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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Why Nonprofit Organizations Have Difficulty Attracting and Keeping Volunteers

The primary reason nonprofit organizations often have difficulty recruiting volunteers is that the volunteer duties they are offering are not as interesting to volunteers as watching television.  The New Volunteer Workforce; Stanford Social Innovation Review, previously reported, “Our research shows that the primary difference between volunteers and non-volunteers, when measuring what they do with their time, is the amount of television they watch.  People who do not volunteer watch hundreds of hours of additional TV a year compared to people who do volunteer.  It’s not that people don’t have enough time to volunteer.  People do not volunteer because nonprofits do not provide them with volunteer opportunities that interest them enough to pull them away from their television sets.”

A Volunteer Management Capacity Study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Urban Institute, and the UPS Foundation a few years ago concluded there are five main reasons why, once volunteers are recruited and put to work, they so often do not return.

1.  Not Matching Volunteers’ Skills with Assignments.  Volunteers with valuable and specialized skills are often dispatched to do manual labor rather than tasks that use their professional talents.  The prime goals of corporate volunteer programs, for example, are building teams and increasing morale, which are most easily accomplished by groups of people doing manual labor.  For example, every spring in cities across the country, hundreds of professionals turn out to paint walls and plant flowers at local schools. Although this has its time and place, most community organizations really need an ongoing involvement that taps volunteers’ professional skills rather than a onetime project that uses their manual labor.  Volunteers often don’t get much out of the experience.  Many of these volunteers get an empty feeling when they know that the job they’ve been given is make-work or a photo op.

2.  Failing to Recognize Volunteers’ Contributions.  Nonprofits need to recognize volunteers both through an organizational culture that values them and through specific appreciation ceremonies and events. In their annual reports, most nonprofits list all individual donors categorized by the amount of money they have donated.  Very few nonprofits, however, do the same for people who donate their time.  Naming individual volunteers with the number of hours they have contributed (and perhaps the dollar value) is one way to demonstrate a culture that values volunteers.

3.  Not Measuring the Value of Volunteers.  Most nonprofits do not measure the dollar value that volunteers provide to their organization.  This reflects the lack of seriousness with which many organizations view volunteers and tends to compound the problem.  If nonprofit leaders had hard data demonstrating the value of volunteers, they would be more likely to invest more time and money in developing volunteer talent.

4.  Failing to Train and Invest in Volunteers and Staff.  Volunteers need training to understand the organizations with which they are working, and employees need to be trained to work with volunteers.  Nonprofits rarely invest substantial amounts of time or money in volunteer recruiters and managers.  For example, a youth service organization in Florida reported that at one time it had a busy receptionist managing several hundred volunteers.  Unfortunately, the receptionist model of volunteer management is all too common.  Nationally, one-third of paid nonprofit staff who manage volunteers have never had “any formal training in volunteer administration, such as coursework, workshops, or attendance at conferences that focus on volunteer management.”

5.  Failing to Provide Strong Leadership.  Most nonprofit leaders are simply not taking the time to develop or support volunteer talent adequately—resulting in a poor or bland experience that leads to an unmotivated volunteer who has little reason to return. Most nonprofit leaders do not place a high value on volunteer talent.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$250,000 for an agency that brings hope and healing to residents of West Dallas – for a new football field

$195,000 for an organization that gives youth in the juvenile justice system the skills needed to break the cycle of incarceration and create positive futures – for general operating expenses

$114,000 for an organization that offers an entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs for felons, with proven solutions for preventing recidivism, maximizing self-sufficiency and transforming broken lives – for their workforce training and entrepreneurship development program

$70,000 for an agency that meets the critical needs of homeless children across North Texas – to purchase products for homeless children

$24,000 for a faith-based school – for a new playground for their preschool program

$20,000 for an organization that improves case outcomes for abused and neglected children by enhancing the quality of legal services they receive – for their online center

$15,000 for a medical and dental clinic for low-income families – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an organization that offers programs for abused and neglected children – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for a clinic for children from low-income families – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an agency that empowers women in unexpected pregnancies to make informed choices by providing medical, educational, and emotional support – for their healthy behaviors educational program

$13,500 for an agency that trains and supports adults who fight for a child’s right to be safe – for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principal

murraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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Keys to Effective Nonprofit Organization Websites

Nonprofit organizations tend to have limited budgets and limited involvement from members for planning, designing, and maintaining websites. This often results in a site that doesn’t achieve everything that it could for the organization and the people involved. In recent years there has been an increasing number of organizations that are doing great things with their websites and truly making them valuable and effective.

For your website to be effective and not detract from your marketing and fundraising efforts, there are two very important things to keep in mind.

  1. Make sure the content on your website matches your written materials, including grant requests. Prospective funders often look at your website, and if the content doesn’t match other information they have about your organization, such as number of clients served, programs, staff, etc., your chance of receiving funding will decrease.
  2. If you have “news” on your website, keep it current. If you have a news section and the most recent news posted is three years old, your website will look out of date.

Here are some other keys to an effective nonprofit organization website.

