Introducing Elevates New Client Partnerships Department

July 12, 2022

Last month, I joined Elevate’s executive team in the newly created role of Vice President of New Client Partnerships. In this new position, I am responsible for stewarding strong relationships between Elevate and new clients at the earliest stages of the client journey – from when you first attend an Elevate webinar or hear about us from a colleague, through your orientation and onboarding as a new Elevate partner.

While new to this position, I’ve worked here at Elevate for years. I started in May 2016 as a team Director, and since then I have consulted directly with dozens of nonprofits to establish and grow their grants programs. In 2018, my role expanded to include supervising many of our superstar consultants and stewarding new business for Elevate. This next step in my path at Elevate feels in some way like a natural next step – and in other ways, like a big leap!

I never saw myself in a “marketing” or “sales” role. My dad actually had a long career as a salesperson, and I always wondered how such a creative, interesting, and progressive-minded person as he was could enjoy sales so much. He told me that he felt lucky to have found a company he cared about, that delivered a product that society needed, and that cared deeply for its employees and customers. I don’t remember my reaction, but I am sure it was something along the lines of a huge eye roll.

Now I get it – Dad was right! And I’ve carved a similar space for myself here at Elevate, a company full of smart, creative people that provides an important service to the impactful nonprofits we are fortunate to call our clients. As the Vice President of New Client Partnerships, I look forward to continuing to expand Elevate’s portfolio of nonprofit partners doing the hard work of social change – and matching those organizations with an Elevate service that helps them achieve their goals. 

Client referrals are key to our success 

Since Elevate was founded in 2013, we have experienced steady growth, largely through word-of-mouth. After we engage with an organization and build an effective partnership that strengthens their grants program, they mention Elevate to their colleagues at other organizations in need of grant writing strategy and capacity. 

This referral-based growth has worked well for Elevate so far. We have partnered with hundreds of organizations to secure the funding they need to do their important work to house families, advocate for reproductive justice, educate young people, mitigate climate change, provide mental health services, and much more. 

Continued growth through Expertise and Trust 

As I build our New Client Partnerships department, I aim to embrace and build upon what works. What has allowed Elevate to grow sustainably, work with impactful organizations, provide a needed service to the nonprofit sector, and hire amazing and talented staff across the country? It all comes back to two intersectional themes: Expertise and Trust. 

Elevate employs arguably the most talented group of grant professionals in the country. Our bench is deep, and it includes career fundraisers, nonprofit wonks, academics, educators, social workers, lawyers, artists, published authors, business leaders, policy experts, and social justice warriors. Our staff have worked inside of nonprofits large and small, secured grants from nearly every major foundation in the U.S., and know the ins and outs of every application portal in use today. 

Furthermore, our effective Comprehensive Grant Writing Services model allows our clients to tap into just the right amount of this expertise across the members of their team, each of whom specializes in strategy, writing, or project management. 

So, yes, Elevate brings deep expertise in grant writing and strategy to our work with clients. But this means very little without our clients’ trust, the other key element of our success. Your grants program is absolutely critical to your organization’s success in achieving its mission. So earning your trust to guide this crucial element of your work is paramount. 

How do we earn this trust? First, Elevate deeply cares about our clients’ work. We believe in the power of nonprofits to change the world, and we come to work every day with the aim of supporting each client to present the strongest possible case for support to the funders most likely to invest in their work. We ask questions, read your materials, attend your events, get to know your staff and stakeholders, and absorb your voice and vision. 

Second, we do what we say we will do. Elevate’s model and systems are set up to ensure that your grants are submitted with care, on time, and adhering to the guidelines of each funder. We keep our promises, stick to schedules, and share tools and systems to keep your grants program on track. 

And third, we leverage our expertise to earn your trust. We deliver well-researched prospects, well-argued proposals, and thoughtful, strategic advice. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. We deliver results that increase your grant revenues, expand your programs, and increase your impact in the community. 

Your trusted partner for fundraising expertise 

So, what can you expect from Elevate’s new New Client Partnerships department? We will lean into the themes of Expertise and Trust. You’ll see more content highlighting our work with clients and the expertise of our staff, more tools – resources, webinars, blogs, and more – that give folks a taste of what it’s like to work with Elevate, and more opportunities to hear from Elevate staff and clients about our work. 

Finally, I want to offer my deep appreciation for those who have told a colleague about Elevate, engaged us a second (or third!) time when taking a new position at a different organization, or shared one of our social media posts with their networks. There is no bigger compliment that you can give us than to refer our services to another organization – thank you! 

 

August 10, 2020

In our first post in this Getting Hired series, we shared guidance around how to put your best foot forward when it comes to your resume and cover letter. But what happens once you actually land an interview?

First, congratulations! Getting an interview is an accomplishment worth celebrating. But of course, the work doesn’t stop there. Whether you’re interviewing for a position at Elevate or another mission-driven organization, being well-prepared for an interview can significantly increase your chances of advancing to the next round and ultimately, getting the job.

While the interview process might feel drastically different right now in the era of COVID-19 and social-distancing, there are steps you can take to help ensure you make a strong impression — even if you aren’t able to meet with your interviewers in-person.  

Below are some recommendations from the Elevate Personnel team, after conducting many virtual interviews over the years.

