about to effect change in our world.  They often research which nonprofit organizations are mission-driven, healthy organizations, successful at their mission statement’, and good to work with.  They often expect reporting, and always program success and results.  Grant donors talk to one another and share information about bad apples.

3. We can just dive in and apply for a grant.

Wrong.  Successfully getting grants takes planning, learning what to do and how to do it well, professional know-how, commitments to the process from leadership and staff, time, research, writing drafts and re-writing, patience, relationship building, communication, public relations, and more.

4. There aren’t any grants out there for our organization.

Probably wrong.  Unless your organization is trying to perform some obscure service, most every cause can gather some support.  If your cause is having a tough time raising support, perhaps you need to develop educational materials about what your organization is doing and how your community can help.

5. Once we receive the grant, we’re ‘home free.’

Wrong.  Seeking grant money is part of a fundraising strategy.  It is not a short-term venture.  No organization dedicated to its mission can do all its cause needs through the funding of one grant.

6. Whether or not we receive a grant depends mostly on how good our grant writer is.

Wrong.  This is a common incorrect assumption.  Raising grant money is a team effort.  A professional grant writer must be reputable, successful, and knowledgeable about potential funders.  They have to be very good at what they do.  But they do not work in a vacuum. Staff, leadership, and even volunteers must be dedicated to the grant writing process, as it often requires proof-reading, fact-checking, research, pulling necessary agency documents, feedback, draft mark-ups, etc.  Also, a grant writer must provide a great grant proposal but the agency’s reputation, track record, relevance, effectiveness at its mission work, financial health, etc., are more important factors to the grant donor.  Grants are awarded based on many attributes, 99% of which are the organization’s – not the grant writer’s.

7. The board does not need to be involved in obtaining grants.

Wrong.  Grantors who choose to meet with perspective grant recipients (some do, some don’t) should be meeting with the highest level representation from your organization, such as board members and the executive director.  This is called peer-to-peer relations.  Treat any potential donor with respect and interest.  This should come from your leadership to demonstrate your care for the relationship with them.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$30,000 for a domestic violence organization – $25,000 for general operating expenses and $5,000 for programs for children

$25,000 for another domestic violence organization – $20,000 for emergency shelter and $5,000 for general operating expenses

$10,000 for a high school for at-risk high students – for general operating expenses

 Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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How to Have Your Grant Proposal Not Funded

Don’t ask for a specific amount of money.

Don’t have a board of directors that consists of a diverse group of professionals.

Don’t have a current budget in a generally accepted format.

Don’t have staff members with appropriate qualifications.

Don’t have measurable objectives.

Don’t collaborate with other organizations.

Don’t have recent, accurate financial statements in a generally accepted format.

Don’t complete a Form 990 for the previous year.

Don’t diversify your funding sources.

Don’t explain how your organization is sustainable.

Don’t give contact information for your organization.

Don’t have current and complete information on your website.

Don’t use clear and concise wording in your proposal.

Don’t adhere to funder’s guidelines.

Don’t require that all board members give dollars to your organization.

Don’t explain why your organization’s services are needed.

Don’t explain how your organization is going to try to resolve the issue you’re trying to address.

Don’t send a thank-you letter for a previous grant received.

Don’t track demographics of your clients – gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic classification.

Don’t have more than three board members.

Don’t ask for funding before the project or program has ended.

Don’t submit your proposal before the deadline.

Don’t submit any required report of spending for a previous grant received.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$37,000 for an organization that provides gifts and wishes for children who are terminally ill with cancer – for general operating expenses

$30,000 for an agency with a mission to prevent homelessness and to stabilize those at risk in decent, affordable, and permanent housing, and to empower them to solve their own housing problems in the future – for general operating expenses

$25,000 for a clinic that provides medical, dental, and behavioral health services to low-income families – for health services to children

$20,000 for an educational and residential program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for a day school for severely developmentally disabled children and adults – for therapy and scholarships

$10,000 for an organization that meets the critical needs of homeless children – to purchase products for homeless children

$10,000 for an agency dedicated to the well-being and education of children from low-income families – $5,000 for a summer reading program and $5,000 for general operating expenses

 

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Evaluating the Success of Your Nonprofit Organization

** NORTH TEXAS NONPROFIT RESOURCES HAS REACHED $50,000,000 IN GRANTS OBTAINED FOR OUR CLIENTS OVER THE PAST 13+ YEARS. **

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Many funders require that you explain in grant proposals how you measure the success of your nonprofit organization.

