Nightmare 1: Imagine, you are the Director of a nonprofit’s small but mighty Development Team. Everything is going swimmingly…until the day your indispensable grant writer sheepishly asks to schedule some catch-up time on your calendar. It turns out they have secured an exciting new career opportunity! You smile winsomely and wish them well, but inside, you just died a little bit. You keep thinking about that overflowing grants calendar and the extra work that is going to fall to you or your other colleagues while things get sorted.
Hiring and training a replacement grant writer is a process. It took you 4 months to find the last one, who stayed with the organization for just over one year. During the last grant writer search, you missed deadlines for important grant reports and renewals. And one long-time funder became irritated with the lack of coordination and pulled their support… Your mind is spinning with all of the worst-case scenarios that simply cannot happen again.
Nightmare 2: Now imagine you are the Development Director for a nonprofit entering into an exciting transitional period. Program staff is in tune with emergent needs of the community and developing exciting and impactful new programs that are resulting in tons of new interest in the organization. The proverbial phone is ringing off the hook with new funders and partners who want to support the organization’s work. The Executive Director and the Board are looking to the Development team to increase revenues in line with program growth. Up until now, you’ve been keeping all those fundraising balls in the air — managing major donors, overseeing the grants calendar, prospecting new funding leads, and planning successful events. But now, you’re starting to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat!
You know that soon, something’s gotta give, whether it is long-term planning, maintaining corporate relationships, or wooing major donors.
What would you do if you were the Development Director in one of these nightmare scenarios?
A – Text a friend and plan a coffee date to vent about your to-do list.
B – Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
C – Call Elevate!
D – Both A and C
The correct answer is D, which also stands for “Don’t despair!” That’s because Elevate has got you covered with our Ongoing Writing Retainer Service (OWR)!
Our signature service at Elevate is Comprehensive Grant Writing Services, which offers you a suite of grant program strategy advice and planning, grant calendar and data tracking, project management, prospect research, cultivation support, and full-service grant writing.
While for many organizations this is the solution they need, we’ve learned in our ten years of work with nonprofit clients that, from time to time, organizations simply need a boost in grant writing capacity. In response, we launched a streamlined retainer package in 2022 to help nonprofits through capacity challenges such as the ones described above. We call this service an Ongoing Writing Retainer (OWR).
The OWR matches an organization with a professional grant writer that works to focus exclusively on drafting, editing, and submitting written deliverables – grants, LOIs, and reports – thereby freeing up your internal team’s capacity for other important tasks.
The OWR might be the right Elevate service for you if you already:
Cavalry Women’s Services, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that ensures women have access to the proper trauma-informed healthcare and educational support they need to take positive steps toward independence, engaged Elevate for an Ongoing Writing Retainer in early 2023.
Calvary came to Elevate with a solid grants program, at a time when they were planning ahead for their Director of Institutional Advancement to step away from work for a period of leave and a temporary need for capacity to their internal grant writer planned to be away for personal leave. With a strong grants program and a clear calendar of opportunities in place, they sought Elevate’s support to write and submit their grants.
We paired Calvary with one of our expert grant writers who quickly acquainted themselves with the organization and its programming. Calvary assigned up to four deliverables per month to their Elevate grant writer, including proposals and grant reports.
The Elevate writer met with our point of contact at Calvary briefly on a biweekly or as-needed basis to confirm details and deadlines, receive assignments, and discuss what information was needed to prepare the grants. Elevate handled each step of the drafting process—from planning, drafting, editing, attachment gathering, through to submission. Meanwhile, the team at Calvary was free to focus on other development responsibilities while knowing that their grants submissions could rest in Elevate’s capable hands.
When asked about her experience working with Elevate on an Ongoing Writing Retainer, Heather Laing, Chief Development Officer and our main Point of Contact at Calvary, shared:
“When we had a temporary vacancy on our team, Elevate’s Ongoing Writer Retainer service met our grant writing capacity needs. Elevate was invested in our success in a genuine way, and it was a gift to have a fresh perspective on our grant language.”
Interested in what an Ongoing Writing Retainer or one of Elevate’s other services can do for you? Get in touch so that we can answer your questions, and you can spend more time where your energy is needed most, whether that’s building relationships with your funding partners, implementing your programs, or enjoying more coffee dates with your BFF.
Every day, nonprofits navigate the uncomfortable realities of power dynamics and disparities inherent in grantmaking. I asked some questions that explore these tension points and how it is possible to embrace an alternative value system while attempting to meet an organization’s budgetary needs.