Be Prepared, and Do Your Homework

It’s important to be in the frame of mind that this is a real, professional interview — even if it’s being conducted virtually while you’re sitting at your kitchen table. Think about what you can do to adopt this mindset, and show up with the same energy, polish, and demeanor that would bring to an in-person interview. A few specific preparation steps we recommend taking include:

  • Re-familiarize yourself with the position description, as well as the listed qualifications. The more you understand what they’re looking for, the better you’ll be able to speak to those things and highlight your related skills and accomplishments during your interview. 
  • If possible, find out how long the interview is scheduled to last, and plan accordingly. This could mean blocking off that time on your calendar, making sure you have access to a quiet space in your home for that window of time without interruption, and mentally preparing for the amount of time you’ll be ‘on.’  
  • Come up with a handful of anecdotes, stories, or accomplishments that highlight your strengths and skills — especially ones that relate closely to the position. Having these in your back pocket (or even just off-screen, where you can glance at them!) can help keep your mind from going blank if a question catches you off-guard. 
  • Prepare and practice a short answer to the classic “Tell us about yourself” question. It shouldn’t be too long, nor should it simply be a regurgitation of your resume. Think about how to concisely tell your story in a way that aligns your skills and experience with the position. 
  • Have a list of questions prepared that you’d like to ask your interviewer(s). This is a great opportunity to gain insight in the culture, the team, and the organization, so don’t let it go to waste!
Consider Your On-Screen Setup 

Particularly in this new era when virtual interviews are becoming more common, there are some extra tech considerations we recommend planning for as you’re getting your space set up:

  • Take some time in advance to find or set up a backdrop in your home where you’re well lit. Depending on your specific situation and if you’re using an app that offers this option, you might also choose to use a virtual backdrop instead. If you go this route just be sure to test it out ahead of time to make sure it’s working well, and avoid wearing any colors or patterns that may interfere with the backdrop display. 
  • Have a plan for how you’ll position your computer or laptop, to make sure you’re well-centered in the frame. You may need to adjust the height of your camera by using a laptop stand, a box, or a stack of books. Try out some options with what you have available, and find what works.
  • Give yourself time to test your internet connection and sound quality in advance, to make sure things are working properly.
  • When it’s time for the interview, close out of as many applications as possible on your computer. You may decide to keep a few windows open for reference, like your resume or a few notes to reference discretely — just be careful that you don’t lose focus or appear distracted.
Make a Personal Connection 

We like to say that a good interview is a conversation — one in which no one person is dominating the conversation, but instead there’s a natural exchange. Here are a few tips to help you make a personal connection and keep the conversation going:

  • Don’t just recite what’s on your resume. Instead, think of your interview as an opportunity to fill in those gaps and paint a fuller picture, using relevant stories and examples.
  • Make sure you have a few key anecdotes up your sleeve that speak to the nature of the position you’re applying for. As you’re preparing these anecdotes ahead of time, try to compile a range of varied examples that showcase different strengths and facets of your personality, so you’re not telling the same story repeatedly.
  • This one might go without saying, but don’t ever speak poorly about your previous employers in an interview. (This can be especially true in DC, where you never know who knows who.)  

NEW! As you’ll see below,
we’ve added a new section with our
favorite COVID-19 tools and resources.

January 31, 2020

It’s never a bad idea (or a bad time!) to revisit your routines, tools, and systems with fresh eyes.

At Elevate, we lean on a variety of apps, tools, and resources in our daily work with our nonprofit clients. From project management, to digital file storage, to sources of growth and learning, we’ve spent years experimenting with different tools and systems to find what works best for us. The tools we use may or may not make sense for your organization—after all, putting together your own suite of go-to resources will depend on your specific organizational needs and circumstances. Still, we believe there are certain systems and every successful organization should have in place to help increase efficiency, effectiveness, and ease of information sharing.

As you revisit your own list of tools and systems that you lean on regularly in your job, below are some of our favorites that we use year-round to keep us organized, well-informed, and effective in our work. We’ve also thrown in some entertaining and educational resources that our staff enjoy and value, to round out the list. We hope you enjoy!

NEW! COVID-19 Resources

Nonprofits and small business like ours are feeling the effects of COVID-19, and our efforts to adapt to this new reality are ongoing. In addition to publishing our own fundraising guidance, resources, and emergency preparedness best practices to support the nonprofit sector, we also look to several of our partner and peer organizations that have shared helpful resources as well. To name a few:

  • The Center for Nonprofit Advancement has shared a compilation of Coronavirus Resource Tools on their website, which they regularly updated with new information, upcoming (and recordings of past) webinars, and other helpful tools for nonprofits.
  • Our friends at 20 Degrees have put together an exhaustive suite of ready-to-use tools that nonprofit leaders can use to plan, pivot, and manage through the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Nonprofit HR’s Coronavirus Digital Information Portal contains town hall recordings and other resources to support the talent management needs of social impact organizations, during the pandemic and beyond.
  • The Management Center has shared tools, articles, and templates to support leaders managing through these tough times, via their list of COVID-19 Resources.
  • The DC Bar Pro Bono Center regularly offers training sessions for nonprofit leaders and small business owners that address legal issues affecting the operation of their organizations — several of which have focused on COVID-19.

Productivity, Organization, and Project Management Tools

Every organization needs systems in place that make it easy to perform basic business functions — things like managing deadlines, keeping track of tasks (and assign them to others), accessing shared files and information, and retrieving this information quickly. A few of our favorite tools in this category:

  • Salesforce is our Customer Relationships Management (CRM) system where we manage all kinds of data related to clients, funder deadlines, and business operations. Other nonprofit-friendly options include The Raiser’s Edge, and DonorPerfect.
  • Our teams use Asana on a daily (if not hourly) basis for all things project management. We use it to track internal deadlines, and assign tasks related to all the grants and projects we’re working on for our clients. Other options to consider include Trello, Basecamp, or Podio.
  • We use Dropbox for digital file storage, which helps us collaborate easily on drafts and ensure everyone has access to the most up-to-date versions of shared files. Other options include Box, One Drive, and Google Drive.
  • We use LastPass to securely store and share passwords for grant portals and other websites that require a login.
  • Our whole team uses Harvest for time-tracking.