Which services are producing adequate results? Which are not? Who is being helped by these services? Who is not? Where are improvements needed? Program evaluations can give good, valid answers to these questions. The key question is, “What does your program intend to accomplish?” The answer should be in your mission statement. An evaluation program will tell you what is actually being accomplished, so you can see how your intentions and performance match up.

Evaluation Methods

Here are some ways to evaluate your organization’s program:

1.  Outcome Monitoring is the regular reporting of program results in ways that can be understood and judged. Outcome monitoring keeps those responsible apprised of performance, allows problems to be detected (and corrected) early, provides proof about program effectiveness, and boosts confidence in the organization’s ability to perform.

Since too much data can hide pertinent information, you should monitor only a few key measures that will focus evaluators’ attention on data relevant to program management. These measures should be easy to interpret and tied to performance expectations.

For example, let’s say your organization is concerned with elementary education, and one of your goals is to improve the ability of children to learn a particular type of information. To measure the outcome of your work, you could give the children a test before they start your program, then administer the same test at the end of the program. Comparing the results of the two tests should help you determine if your program is functioning as it should.

2.  Surveys can help you collect statistically reliable data by asking your clients to rate the services they have received. To obtain quality survey results, you must choose your questions carefully, making sure that each one solicits exactly the type of response that will help you evaluate your program.

3.  Benefit-Cost Analysis attempts to assess service programs by determining whether total welfare has increased because of the program. To perform such an analysis, you need to determine the benefits of the program, place a dollar value on each benefit, calculate the total costs of the program, and compare the benefits and the costs.  Usually, the most difficult aspect of this analysis is placing a dollar value on the benefits. For example, what is the dollar value of saving a human life?

Data Collection Methods

Each organization needs to determine what data collection method serves its needs best. After determining what performance you want to measure, select the easiest, most practical data collection method that will provide the information for your evaluation. One or more of the following may be appropriate for your organization.

1.  Use of Technical Equipment: Data collected directly from a physical device or technical equipment. (Example: computer recordings)

2.  Indirect Unobtrusive Measures: Indicators obtained from records kept for other purposes, or from physical traces left by normal activities. (Example: sales records of “heart healthy” foods sold in the cafeteria.)

3.  Direct Observation: Use by a trained observer of specified formats and codes. (Example: street-corner observations of number of drivers wearing seat belts)

4.  Activity or Participation Log: Brief record completed onsite at frequent intervals by participant or deliverer, using format designed by evaluator. (Examples: participant’s sign-in log, daily record of food eaten)

5.  Organizational Records: Data collection forms routinely kept by an organization for purposes other than for the evaluation. (Examples: patient medical records, time sheets of staff members who record amount of time spent on different activities)

6.  Written Questionnaires: Written survey, usually with structured questions, to obtain data by mail or in-person from providers or recipients. (Examples: number of different activities each participant engaged in during an intervention, provider’s assessment of amount of time they spent on each activity)

7.  Telephone or In-Person Interviews: Procedure in which interviewer asks questions directly to providers or recipients, using either structured or open-ended questions. (Example: interviews with participants in a work-training program concerning training activities and their relevance to job aspirations)

8.  Case Studies: Collection of multiple types of data about a site or example entity, usually by an observer who is on site and uses informal observations and interviews, combined with available data and document review. (Example: case studies of states in their process of implementing a program of systemic change in mathematics education)

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$500,000 for a local public theater – for their capital campaign

$75,000 for an organization that helps homeless families achieve self-sufficiency – for housing and supportive services to veterans

$50,000 for an agency focused on feeding kids and fueling futures by providing a much-needed third meal of the day to food-insecure children in Dallas Independent School District – for meals

$27,500 for an educational and residential program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – for general operating expenses

$20,000 for an agency that distributes food to homeless and low-income persons – for general operating expenses

$18,000 for an organization that provides assistance to needy families with children in the last stages of terminal cancer – for general operating expenses

$17,500 for an agency that restores and empowers formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and their children – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an organization that provides shelter and supportive services for children and families affected by homelessness – for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Grant Writing Issues

Although grant applications and procedures are generally self-explanatory, many applicants fail to receive grants simply because they ignore the rules altogether or don’t invest the time and effort to properly and professionally assemble their materials.