1. Clear Description of the Organization’s Mission/Purpose

Many of the visitors that will be arriving at your website will not be familiar with your organization. Visitors should be able to quickly get an idea of why the organization exists and a basic picture of what it does.

The full mission statement or purpose statement is sometimes part of an About Us page, but first time visitors to the home page should have an idea of why the organization exists without even visiting another page. The About Us page can provide more details, but visitors should not need to navigate through the site in order to understand the basic purpose of the organization.

There are a number of ways to help convey a message of mission or purpose on a home page. In some cases there will be a brief one or two sentence statement that is located in a prominent position. Photos and images can also help to communicate purpose.

2. Concise but Complete Information about the Organization’s Background and Basics

Once new visitors have arrived at your site and quickly determined the mission or purpose of your organization, if it is something that interests them, they may want to find out more details. Providing information about the history of the organization can be a great help for connecting on a deeper level with visitors. You may want to include details about when and why the organization was founded, and by whom. Important dates, milestones, achievements, and evidence of growth and impact should also be included.

3. Clear Idea of the Site’s Visitors and the Organization’s Audience

One of the difficult aspects of working with nonprofit websites is that they can have several different audiences, and the needs of each will vary. For example, one audience will include members, supporters, and volunteers who are all familiar with the organization and use the website to stay up-to-date. Another audience includes individuals who are not familiar with the organization and are being introduced to it through the website. These people will generally be looking for information about what the organization does, why it exists, and hopefully how they can get involved.

A third audience may be the people that are being served by the organization. For example, an organization that helps low-income families with housing may have a website that attracts people who are looking for help from the organization. These people would be most interested in the details of the services that are provided and how they can apply or request assistance.

A nonprofit organization’s website must meet the needs of several different types of people, and all are equally important. The site must provide the necessary information that visitors will need to be able to easily find what they are looking for.

4. Information for Donors

Most nonprofit organizations rely heavily on donations in order to function. A growing number of organizations are accepting donations online, which makes it easy and convenient for donors. Whether or not an organization is accepting online donations, the website should provide relevant information for donors. This may include how they can give, what specific programs or purposes they can give to, fundraising goals and progress, details about how the money is used or handled, and information about tax deductions.

5. Information for Volunteers

In addition to monetary gifts, volunteers who are offering their time and services are also critical to most nonprofits. The website should provide information that tells people how they can get involved, how it will make an impact, and how to express their interest in volunteering.

6. Photos of People Who are Impacted

Visitors like to see pictures of people that are being helped through their donations or volunteer efforts. By including photos of the people who are benefiting from the work of the organization, it will provide a much more personal experience for website visitors. In addition to photos, some organizations include stories or testimonials on their site about the impact that is being made. This is a great way to encourage people to get involved because it is easier to see the results and how it is impacting real people, as opposed to simply seeing statistics.

7. Contact Information

Some website visitors may wish to get in contact with the organization about volunteering, receiving assistance, employment opportunities, donations, or any number of things. The site should at least provide a contact form or email address, and in most cases a phone number and mailing address should also be included.

8. Design that Fits with the Organization’s Culture

Nonprofit organization websites should feature a design that is consistent with the message and culture of the organization, as it will help to communicate with visitors and to brand the organization. In many cases you can tell a lot about an organization’s culture by the style of design. Take for example church websites. Many churches appeal to young adults through a grunge-style design. You would not expect to see this type of design used by a church that has an older audience.

9. Email Newsletter Signup

Regardless of the type of work the organization does, it is important to stay in contact with people who are involved and to keep them up-to-date. Many organizations that have been around for a long time are still spending huge amounts of money each year that could be greatly reduced with better use of email newsletters. The website should offer visitors the option of opting in to receive updates from the organization. In some cases it may be just a single newsletter, and in other cases there may need to be multiple mailing lists for various purposes.

10. News and Events Sections

In order to help visitors to stay up-to-date, to make the website more useful, and to add some dynamic content to the site that is changed frequently, it is good practice to include an event calendar and news items. This way people can check the website to see what is coming up. News items could be displayed through a blog on the organization’s site, or a separate blog could be used for the interaction between the organization and visitors. And be sure to keep the news current.

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Recent grants received by our clients include:

$106,290 for a faith-based school – $70,000 to replace a roof, and $36,290 for tuition assistance

$35,000 for an agency that provides transitional housing and services to homeless families with children in Dallas County – for general operating expenses

$25,000 for a pediatric clinic for children from low-income families – for lab tests and prescription medications

$25,000 for an organization that helps women and girls leave the sex industry and recover from sexual abuse – for teen girls

$25,000 for an agency that develops and grows the reading skills of children in West Dallas ages 3-10 – for a computer lab

$17,000 for a medical and dental clinic for low-income families – $10,000 for a community program for women who are depressed and isolated, $5,000 for general operating expenses, and $2,000 for services to children

$15,000 for a school that develops urban youth through transformative education – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an agency with a variety of program for abused and neglected children – for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principalmurraycovens@northtexasnonprofitresources.org

North Texas Nonprofit Resources

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