Research Tools

Part of the work Elevate does for our Comprehensive Grant Writing Services clients involves prospect research, which means we’re constantly researching funders. We regularly use a few great tools for this, many of which require a paid subscription. Our favorites include:

  • Foundation Directory Online by Candid (formerly Foundation Center and Guidestar) is an exhaustive database that contains in-depth profiles of grantmakers including 990s, recent grantees, and more. 
  • GrantFinder from Inside Philanthropy is another valuable database with information on thousands of foundations and major donors. (Inside Philanthropy is also a valuable source for philanthropic news.)

Business and Operations Tools

Our Operations and Finance teams work hard behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly at Elevate. A few of the resources that help them do so are listed below.

  • Your Part Time Controller (YPTC) provides accounting, bookkeeping, and financial reporting services to nonprofits. 
  • We also use Bill.com to send and track bills and invoices.
  • We‘ve also worked with Labyrinth to take care of our required charity state registrations. (Charitable solicitation registration is currently required in 40 states, to solicit contributions legally!)
  • Members of our leadership team have attended several events hosted by the DC Bar Probono Center, which provides legal assistance to DC’s small businesses community. Their Nonprofit Legal Assistance Program also provides legal assistance to the District’s community-based nonprofit organizations — including legal clinics, trainings, and other free resources.

Philanthropy- and Fundraising-Focused Newsletters 

Our staff subscribe to a wide variety of philanthropic newsletters — many of which are focused on specific geographic and/or issue areas. Below are a few team favorites, though we recommend doing some research to find relevant publications in your niche as well.

  • GrantStation Insider is a weekly email newsletter featuring the latest information on grantmakers, upcoming grant deadlines, and news for the serious grantseeker.
  • Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Weekly WRAG is a weekly newsletter that provides updates about events, philanthropic news, and nonprofit job postings in the Washington, DC region.
  • Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) is an award-winning magazine and website written by and for social change leaders from around the world, that covers cross-sector solutions to global problems. In addition to a paid subscription, they also offer a free weekly newsletter 

Other 

Below are a handful of other publications and resources we look to, to keep us well-informed, entertained, and getting better at everything, all the time

  • Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a great resource for new ideas and classic advice on strategy, innovation, and leadership for global leaders, from the world’s best business and management experts. They offer several email newsletters, each of which focus on a specific field or topic, plus our team loves their Dear HBR and Women at Work podcasts!
  • Gallup is a leading provider of data and insights on the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students, and citizens. They use analytics and advice to provide leaders with a road map for understanding and unlocking the full potential of individuals, teams and organizations.
  • Several members of the Elevate team have attended valuable trainings at The Management Center in DC, which works to help leaders working for social change build and run more effective organizations.

Remember — for any of these categories, there’s no right or wrong tool! Processes are much more important than the tools themselves, so don’t get bogged down in the details. What matters is that you know your organizational priorities and limitations, and you keep them in mind as you evaluate your options and ultimately choose what works best for you and your team.

October 21, 2019

At Elevate, we’re always looking for talented, motivated and collaborative people to join our team. We hire most of our positions on a rolling basis, which means we’re looking at cover letters, resumes, and work products on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Whether you’re applying for a position at Elevate, or another mission-driven organization, it’s important to put your best foot forward — which starts with your application materials.

From typos and poor formatting, to boilerplate resumes and cover letters that mention the wrong company name, there are plenty of chances to make a silly mistake and potentially cost yourself an interview!

To help, we’re sharing our best advice — compiled after reviewing hundreds of applications over the years. The five tips below will help you emphasize your strengths, avoid common pitfalls, and submit an application that increases your chances of standing out for the right reasons.

Tailor your materials to the organization and the position

As a grant writing firm,  tailoring standard grant language to each specific funder is key to a strong grant. Similarly, a cover letter that’s tailored to Elevate and the specific position to which you are applying is key to any applicant’s success. 

Your job as an applicant is to make the strongest possible case for why YOU are the ideal candidate for this specific position. As such, tailoring your materials to the specific role you are applying for is a must. Some hiring teams may place more emphasis on reading cover letters, while others focus more on resumes; you likely won’t know up front which type of company you are applying to, so it’s best to spend time customizing both.

The best candidates will highlight the direct experience that relates to the position, no matter how small. Make sure the reader knows that you understand the role and have experience that will translate into your new job.  For Elevate, we look for candidates at all levels with a strong writing background, as well as those with nonprofit experience – even volunteer or classwork can demonstrate the kind of relevant experience we like to see. Make sure you include it!

Make every word count

Words matter! That is particularly true if you’re applying for a job at Elevate, where we’re a team of professional writers. Keep these guidelines in mind, to ensure your materials are top-notch:

  • A job description is full of helpful hints to create a strong application. Look for the skills, duties, and requirements listed in the job posting, and make sure you align your skills and experiences to match.
  • Just like a grant proposal, your cover letter should tell a compelling story. Remember to be concise, and avoid getting too far into the weeds.
  • Focus on results, impact and outcomes. Don’t just list your job descriptions, activities, or extracurriculars; demonstrate how those experiences translate to this specific job, and why they make you uniquely qualified for the position.
  • Be selective about which software, platforms, and technical skills you include. For example, Elevate uses Salesforce heavily, so we’re always interested in knowing when candidates have Salesforce experience. On the other hand, unless it’s relevant to the position, you likely don’t need to include your social media handles, experience with Microsoft Office or Gmail, etc.
  • Enumerate! Use numbers and metrics to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your experience:
    • How many people did you manage?
    • How often did you deliver a report?
    • What were you the first to accomplish?
    • How large was the budget you managed?
    • How much have you won in grants?
  • Make sure your resume length is appropriate, given your tenure in the workforce. For example, a recent college graduate should not submit a multi-page resume.
  • Space is at a premium, so aim for maximum impact. Avoid repetition, passive voice, and long lists; instead, use action words and persuasive argumentation to demonstrate your value and accomplishments. There are plenty of online resources available to help with this!
Highlight what’s important

Use the hierarchy of a resume to your advantage to highlight the most pertinent information. For example, unless you’re still in school, your Professional Experience section should be listed above your Educational Experience. Also, unless your GPA is outstanding, or the company has asked for it, don’t bother including it. And if you’ve been out of school for a year or more, don’t list your GPA at all. 