Incompatible Match

Although there are numerous grant funding sources available, their common goal is to attract applicants who will develop projects that meet the parameters of a specific interest or social cause endorsed by the funder.  Grant packages are often rejected without review if it’s clearly evident that the applicants are ignorant or indifferent to what those interests or causes are.  For example, a funder that makes grants for senior citizen arts enrichment activities isn’t going to write you a check for your campaign to save lemurs.

Unfocused Concept

If you don’t have a well-defined objective and a detailed breakdown of the steps necessary to achieve it in a timely manner, you might as well be telling prospective funding sources that you want the money “just because.”  Applications are often rejected because the concept is too broad, too narrow, too obscure, or too closely emulates services already being provided within the same community.  If the funder can’t see a substantive and pressing need for a project’s existence, they usually won’t approve the grant.

Insufficient Measurement

When a funder plans to underwrite a new project, it wants a reasonable assurance of its success.  Even though the money isn’t going to be paid back, there still needs to be some sort of validation it was well-spent.  Grant applicants often fall short in this regard by omitting any discussion of a methodology for measuring the results through tools such as surveys, test scores, or comparisons.  For example, an afterschool literacy program is a good idea, but might be rejected if the applicant doesn’t identify how the results will be reflected through reading scores, interviews, or an increased volume of books read.

Unrealistic Expectations

Asking for more money than you really need can be a mistake, especially when the economy is in a belt-tightening mode.  Funders are more likely to reject outright a request for a ridiculously high amount rather than engage in any discussions to whittle it down. Further, if a grant package fails to delineate all of the project’s anticipated expenditures and timelines, and instead proposes a grandiose lump sum and an open-ended calendar for implementation, it may only garner suspicion, not enthusiasm.

Limited Experience

Decision-makers routinely reject grant packages if the applicant seems to lack the required knowledge, skills, and discipline to implement the proposed project.  To that end, a lot of emphasis is often placed on review of bios for key players that will be involved.  Those who have prepared themselves for the upcoming responsibility and put as much care into presenting their credentials as they would for a job resume often have an edge over those who are simply winging it.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$40,000 for a domestic violence organization – for children’s programs

$20,000 for an organization that transforms inmates and executives by unlocking potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring – for their workforce and entrepreneurship education program

$20,000 for a school for high-risk high school students that develops urban youth through transformative education, equipping future leaders to impact their communities – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an organization that changes the educational, emotional, and financial futures of children through creative arts program – for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Grants for General Operating Support

n pursuing general operating support grants, you can improve your chances of success by taking the following actions.

Focus on results.

To persuade a funder to provide operating support, you should explain what they can accomplish with unrestricted funds.  It is not enough to tell funders that your organization will “run more smoothly” with operating support.  Instead, be specific about what the money will accomplish, for example by saying that “client intake time will be reduced from four hours to one hour” or “student retention in programs will increase by 20 percent.”

You should also create an operating plan that covers more than just revenue and expense projections.  The plan should detail short- and long-term measures of success and the steps needed to get there.  This type of document also helps you in discussions with funders that have a business background.  People who have created wealth have often done so in an entrepreneurial way, and they might like to support nonprofit organizations that think and act like them.

Stress the benefits of operating support.

You should tell funders why nonprofit organizations prefer operating support.  Among the reasons they typically offer are:  Such support gives your organization more flexibility to spend money where it is needed most, and it enables you to make your organization stronger by improving governance, administration, or staffing.  It also eases fundraising pressure, which reduces burnout and allows your staff and board to focus on your organization’s mission. Unrestricted support also fosters innovation and risk-taking.

Spell out administrative costs.

You might be able to do a better job of getting at least some operating costs covered by grants, including a portion of administrative and other general costs, in your grant proposals for specific projects.  Nonprofits can be their own worst enemy in the conversation about operating support because they don’t fully account for the cost of running a program in the grants they write.  Too frequently, new program grants end up hollowing out a nonprofit’s capacity because the programs require more money to run than the amount they receive.

Don’t compromise.