Johnisha Levi: Institutional philanthropy is an imperfect solution to societal need, in part because it is the product of inequitable wealth transfers. Given this reality, what do we do to challenge and disrupt this system while society has yet to undertake the necessary systemic and structural reform to replace this entrenched system?
April Walker: When I started in the field, folks were not quite as bold as they are now. Now they are starting to say, “Hey, you over there with all that wealth that you amassed in a problematic way, or that you inherited, we see a problem with that. And not only do we see a problem with that, we’re challenging that because we don’t trust exactly where the money came from, or we see that you’re limiting how you actually show up inside of the values you purport to have. We see that you’re asking us questions that you yourself don’t live by.”
So with the big players in the philanthropic space, it is getting harder and harder to celebrate the ways in which those dollars are exchanged. They’re not actually losing much, and the demands on celebrating and recognizing them are creating an additional strain for those of us who see the truth of what’s happening. It’s not necessarily an indictment of individual wealthy people or of all foundations of all sizes. but it is a request and growing demand for transparency. I think one of the biggest things that we can do is speak truth to power and not just placate, laud, and celebrate people for having huge amounts of resources at their behest—and with that act of calling out comes incredible amounts of power.
JL: When do you think the tide started to change in terms of calling out problems inherent in Philanthropy?
AW: I think within the past five years things have shifted. We’ve seen this as funders invite more conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion by asking related questions of grantees. As a grant writer or grant professional, if you’re continually having to answer questions about how diverse or not a nonprofit’s board is, or how inclusive or not a program is from a funding entity that is none of those things, it is going to continue to expose these inequities.
JL: What is giving as its most ideal? What other models of giving do you recommend we look to for inspiration in our work and in our own lives as givers?
AW: In proportion to what we have as a community and in proportion to what we have been able to amass on a large scale in terms of wealth, Black people are deeply generous. Sometimes it shows up financially, but there is also a generosity of time, of connection, of resources. Members of my family would likely never call themselves philanthropists, but have they put money into a pot to ensure a certain relative can achieve XY and Z dream? Absolutely. Is that a giving circle by the sector’s terms? Absolutely.
I trust in the power of our ability to show up because you can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up, whether that means showing up with a plate of food or showing up with $20 or just to lend a hand, and not even needing a thank you. All of that to me counts as generosity where I come from, and there’s a different type of connection in that than when money is at the center and you have to perform a certain way in order to even be in relationship.
JL: In a recent Cocktails, Conversations & Lessons in Philanthropy episode, you discussed funders’ need for public recognition and celebration and how that is frequently integrated into proposals. How do you recommend that grantees (and the fundraising consultants who work with them) respond to the common (and frankly uncomfortable) question of “How will you publicize our donation?”
AW: There are two applicable buckets. The first bucket is name recognition, or the literal benefits the funder receives for donating—what I call the five star treatment. The other bucket is a funder taking credit for stuff that they didn’t really do—meaning that funding an initiative through-and-through looks very different from making a non-profit apply every year. The former takes a long-term, sustained investment where people do not have to question if this money is going to run out. I wish quite frankly someone would do a case study of how much funders, especially corporate foundations or businesses in general, spend on ensuring that their investments look a certain way versus actually ensuring that their dollars are impactful.
Some grantees may decide that this recognition costs too much emotionally or mentally; other times, this may extend to telling the foundation this truth. It really comes down to being clear on how much risk your organization can assume. I’m also a huge advocate of telling other funders about their peers. I think at the end of the day, when you have a relationship with a funder who is deeply understanding—who does show up inside of their application in a way that’s not making you and your vision feel small—that it’s an opportunity to say, “Hey, I really appreciate your process for all of these reasons, and here’s how we also are engaging with other folks differently.”
JL: Funders are fixated on the idea of metrics and measurements, often to the detriment of smaller, less resourced organizations that are doing great work that is not necessarily measurable in the way that they demand. How do we evolve from this need to quantify? What have you seen other funders doing as an alternative? And how do we move away from the status quo?
AW: There are funders that will ask for anecdotes in lieu of metrics or measurements, including asking for successes and challenges encountered. I quite prefer those questions. My personal and ever-growing feeling is that funders who want metrics should collect them themselves. Nonprofits need not be experts in all things. You want someone that’s really skilled in data analysis and measurement, if you as a funder have a specific focus on funding poverty in this local community, is it not incumbent upon you to collect the data that you need to prove that you are funding it in the right way? I don’t know many nonprofits that can pay a data expert what they’re worth.