If you don’t have the exact type of experience listed in the position description, draw attention to the relevant experience you DO have, and make a strong case for how it would serve you in this role. Don’t make the hiring team connect those dots – paint the picture for them. For example, what skills did you develop as a writer or editor at a college publication that would make you a strong grant writer?

Think like a hiring manager

A recent study from TheLadders shows that recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing each resume. That’s a very small window in which to make a strong impression! At Elevate, we review all cover letters and resumes in house – but there are a few things that jump out right away to demonstrate your interest in Elevate, not just any job. Things like:

  • Did the applicant read the directions? For example, we specifically ask applicants to tell us why they want to work at Elevate. If a candidate’s cover letter doesn’t even mention Elevate, it notes a lack of attention to detail.
  • Does the applicant understand and demonstrate the skills that tie to position we are hiring? The original job post will provide that roadmap!
  • Did they complete the application?  We ask for both a resume and a cover letter – make sure you provide exactly what has been requested.
Don’t skimp on the finishing touches

Make sure your cover letter and resume are saved in PDF form, and give everything a final review before you hit submit. (You would be amazed how many documents we receive with comments or edits in the margins.) Similarly, demonstrate your attention to detail by double-checking things like the date on your cover letter, and making sure you don’t have one stray bullet point on its own page. These seem like small things, but they could be a deal breaker for some reviewers. 

Once you submit an application be ready for the next steps. For example, make sure you have a professional sounding outgoing voicemail for calls from hiring managers. Be prepared to interview in person on short notice. Watch you email (including your spam inbox) for follow-up – which may include tests or skill assessments.

We hope these tips and tricks serve you well in your job search, no matter what jobs you apply for. And, if you’re the kind of person who loves working hard for social change, and you have experience in fundraising, grant writing, consulting, project management and/or other nonprofit work, we’d love to hear from you!


Keep an eye out for part two of this series, for tips on how to prepare for an interview and make the strongest possible impression during the next step of the hiring process.

Photo courtesy of wocintechchat.com

July 29, 2019

At Elevate, Authenticity and Acceptance is one of our core company values, and part of living up to that value involves communicating honestly with our clients and with each other. But speaking up and communicating candidly requires skill.

According to a 2017 report on The State of Miscommunication by Quantum Workplace and Fierce Inc., only 52% of employees surveyed said that they always or almost always speak their minds when discussing work-related topics with their immediate supervisor; even fewer (just 47.5%) reported always or almost always speaking their minds when talking to their colleagues.

These numbers aren’t shocking, when you consider all that’s at play — and at stake! — when it comes to speaking up in a professional setting. Whether you’re reviewing tasks and deadlines with your manager, brainstorming ideas with your team, delivering feedback to a direct report, or weighing your concerns about a workplace issue, candor inherently involves risk.

WEIGHING THE COST OF SILENCE

It’s logical, then, that so many of us often mitigate that risk by choosing the path of least resistance. We either stay silent about our concerns, agree to take on more than our bandwidth allows, or simply go with the flow when the group is moving in a different direction.

The problem is, we often fail to consider the costs of silence.

  • When we agree to take on extra work without sharing that we already feel overstretched, we risk failing to deliver on our promises.
  • When we decide to stay quiet about a workplace concern, we risk missing an opportunity to have an important conversation that others secretly want to have, too.
  • When we fail to deliver constructive feedback because it’s too uncomfortable, we rob a colleague of their opportunity to learn and grow.
CLEAR, THOUGHTFUL COMMUNICATION IS POWERFUL

Thankfully, there are skills you can build to help you speak up and communicate candidly — and candid conversations don’t have to be fraught! In fact, when done thoughtfully, having these types of conversations more often at work helps increase productivity, build trust among colleagues, and enhance team performance.

The four tips below will help you speak up about important subjects in a way that’s both honest and clear, while still keeping things positive and setting a collaborative tone.