Too often nonprofit organizations meekly accept whatever a funder gives them, even if it doesn’t match their needs.  For example, if you determine that it will cost $1,000 per client to accomplish a specific goal, and the funder says that it believes the same result can be obtained with $500 per client, you will often accept the grant and try to figure out a way to retool the program.  Instead, you need to go back and tell the funder you need to adjust your outcomes.

You can challenge the implicit assumption at some funders that people who want to do good for others should be willing to go without reasonable salaries or adequate office space. Accepting the status quo drives skilled staff away and hurts organizations.  This is not about proving sainthood.  The question is – How do you build a nonprofit organization that can consistently provide services?

Seek multiple donors.

Because so many funders want you to show that your organization won’t become totally dependent on general operating support grants, you should pursue unrestricted donations from as many funders as possible.

Be persistent.

Keep applying, even after multiple rejections.  Funders sometimes approve grant requests on your organization’s fifth, sixth, or seventh attempt.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$25,000 for a clinic for low-income families – for medical and dental services to children

$15,000 for an agency that provides services for abused and neglected children – for a program that provides basic needs for children who have just been removed from their home because of abuse or neglect

$15,000 for a residential program for women recovering from substance addiction – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for a mental health advocacy organization – $10,000 for a new phone system and $5,000 for a program that teaches children how to avoid becoming abuse victims

 

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Don’t Take It Personally When Your Grant Request Is Denied

The typical reaction when a nonprofit organization has had a grant request denied is to wonder “Why did they turn us down?”

A more appropriate reaction would be to wonder “Who did they fund instead of us?”

Most funders, especially larger ones, decide in advance of each funding cycle how much they are going to distribute in grants for that cycle.  Most funders receive requests from qualified applicants for far more funding than they have available.  Qualified applicants are usually not “rejected” for funding.  Rather, other qualified applicants are selected instead.

Hypothetically, if your grant request was “denied,” and you were then given the opportunity to review the listing of approved grants by the funder and decide which one should be denied and yours funded instead, which one of the below programs would you choose to not be funded?

– basic needs for abused and neglected children in temporary shelter

– healthcare for low-income, uninsured families who would otherwise receive no basic healthcare

– food for homeless and very low-income families who would otherwise have little or nothing to eat

– mental health services for very low-income individuals with no where else to turn since state funding for such services has been greatly decreased

This is typical of the choice that many funders have to make.  As critical as the needs of your clients might be, there are likely other applicants with clients in equal or greater need.

Your grant request might have been denied because your organization’s mission is not a match for the funder’s focus areas, you requested too much more or less than the funder usually grants, you missed the deadline, you didn’t provide all required documents, you didn’t provide all required information in your proposal, or your proposal was poorly written.  But most grant requests are denied not for any of the above reasons, but because funding is limited and needs are great and there is just not enough funding available to meet all needs.

If a funder made a grant to your organization last year, or maybe for the last two or three years, and this time they do not approve your request, it’s likely not because of anything you did wrong.  It’s likely because the funder decided to spread their funding around and not fund the same organizations as last time.  All funding sources come to an end eventually, which is why you need to constantly be applying to new sources.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$30,000 for an agency that has several programs for abused and neglected children – for a program that provides critically needed items for children who just that day have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services

$30,000 for an organization that provides mental health and social services to refugees and asylum seekers who have suffered torture and trauma before fleeing their countries – for their program for children

$15,000 for an agency that meets the critical needs of homeless children across North Texas – for products for homeless children
murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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How To Have An Excellent Board of Directors

A good nonprofit board of directors doesn’t just happen.  It must be worked on.  If you want to have an effective board of directors for your nonprofit organization, you should take these factors into consideration.

Size

The number of board members should be not to big, not too small, but just right.  What is “just right?”  That depends partially on the functions of the board.  Larger boards, composed of 15 or more members, are useful when fundraising (or donating) is one of the main functions of the board, and/or many subcommittees will be necessary for the board to fulfill all its roles.  Smaller boards can operate more informally and possibly make decisions more quickly.  A small dysfunctional board, however, can be harder pressed to be decisive than a well-run large board.