Nonprofits are interested in the data too—we want to know that we are doing the “thing”—but we are also interested in the reality of the thing and data doesn’t give us all of that narrative. The question is really one for funders to start asking themselves. Given you as the funder have set your own focus areas and funding priorities, how do you plan to go about getting that information from nonprofits that you can see are under-resourced? And even what funders do get from nonprofits is not always the most accurate, most comprehensive, complete story.
I’m also not sure what all these reports are telling people. As someone that used to be a program officer and received grant reports, even I had the question of, “What do we do now?” And if an organization didn’t meet the metrics, are we using that reality that they fell short of the metrics to determine whether or not we fund them again, rather than to determine how we can help improve the situation?
JL: Sometimes as individuals and organizations, we feel powerless to effect change when the problems are so massive. What are some steps or some work that you recommend we can still do to make a difference in our day-to-day work?
AW: Giving into hopelessness and giving up is not a path that we can choose. You have days that are challenging and demoralizing, but you can look up any number of leaders in the sector that remind us to be hopeful. Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson is a great example. And we do have wins along the way!
I’m also finding the people that I can link arms with. I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time on the people that are committed to moving slowly or delaying. I think your day-to-day has to find a balance between, “I have this capacity to fight, but when I feel like I’m at my wits end, I can turn back to the community that I know is bolstering me and take some strength from them.”
I also use my own philanthropy for this purpose. I support the organizations that I believe in and I know are doing good work and that I can trust, and that’s where I designate as much support as I can. I can also show up as a volunteer, I can show up as a board member, or I can just lend time to make an introduction. All of those things still matter inside of a system that is working to save itself, inside of whiteness as a construct that only knows how to defend itself. I have no qualms and no Illusions about how powerful the systems are, but I also won’t doubt my capacity for change and my capacity for impact.
Interested in learning more about alternative models of fundraising that are more community-centered? Check out the 10 principles of Community-Centric Funding developed by fundraisers of color that are grounded in racial and economic justice.
Keep your eye on this space for more ideas and strategies from April in the coming months as well as other Elevate Q&As.
April Walker, Philanthropy for the People
In February, we kicked off a year-long partnership with Philanthropy for the People, and its founder April Walker. April’s expertise centers specifically on racial equity and justice in fundraising and grantmaking,
April is facilitating conversations and workshops for Elevate staff about wealth, philanthropy, and fundraising justice throughout 2023. Our aim for this portion of our work is to build a shared vocabulary and understanding among Elevate staff about these topics so that we can be better partners to our clients and drive meaningful change in the nonprofit sector.
April’s unique focus on equity in philanthropy is particularly important to Elevate, given the nature of our work to support nonprofit fundraising in an inherently inequitable philanthropic sector. This context has major consequences for our nonprofit partners, and Elevate is committed to hastening change in the sector.
Interested in hearing more about April’s expertise and her advice on what it will take to transform the philanthropic sector? Look for our next blog installment!
Dominique Hollins, WĒ360: 360° of Workplace Equity
We have likewise engaged Dominique Hollins, Founder and Connector-in-Chief of WĒ360, to conduct a company-wide equity audit. Our work with Dominique is internally-focused and designed as the primary information-gathering step in developing Elevate’s long-term IDEA+J strategy.
Dominique will conduct a company-wide IDEA+J assessment that highlights strengths and areas of development for sustainable IDEA+J implementation in the years to come. Her assessment will include surveys of Elevate staff and a review of relevant internal policies and procedures. This information will inform the design of our long-term IDEA+J strategy. We intend to repeat this assessment every two to three years to measure and evaluate progress.
Dominique is a sought-after consultant, coach and speaker who has been quoted in the Washington Post and recognized by Fortune for her work. She develops customized strategies that bridge the gap between corporate responsibility and organizational accountability to enable equitable and inclusive business practices.
Why Two Partners?
Elevate strives to be an inclusive and equitable workplace where all members of staff are accepted and recognized for their contributions. It is therefore critical that any work we do to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion is inclusive of our company operations and practices.
At the same time, Elevate operates within the larger context of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, as we support our clients in their pursuit of funding from institutional donors. Our clients are in part dependent on the largesse of donors, and we are cognizant that philanthropy itself is inherently imperfect. Philanthropy writ large is a product of the income inequality and disparity rooted in a capitalist system – a system in which much of this country’s wealth is and always has been generated by Black, Brown, and immigrant laborers.