1. SAY WHAT YOU MEAN
  • Use clear, direct language. This one seems obvious, and yet so many of us try to pad our message with things like apologies, over-explaining, or the dreaded ‘compliment sandwich.’ It may feel like you’re being helpful, when in fact you’re probably just creating more confusion. As they say in journalism, don’t bury the lede. Lead with your point, be clear, and resist the urge to dance around it.
  • Take responsibility for what you’re trying to say. Don’t be vague, and rely on the other person(s) to connect the dots for you. Be as clear as possible, and take full ownership of whatever it is you want to convey.
2. SET A COLLABORATIVE TONE
  • Ask questions. Before you dismiss or object to someone else’s idea directly, ask clarifying questions. Not only does this help you gather as much information as possible, it also demonstrates a willingness to engage with and fully understand their ideas.
  • Look for opportunities to respond with “and” instead of “but.” To be clear, I’m not saying that dissent is off the table! The main takeaway here is that using “and…” sets an amicable tone by showing respect for the other person’s point of view, even if you disagree. It sets the stage for a more productive dialogue, stronger collaboration, and better outcomes. For example: “I like that idea, and I recommend we make one adjustment.”
  • Be aware of your body language. Crossed arms and furrowed eyebrows send a ‘closed-off’ message, and typing on your phone or laptop while someone is talking to you signal that you’re not fully engaged in the conversation. Do your best to offer your full attention, respect, and focus.
  • Focus on what’s possible, instead of what isn’t. It’s hard (if not impossible) to have a productive conversation if you’re just shooting down ideas, without presenting any alternatives. I think Tina Fey said it best: “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”
3. BE TRANSPARENT, EVEN WHEN IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE
  • Manage expectations proactively, and early. This involves looking at the conversation through the other person’s lens early in the conversation and looking for any possible information gaps, unspoken assumptions, or ambiguities. When it doubt, clarify.
  • Avoid the people-pleasing trap. As tempting as it can be to go with the flow or tell people what they want to hear, you’re better off painting a clear and honest picture about any obstacles, hesitations, questions, or needs you have and opening the door for honest discussion.
  • Deliver bad news as early as possible. Whether you’re running late on a deadline, or you need to ask for help, resist the urge to delay that uncomfortable conversations. (We might hope that’ll make it go away, when in fact it almost always makes things much worse.) Having that conversation early gives everyone more time to recalibrate, and come up with a new plan if necessary. I think of this as ‘front-loading the discomfort,’ knowing that it will pay off in the long run.
4. PREVENT AND LOOSEN GRIDLOCK
  • Suspend judgment, and get curious. Sometimes hard conversations get stuck, when everyone is locked into their own point of view and the group keeps talking in circles, without listening or making forward progress. Forbes calls this gridlock, adding that it “leads to defensiveness, criticism, withdrawal and in some cases contempt—four signs of a complete breakdown of communication.” One way to loosen gridlock? Shift from a judgmental mindset to a curious one, where you seek to understand the other perspectives in the room and find ways to connect them.
  • Use empathy to move the conversation forward. While many think of empathy as a “soft” skill, it can also be a secret weapon for having more productive, efficient conversations. When you’re stuck at an impasse with a colleague or team, consider questions like: what are their true, underlying objectives here? What can you suggest that meets those needs, without encroaching on your own bandwidth or boundaries? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, and get creative. This gets easier with practice.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Below are a few resources we recommend, if you’re interested in learning more about candid conversations:

September 28, 2018

For students around the country, September marks the end of summer and the start of Back to School season.

In celebration of this time of year, we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the great work that nonprofits throughout the sector are doing in the Education space.

Many nonprofit organizations around the country are working from different angles using a variety of program models to ensure education in the U.S. is effective, accessible, and equitable. At Elevate, we believe that progress is possible through the important work that nonprofits do, and we see proof of this every day through the work and dedication of our education-focused clients.

Below are just a few examples of the work our clients are doing to better their communities and ensure high quality education for all.

 

DC Scholars Community Schools logoDC Scholars Community Schools

DC Scholars Community Schools inspires and empowers school leaders through expert thought partnership, operational support, and programmatic strategy — ensuring a stable, high-impact, well-resourced environment in which scholars and families of Southeast DC succeed. Its work embodies its belief that in order to truly prepare scholars for success in college and beyond, they must create schools that not only deliver rigorous instruction, but also serve as communities of joy where students thrive. DC Scholars Community Schools’ vision is for each of its schools to become a true community school that offers supports and opportunities for students, their families, and their communities.

Edcamp Foundation logoEdcamp Foundation

The Edcamp Foundation builds and supports communities of empowered educators across the United States through peer-led, participant-driven professional learning opportunities. They provide an organizational platform for educators to engage in local learning events using an “unconference” model, while building a nationwide network of teachers to share best practices. The end result of an Edcamp event is engaged, empowered, and prepared teachers who adopt effective methods in their classrooms and become leaders and change agents in their schools.

The Literacy Lab logoThe Literacy Lab

The Literacy Lab’s mission is to provide low-income children with individualized reading instruction to improve their literacy skills, leading to greater success in school and increased opportunities in life. The Literacy Lab recognizes that many high-need schools are faced with the challenge of both an achievement gap and a resource gap; their approach to this challenge is to provide schools with evidence-based literacy intervention and assessment tools, rigorously trained full-time tutors to implement the model, and a coaching and support structure that ensures the success of the program and students. In the 2017-18 school year alone, over 220 full-time Literacy Lab tutors helped over 4,000 students in over 100 schools every day. This year, The Literacy Lab is going back-to-school with partners in Washington, DC, Kansas City, Missouri, Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore, Maryland, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Philadelphia Education Fund logopHiladelphia Education Fund

The Philadelphia Education Fund (Ed Fund) has been working to move the needle on public education in Philadelphia for more than three decades. They work to remove barriers to college and career success for students by offering a full complement of research-based programs and services. Through their experienced and committed staff, the Philadelphia Education Fund continues to address the ever-changing academic standards, emerging educational trends, and shifting regional workforce needs through college advising, scholarships, and STEM career exposure. The Ed Fund currently serves 17,000 students across Philadelphia, with programs in 27 schools.

Education Law Center logoThe Education Law Center

The Education Law Center’s mission is to ensure access to a quality public education for all children in Pennsylvania. They pursue this mission by advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable students — children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English Language Learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. ELC employs a broad range of strategies to accomplish this mission, including direct legal representation, impact litigation, educating parents and students about their legal rights, supporting community-based groups, and policy advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels.


July 6, 2018

One of the more challenging aspects of the deadline-oriented world of grant writing is taking the time to step away from work for a vacation.

At Elevate we wholeheartedly believe that vacation is important, and we encourage staff to use their vacation time as they please. Furthermore, when on vacation, we encourage staff to truly disconnect from work and avoid checking email or taking work-related phone calls. But doing this successfully – and without negatively impacting our clients and colleagues – requires some planning and preparation.

By doing a bit of planning ahead prior to their vacation, nonprofit professionals can comfortably step away from their work without leaving their colleagues to struggle in their absence. We’ve outlined some of our vacation planning best practices below. Regardless of your organization’s size and structure, these steps will help your staff adequately plan for their time away, anticipate challenges that may arise, and provide contingencies for unforeseen circumstances.