Diversity

A diverse group of people is more likely to consider various perspectives on a problem or opportunity, and more likely to come up with creative solutions.  Ethnic diversity is critical – the board of directors should look as much like the client population or the population of the surrounding area as possible.  Diversity of expertise is also important.  For example, you don’t want everyone on your free clinic’s board of directors to be a doctor.  Nurses, social workers, accountants, and lay people can all strengthen the board.  Here are some common types of knowledge and abilities you should look for from different board candidates:

  • Expertise in the subject matter relevant to your nonprofit organization
  • A solid financial background
  • Experience in fundraising, or the ability to tap into high-dollar donors
  • Knowledge of program evaluation

Finding Candidates

The executive director, other key staff, and members of the current board should get together to identify people who can strengthen the board.  To save time for more pressing board matters at regular meetings, a subcommittee responsible for board recruitment can be formed.  Of course, the entire board votes on new members, but the subcommittee can make a list of potential candidates, approach them, interview them, and present their findings to the board.

Interview for Fit

Once potential board members have been identified and approached, the next step is to interview them.  You should look for explicit assurance regarding the amount of time they are willing and able to commit, an understanding of and commitment to the mission of your organization, the ability to feel comfortable speaking up and the ability to listen to other’s opinions, and the capacity to disagree with a board decision but to support the decision and organization once the vote has been cast.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$1,192,500 for an organization focused on feeding kids and fueling futures by providing a much-needed third meal of the day to food-insecure children in Dallas Independent School District – for their “Feed the Need” after school program

$195,000 for an organization that transforms inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring – for entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs

$97,000 for an agency that restores and empowers formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and their children – for operating expenses

$42,600 for an organization that provides therapeutic recreational programs for physically disabled persons – for a new docking system for water sports activities

$40,000 for a school for severely developmentally disabled children – for scholarships

$15,000 for a domestic violence agency – for operating expenses

$15,000 for an organization that empowers pregnant women to make informed choices by providing medical, educational, and emotional support – for operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Why People Ignore Your Newsletter

Most donor newsletters suffer from at least one of the following flaws.  Many suffer from all seven.

Flaw #1
Your newsletter fails the “you” test.  A good donor newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone.  If you instead use an institutional voice, you distance yourself from your readers.

Flaw #2
Your newsletter skimps on emotional triggers.  You know that charity starts when you move a heart.  In a donor newsletter, tugging the heartstrings is a full-time job.

Flaw #3

You claim it’s a newsletter (i.e., a bearer of news), but it’s really just an excuse to say hi. Here’s a clue – You devote your front page to a ponderous letter “from the desk of” an ED or board chair.  A newsletter with no news value is a waste of time and money.  And donors are quite demanding – they want very specific kinds of news. Their interest in your organization can quickly wane if you fail to deliver.

Flaw #4
Your newsletter is not “donor-centered.”  It does not make the donor feel needed or wanted.  Donors don’t give to your organization.  They give through your organization, in an effort to change the world.  You have to give the donor credit as well as thanks.

Flaw #5
Your newsletter is not set up for rapid skimming and browsing.  On the contrary, you assume people will read long articles.  The harsh truth is that most of your audience won’t have time to give your newsletter more than a glance.  If you bury important information in long articles, most people will miss it.

Flaw #6
Your newsletter depends too much on statistics (leave those for grant proposals), and too little on anecdotes, to make your case.

And Flaw #7 – The Most Important
Your newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines.  Headlines have a function – to summarize the key points of the story.  Most donor newsletters fail at that task.

When people first encounter a publication, they browse, deciding what, if anything, is worth their time.  They do not dive right in.  They look at all the stuff that’s easiest to spot and read.  Pictures.  Bigger, bolder type.  Headlines and photos (or illustrations) are the most important, since they visually dominate a page.  Also important – subheadings, lead paragraphs, captions, pull quotes, and bullet lists.  Not so important – the articles beneath the headlines.

Being the third or subsequent paragraph in an article is lonely.  Few people visit.  Readers don’t have the time.  Or their interest remains unaroused.