So, when tasked with identifying the right partners to support Elevate’s journey, the IDEA+J working group identified the need for two partners with distinct expertise who could support our work with both an internal and an external focus. While it took some time to lay the foundation for these two partnerships, we are optimistic that our collaborations with April and Dominique will facilitate the holistic and multidimensional approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion that we’ve been looking for.
Laying the Groundwork
At Elevate, we believe that to build a workplace that is inclusive and equitable requires a values alignment, an invested leadership team, financial resources, and staff capacity for a sustained, long-term commitment, as the work is quite simply never finished if it is substantive rather than performative.
Individual Elevate staff members have consistently expressed enthusiasm and demand for the company to invest more in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work. While wanting very much to heed this call to action, founder, President and CEO Alayna Buckner, wanted to enter into this undertaking responsibly with sufficient internal assets in place. Equally important to Alayna was for Elevate to do its due diligence to avoid engaging in DEI that was superficial, counterproductive, or harmful. This was especially true in light of the proliferation of ill-conceived DEI pledges and initiatives in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. We also did not want a disproportionate amount of emotional labor to fall on staff belonging to marginalized communities, as often happens when initiatives are entirely staff-directed. Finally, we wanted to look both inward at ourselves and our organization and outward to our sector to better understand how intrinsic injustice and power imbalances are to the core of fundraising.
Accordingly, we made certain we had the financial resources that would allow Elevate to invest in the necessary expertise to guide this journey. We hired Vice President of Personnel, Letese Lamb, to act as the executive sponsor of our DEI initiative. We also reduced staff workloads so that they would have the space to participate in IDEA+J working groups and committees. Then, we undertook a thoughtful year-long partner selection process as an IDEA+J Committee.
Now that we are here, we know that this transformative work will challenge us in ways we may not expect. All the same, we are eager to begin this collective learning journey and to share our progress with you!
Check out a few of our previous blogs for more on how philanthropy is changing and why it is critical that grant writers use empowering language in their funding requests. We also offer a webinar on Power Dynamics in Grant Writing as part of our Learning Collection on How to Prepare Expert Grant Applications. Join us on May 25, 2023 for a session that will explore the role of fundraising in creating equitable partnerships among communities, the social sector, and philanthropy.
Every year, we review the data related to our work and examine trends and highlights. Our year-end infographic, Elevate 2022 by the Numbers, offers a data snapshot of the preceding 12 months. Our mighty staff of 82 served 162 clients, submitted 2,901 deliverables, (i.e., grants, letters of intent, and reports), and won over $132 million for our clients! Last year, we had a 65% win rate for grants prepared by Elevate.
There is much to celebrate about our clients’ significant grant wins last year! But at Elevate, we do more than acknowledge our client’s triumphs: we also look for significant trends and lessons that can better inform our work with both new and long-time partners in the years to come.
Our 2022 Win Rate: 65%
Last year, our clients won 65% of the grants that Elevate wrote on their behalf. This is an extraordinary success rate – we win two-thirds of all grants submitted, more than three times the national average.
This win rate is a conservative calculation. It only includes opportunities that were drafted and submitted by Elevate on behalf of our clients. However, Elevate also provides advice and language on a client’s own submissions, as well as “softer-touch” aspects of support that may ultimately lead to funding wins, including helping clients cultivate new funders and steward relationships with current funders.
We have searched for a comparable national statistic to gauge our 65% win rate. Based on nonprofit self-reporting, information from Foundation Directory, and raw data, Candid estimates a national average win rate of 17%. Other sources place the average win rate somewhere between 10 and 30%. (We wholeheartedly welcome any alternative sources for national win rate data if you wish to reach out to us!)
Stepping back so that we may assess the bigger picture, our own data set reveals that win rates vary based on factors such as a nonprofit’s tenure with Elevate as well as their budget size.
For instance, there is a bit of a ramp-up in building a new grants program: it can take anywhere from nine to 18 months from the point at which an organization first begins researching grant opportunities to the point when they secure their first grants.
When many partners begin working with Elevate, especially if they are new to grants, the first several months are spent getting to know the organization’s needs, collaborating on a suitable grant strategy, identifying funding opportunities, and building a grants calendar.
For this reason, it is really not until these clients enter year 3 with Elevate when win rates start to consistently approach the 65% mark. This is also why our very long standing clients (those who have partnered with us for 7 years or more) have even higher win rates. In collaboration with these organizations, we have systematically built efficient and sustainable grants programs!