Vacation Planning Steps
  • First things first: request time off through the appropriate channels (we use BambooHR for all our time-off requests) and provide plenty of notice. Confirm that your vacation request is approved before making travel plans.
  • Discuss your plans for vacation with your supervisor and identify specific areas of support you and/or your teams may need.
  • Inform your colleagues and teams in advance about your vacation plans. Elevate’s internal rule of thumb for a vacation lasting one week is to give one month’s notice to your teams about your planned absence. If a major deadline or project falls during your planned vacation, additional notice may be appropriate.
  • Review your meeting schedule and identify any important meetings that are scheduled while you are away. Where appropriate, develop a plan for any meetings scheduled during your vacation. This might include rescheduling check-ins with team members and supervisor, and identifying whether you will miss an all-staff or larger team meeting.
    • If you typically lead a meeting that is scheduled for while you are out, you will generally have two options: 1) Reschedule or 2) Prep your team to carry on in your absence. If meetings are to be rescheduled, you should provide as much notice as possible. If meetings are to go on in your absence, we recommend preparing agendas and talking points with your team in advance of your departure. If you are comfortable having a colleague lead the meeting, ensure that they have the information and resources they need, as well as talking points about how to address decisions they are not comfortable making in your absence. (For example, “I’ll flag that for Jill as soon as she returns from vacation next week.”)
  • Remember to set an out of office message that indicates the dates you will be out of the office and who to contact if something urgent comes up while you are away.
  • After your vacation, review your to-do list (we use Asana for internal task management) and touch base with your team members to recap what took place while you were away!
Additional Considerations for Grant Writers
  • Deadline planning: Review your grant calendar(s) and identify deadlines during and immediately after your vacation.
    (Don’t have a grants calendar? Check out our blog post on how to create one for your organization!)
  • Draft and submission planning: Plan ahead for any drafts or submissions that are due during and immediately following your vacation. As much as possible, work ahead to prepare drafts in advance of your vacation. With your supervisor and/or team, develop a plan for drafts that will need to be drafted, revised, or submitted while you are away. If you are asking a colleague to assist with any drafts in your absence, provide them with ample notice that you will need their help. Make sure your team has all the information needed to manage any submissions that may need to take place while you are out.

What other tips do you have for successful vacation planning? Share them with us on Facebook, and join the conversation!

One of our goals at Elevate is to create a culture of continuous learning for our staff, and one of the best ways to do that is by regularly sharing feedback.

Since regular feedback is closely linked to employee engagement, we recognize that the more insight we give our team members into where they are doing well and where they could improve, the better we can work together.

At Elevate, Directors are primarily responsible for leading client teams, which presents a range of challenges and opportunities around sharing feedback, offering constructive criticism, and fostering the team’s overall growth. Recently, Elevate’s Team Directors got together as a group to discuss their role in sharing and receiving feedback on their teams. Here we are sharing some of the key takeaways from that conversation, as well as links to other resources that may be helpful for anyone wanting to incorporate more regular feedback-sharing into their work relationships.


As team leaders, how do we navigate the reality that we don’t always have the full picture of our supervisees’ workload?

The reality is that no supervisor goes into a feedback conversation knowing their employee’s entire life story. In any company, there may be a variety of personal or professional reasons why someone may be approaching their work in a way that doesn’t align with your expectations as their supervisor.

The key to giving any type of feedback is to approach it as a conversation, not as a directive. Explain what you have observed your colleague is doing well or could improve on, and then ask them how they would approach that situation in the future. By approaching this as a conversation, you don’t risk giving someone advice that doesn’t make sense for their overall situation.

For example, perhaps someone got hit with a complex editing process on another client and couldn’t put as much time or attention into their work on your team. By asking them to share their thoughts about why a particular work product wasn’t as strong as it could have been, you give that person an opportunity to provide the context you need to find a solution together.

How do I give good feedback?

Okay, so maybe no one at the meeting asked this question verbatim, but here’s an answer anyway! Research and years of management best-practices suggest that the most helpful feedback — whether positive or constructive — has the following characteristics:

Clear & Concise
  • Providing feedback can feel very challenging, so our instinct can be to ramble. That makes it difficult for recipient to understand the issue, which is actually a much worse experience than simply hearing some constructive feedback. Plan ahead so you know exactly what you want to communicate.
  • Avoid the compliment sandwich. While it can feel easier to squeeze in constructive feedback between two positive comments, this structure has a tendency to make people doubt the validity of the positive feedback while also potentially losing clarity, about what they need to improve.
  • Don’t let a negative response pull you off your main point. It can be tempting to try and soften the impact of what you are trying to communicate when someone has a hard time hearing the information. Be kind, but clear!
Owned
  • Use “I” statements – make it about your experience and observation of the behavior and do not insert your own subjective opinion. i.e. “I’ve noticed that the past 2 drafts got to me a few days after the internal deadline, which can make it difficult for me to turn around edits in time for the client to review.” rather than “it seems like you’re not planning ahead enough to meet our internal deadlines.”
  • Be clear about how the work or behavior you have observed has impacted you and your team — don’t try to extrapolate out to other situations.
  • Avoid blaming someone else. While it’s tempting to frame feedback as something we “have to do to make [some other internal or external party] happy,” that can actually be a pretty demotivating way to communicate the need for extra effort or attention in a particular area. Instead, take ownership of your request, and be open to feedback that maybe there’s another way to achieve the same goal.
Regular
  • Check-ins are critical for providing regular feedback. If you incorporate reciprocal feedback into your regular meetings, it will feel more natural and support stronger collaboration over time. It also makes remembering to share positive feedback a lot easier!
  • Feedback is time-sensitive. Nobody likes to hear that they’ve been doing something right or wrong for six months before anyone mentioned something! If you see something worthy of either positive or negative feedback, bring it up at the first opportunity.
Balanced
  • Balance positive feedback with constructive feedback
  • It typically takes hearing positive feedback 7 times as much as it takes for negative feedback to 1 time
  • Important to include what team member is doing well, even if you think it is obvious or feel like there are bigger issues to tackle on other client teams.
Specific
  • The more specific your feedback is, the better it is for your colleague’s professional growth. For example, feedback is far more useful when it sounds like: “I noticed that you faced some challenges answering this question in the last proposal. Can I show you how I would have approached that part of the narrative?” rather than, “You could improve your drafting skills.”
  • This is also important for positive feedback – e.g. saying “great work” – does not provide specific feedback on what they can continue to build on in the future. It doesn’t help someone develop their skills professionally or build self-awareness about their key strengths.