Novice writers labor for hours to get a newsletter article “word perfect.”  Then they toss off a headline in a couple of minutes.  You would be far better off if you reversed that habit.  Spend hours writing a great headline (and subheading, if appropriate).  Spend a few minutes writing the article.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$20,000 for a clinic that provides medical and dental services to low-income families – for medical and dental services for children

$18,500 for an organization that provides life-skills camps for children with diabetes – for scholarships for children from families that cannot afford the full tuition

$15,000 for an organization that facilitates healing, eases transition into new beginnings, and fosters hope in survivors of torture – for supportive services

$12,000 for an agency that provides services to abused and neglected children – for general operating expenses

$10,000 for a domestic violence agency – for their emergency shelter program

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Diversify Your Funding Sources

Cash revenue streams for nonprofit organizations include, among others:

  • Individuals (this represents 75% of charitable giving in the U.S.)
  • Foundation and corporate grants
  • Government grants (federal, state, and local)
  • Community/civic groups
  • Churches
  • United Way
  • Fundraising events
  • Fees for service (from clients)
  • Government contracts
  • Insurance reimbursement (for healthcare services)
  • Membership fees

Just because your organization has gotten by for many years with limited revenue streams, or even a limited number of donors, does not mean it will continue forever.

Consider the example of “Happy Days Center for the Disabled,” a fictitious nonprofit organization similar to countless real nonprofit organizations.  Happy Days has been in business for 30 years and has received most of its support from a state grant.  Unfortunately, the state cut its budget in half last year, and now Happy Days must also cut its budget in half since it has no other source of revenue or fundraising.  Had the organization had the foresight to do fundraising many years ago while times were better, there might be funding from any number of possible sources, and cutting programs might not be an issue right now.

We received a phone call awhile back from an organization in Dallas with a $9 million annual budget, and $8 million of the budget had been provided annually from one very generous donor for many years.  And that donor had just given the organization one year’s notice that they were completely stopping their funding.  Not long ago there was a local newspaper story about a small nonprofit organization in Dallas that had been totally funded by one donor for several years, and that donor had just pulled their funding without advance notice.

You have to constantly be seeking new revenue streams in case other types of funding dry up.  You can’t just rest on your laurels.

An important source of potential new revenues for many organizations is the people you serve – your clients.  For a long time many nonprofit organizations proudly proclaimed that their services were provided free of charge to everyone who qualified to receive services.  But the world has changed and other revenue streams have been reduced, and everyone receiving services should pay what they can possibly afford – even as little as $1 per service if that’s all they can pay, as is done at one local nonprofit organization.  If your organization charges a fee, it should be less than a for-profit business would charge for the same or a similar service.

Rather than charge a fee, some nonprofits have “voluntary” donations, meaning you suggest that a client can help you provide services by giving a donation.  One way to do this is to post a fee schedule that provides information such as how much your service actually costs to provide, and inviting users to donate an amount of their choosing.  There is some evidence that people, even when financially challenged, like to donate something rather than just receive a “handout.”  Whether you invite donations from clients will depend greatly on the nature of your organization and the service you provide.  A soup kitchen that provides food to the homeless is not a very appropriate place to ask for donations.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$40,000 for an agency that meets the critical needs of homeless children across North Texas – for products for homeless children

$40,000 for an agency that provides a food pantry for low-income and homeless persons – for general operating expenses

$38,500 for an organization that provides needy families with children in the last stages of terminal cancer assistance in creating “Everlasting Memories” – for gifts and last wishes for terminally ill children

$33,500 for a faith-based school – for a program for children with dyslexia

$24,500 for a domestic violence agency – $12,500 for their emergency safe shelter, and $12,000 for services to children

$20,000 for an organization with a mission to prevent homelessness and to stabilize those at risk in decent, affordable, and permanent housing – for services to children

$18,500 for an agency that has programs for abused and neglected children – $13,500 for general operating expenses and $5,000 for critically needed items for abused children who have just been removed from their homes

$15,000 for an agency that improve case outcomes for abused and neglected children by enhancing the quality of legal services they receive – $15,000 for their online center operations in Tarrant County

$15,000 for a school for severely developmentally disabled children – $10,000 for therapy, and $5,000 for scholarships

$15,000 for an organization that provides therapeutic recreational programs for physically disabled persons – for programs for children

$10,000 for an organization that cares for seniors – for their program for seniors with financial needs

$10,000 for a clinic for low-income families – for general operating expenses

$10,000 for an agency that provides residential recovery services to women battling substance addiction – for general operating expenses

$10,000 for an organization that provides mental health services to veterans and first responders – for general operating expenses

Murray Covensmurraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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