This is great – but I don’t want to scare my team members by suddenly giving them a ton more feedback that I have been up until now.

We all struggle to make feedback part of our day-to-day work! The key is to be transparent with your team members about wanting to incorporate feedback into your work together. Here are some quicks steps to take to make this happen:

  1. Let them know that you are working on giving and receiving feedback more regularly and would like to make it part of your work together.
  2. Clarify that you’d like their feedback as well. Consider asking them for input on your work first, a system a lot like the Management Center’s 2X2 structure. Be sure to respond to the feedback you receive — if people feel like what they say is repeatedly ignored, they’ll stop giving us the information we need to improve our work.
  3. Ask how they would like to receive feedback. Some people respond better when they receive feedback in writing, others don’t want to dwell on something before they discuss it with you. Either way, don’t assume others prefer to receive feedback the same way you do.
  4. When you do offer feedback to someone, demonstrate that you want to support them in their professional growth in addition to sharing where you think they need to grow. Improving our work takes time and support, and being a partner to your colleagues during this process can only help.

MORE RESOURCES!
  • Did you know employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback? (Gallup, 2009)
  • In addition to these general guidelines, we recommend using models like SAW or AID so you can get into the practice of structuring clear feedback conversations.
  • It turns out that we struggle to receive constructive feedback because we are all so bad at giving it. Our very real, physio-emotional response is uncomfortable and can actually make us subtly restructure our social networks at work to avoid people who give us that constructive feedback. Check out the WorkLife TEDx Podcast “How to Love Criticism” by Adam Grant for more information.

May 11, 2018

Mother’s Day is this Sunday May 13, and to celebrate, we want to take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate the many ways our clients and partners are making a difference in the lives of mothers in their communities, and beyond.

At Elevate, we believe in supporting programs and policies that serve mothers in meaningful ways. We do this as an employer, through parental leave and flexible work schedule policies that give staff the support and flexibility they need to be present for their families. But one of the most transformative ways we are able to support mothers is by partnering with nonprofit organizations whose work makes a positive impact on the lives of moms and their families.

By providing everything from wraparound services, to financial tools and resources, to accessible housing, to legal services, these organizations work tirelessly to create meaningful opportunities for moms and families who need them most. The list below illustrates just some of the ways our clients and their programs support mothers of all kinds. We invite you to join us in recognizing and appreciating their work!

Greater DC Diaper Bank logoGreater DC Diaper Bank

Greater DC Diaper Bank works to empower mothers and families throughout the DC region by providing a reliable and adequate source of basic baby needs and personal hygiene products. Through their four unique programs, Greater DC Diaper Bank collects the essential supplies and products families need to be safe, happy, and healthy — and helps distribute them to families in need. Additionally, through their newest project, The Monthly, Greater DC Diaper Bank collects donated tampons and pads, and works with nearly forty nonprofit organizations in the region to distribute them to the people who need them.

Save a Child’s Heart

Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international nonprofit organization with special consultative status granted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC). SACH was founded with the mission of improving the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children in developing countries, and creating centers of competence in these countries. All children who come from outside of Israel for treatment are invited to stay at the Children’s Home, a pluralistic, multi-lingual environment that allows children and families to recover in a supportive community. The home accommodates SACH children and their caregivers (often mothers or aunts) and includes a children’s playground, a backyard garden, toys and games for the children, and all modern amenities.

Life Asset

Life Asset works to help alleviate poverty in the Washington DC metropolitan area by empowering people through affordable financial products, services, and education. They provide microloans, financial and business training, networking opportunities, and office and retail space—all of which help promote self-reliance and self-respect, and expand social and economic opportunities for low income individuals.

Life Asset’s work impacts not only the individuals they serve — 80% of whom are women — but also their families, friends, and the community at large. For example: by supporting 40-50 home daycares, Life Asset not only provides a sustainable source of income for entrepreneurs, but this investment also ensures that parents in their communities have the reliable childcare they need to retain a job and support their families.

Hope and a Home

Hope and a Home is a local nonprofit in the District of Columbia whose mission is to empower low-income families with children in D.C. to create stable homes of their own and to make lasting changes in their lives. Their long term vision is to break the cycle of poverty for qualified families through their programs and services. Among Hope and a Home’s core beliefs is the idea that stable housing, educational success, rewarding work, and a connection to one’s community are invaluable to every family’s development. As such, they embrace a holistic approach as the most effective way to achieve lasting change for children and their families.

Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County

Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County (Habitat SKC) builds families’ strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter, building new homes to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families and supporting low-income homeowners and communities through home repairs and education. Being able to afford a safe, stable home to call your own is particularly important for parents with children. Of the more than 1,776 people Habitat SKC has helped shelter in its organizational history, 995 of them have been children.

Many of Habitat SKC’s partner families are headed by hardworking single mothers looking to ensure a brighter future for their children. When Elevate’s Habitat SKC client team were in Seattle last November on a site visit, they had the privilege of attending a home dedication ceremony for one of those partner families — watching as a U.S. Army veteran and a single mother of two cut the ribbon with her kids on their brand new home just in time for the holidays!

Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania

Volunteers of America has served the people of Pennsylvania since 1896, the same year our nationwide movement began with the promise to “go wherever we are needed, and do whatever comes to hand.” Their innovative human services directly address the quality of life in Pennsylvania by meeting the material, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals; by strengthening families, and by building healthier, more productive, and more compassionate communities for all.

The VOA Children’s Center in Allentown provides accredited, high quality early childhood education and care to underserved families in Allentown, enabling mothers and other caregivers to pursue their own education or career. VOA also supports a number of homeless moms who seek shelter in their Ruth’s Place women’s shelter, by helping them to obtain stable housing so they can reunite with their children. Additionally, they provide case management and a baby pantry for moms through our Caring Alternatives program. Finally, their All of Us Care program in Pittsburgh also provides an after-school option for mothers who need a safe place for their kids to go until they get home from work or school.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

The mission of the Brady organization is to create a safer America by cutting gun deaths in half. The Brady Center’s ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign is an important component of this mission, and empowers parents to ask the simple question, “Is there an unlocked gun in your home?” before sending children over to play. In partnership with organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Parent Teacher Association, The Brady Center provides a variety of resources full of compelling facts and pointers to help parents begin these discussions with their networks.

Children’s Law Center

Children’s Law Center (CLC) fights so every DC child can grow up with a loving family, good health and quality education. As part of this mission, CLC meets—and works closely with—amazing, dedicated moms every day. When we asked the CLC team if we could highlight their work in honor of Mother’s Day, that’s who they immediately thought of—the moms who work so hard to advocate for their families.

They shared just a couple of scenarios of DC moms as powerful advocates for their families. Like moms everywhere, the moms who CLC works with help their children with homework, stay home from work when their kids are too sick to go to school, and rush them to the doctor when their child is ill. But CLC says their moms are extra special because they have to stand up to teachers and landlords who often ignore them. For example, CLC often works with moms who have done everything they can to get their child the educational support necessary to address a learning disability, but the school refuses to help. In these cases, CLC attorneys partner with the parent, taking legal action to fight for the child’s education. CLC also works with moms trying to get the landlord and government agencies to turn heat on in the winter or clean up the mold caused by leaky pipes. They join forces with the mom to force landlords to make critical repairs to protect her family. The list could go on.

The takeaway? Moms are fierce advocates for their families. Moms are often the ones fighting for their family’s health and education. Moms inspire us and the CLC team every day.


March 10, 2017

This week, individuals and organizations nationwide have been celebrating AmeriCorps Week, recognizing the service contributions of over 80,000 members and 1 million AmeriCorps alumni in their communities across America.

AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members add critical capacity to the nonprofit sector by volunteering their time, skills, and energy to creating change and, as their tagline emphasizes, getting things done.

Elevate works closely with a range of nonprofit clients who benefit from AmeriCorps members’ service and dedication, including: Food Recovery Network, Teens Run, The Literacy Lab, Edu-Futuro, Critical Exposure, See Forever Foundation, Capital Partners for Education, and Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County. Through our work with nonprofit organizations like these in the DC region and across the country, we see firsthand the impact that AmeriCorps members have in their communities, as their work helps move the needle in a variety of high-need areas, and ensure that organizations of all kinds can continue making meaningful change.

In addition to adding capacity to organizations in the nonprofit sector and beyond, AmeriCorps also opens doors for its volunteers by providing pathways to employment. At Elevate, several members of our staff came to us from after serving with AmeriCorps. These fundraising professionals are now leveraging the skills and experience they gained through their AmeriCorps experience to help nonprofit organizations in DC and beyond creating meaningful, lasting social change.

Below, Elevate staff share in their own words about their experience with AmeriCorps, and its impact on their personal and professional trajectories.

Emile-Dawisha
EMILE DAWISHA

“The hardest part about shifting career paths is simply finding that first springboard opportunity. In 2009, I was a former English major with a journalism-heavy background, looking to shift gears into the nonprofit sector. AmeriCorps VISTA turned out to be the perfect opportunity for me. At the time, I wasn’t qualified for a full-time salaried position; and I didn’t want to take an internship or part-time gig. Through VISTA, I accepted a grant writing position at Sarah’s Circle, a women’s daytime shelter. Like most VISTA experiences, I took on a lot of responsibility and learned a lot of foundational skills in the process. Looking back, I was a bit over my head. But it was a heck of an education; and it ultimately sprung my grant writing career, which is now nine years and counting.”

Annelise-OsterbergAnnelise Osterberg

“After moving to DC, I took a position as an AmeriCorps member at Manna, a local nonprofit that has been building affordable housing in the community since the 1980s. During my year as an AmeriCorps, I not only had the opportunity to see the inside-workings of an effective community development organization, but also gained valuable grant writing experience that prepared me to succeed in my role as Senior Grant Writer at Elevate.”

Jonathan-AyalaJONATHAN AYALA

“When I was an AmeriCorps volunteer – first as a City Year corps member, then as a member of the Washington AIDS Partnership – I quickly had to learn that effecting change would not be simple. In many cases, it would not even be probable. At least, not in the immediate sense I had been hoping for when I first signed up for my years of community service. AmeriCorps helped me rethink metrics of success. Did I close the achievement gap for middle school students in Washington, D.C.? No, not likely. But I did provide hundreds of hours of literacy tutoring for students across the academic spectrum. Is the rate of new HIV infections still stubbornly high in our city? Certainly. But, I did facilitate many workshops and testing sessions aimed at increasing young people’s awareness of how to prevent transmission.

At Elevate, we like to say that progress is possible. It’s an important thing for folks working toward justice to remember. We know that not every single grant we submit is going to be funded, nor are our clients going to become as efficient or effective as they would like overnight. Yet, we still celebrate successes when they occur, no matter how small, and continue to keep faith that the hard work we do on a daily basis will pay off.”

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