Interestingly, Elevate has witnessed a steady uptick in our overall win rate as our organization has matured. We moved from a 55.6% win rate in 2018 to a 60.7% win rate in 2020 to our current rate of 65%. This progression reflects an increased investment in our staff as well as a high-quality operations team to better support them and our clients. (For more on our organizational investments, check out our Founder’s Elevate is Ten! blog post celebrating our decade milestone.)
Our 2022 Total Dollars Won: $132,835,761
In addition to our team’s impressive win rate, we are very proud to share that we won over $132 million for our clients’ work last year!
There are a lot of ways to parse this nine-figure sum secured by Elevate clients. For our Comprehensive Grant Writing Services clients, Elevate and our clients work collaboratively to decide which opportunities to pursue based on their customized grant strategy for a given year. Other clients may opt to utilize one of our project-based services such as our Writing Capacity Projects to add extra grant capacity for a limited time or to apply for a large grant. Clients’ needs also differ based on numerous factors, including their sector (we partner with organizations working in the areas of arts & culture, education, health & human services, advocacy, and international issues, for example), their mix of local and national funders, their budget size (we work with organizations with budgets under $500,000 to those with annual budgets over $50 million).
Therefore, whether it is a $250 award (our smallest in 2022) or a $7.8 million grant (the largest grant we secured last year), all of our wins are vitally important in helping to sustain our clients’ good works. Between these polar extremes, we calculated an average award of $151,000 and a median award of $25,000 among the grants secured in 2022.
Interested in learning more about how Elevate uses data to serve our clients? Check out our blog on how general operating requests have a higher win rate than program-restricted proposals. Also look out for the “March of Project Coordinators” series next month (we also like puns!) that will illustrate the value of data and project management on our client teams.
Elevate uses Salesforce to log thousands of grant opportunities each year across our nearly 100 nonprofit partners. We track information related to which grants are secured and which are lost, how much funding is requested and awarded, whether each grant is for a specific program area or for operating support, and much much more. The results described here come from thousands of data points across all of Elevate’s nonprofit partners. We love data!
January 12, 2023
TEN YEARS! I started formulating the idea for Elevate in late 2012, after grant writing for and consulting with nonprofits on my own for a few years. And I officially filed the paperwork in December 2012 so that I could launch the company on January 1, 2013.
First, I am very proud of what we have accomplished. About 20% of private sector businesses in the United States fail within the first year; 50% after five years; and 65% after ten years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, ten years in, Elevate continues to grow and invest in services and our staff. We have exciting plans for the years ahead!
Moreover, per the National Women’s Business Council, we’re in the top 1% of women-owned businesses in the United States in both revenues and staff size – although, to be honest, this may say more about the state of gender equality in our country and business than anything else.
In fact, there is one experience that I remember very clearly from my early days building Elevate: I was in a cohort of other business executives that were working on scaling their companies. There was a panel of three CEOs who were talking about failure, and the role it has in taking risks and experimenting. One man proudly shared that he had started four companies and all of them had failed before his current venture. I remember turning to my colleague (in mild horror!) and saying, “I don’t want to start four companies and watch them fail: I want to start ONE company and make sure it succeeds.”
I know that his intent was to normalize failure; and we all have projects or ideas that do not work out – I certainly have. But from Day 1 of Elevate, I viscerally understood that YOU – our clients – were placing your trust in us: to develop high-quality proposals; to submit them on time and accurately; and to literally raise their budgets and staff salaries. I was in my twenties when I started Elevate, but I knew that this was a profound responsibility and I never took it lightly. I still do not.
In building Elevate, I have worked to ensure we offer high-quality services that meet our clients needs and that we have hired excellent staff to deliver those services. Over the years, we have developed strong training programs (which is still ongoing)! We invested in a management layer that supports staff one-on-one and a Client Services department that moves quickly when clients have concerns. We have reduced workloads so that all staff have more time to focus on each client. We also continue to invest in a high-quality operations team to support staff and clients day-to-day. And most importantly: I have made sure we have a competent and professional executive team of leaders with exceptional judgment.
I bring all of this up because the news is heavy with stories of atrocious corporate governance and irresponsible business leaders: from the collapse of FTX and its grotesque lack of internal accountability; to the decades-long criminal tax fraud of the Trump Organization; to former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes being sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Leaders matter. The decisions we make for our organizations matter. And I have always looked to the nonprofit sector – rather than the corporate sector – for inspiration and guidance about how I wanted to lead Elevate. On this point, I’ll share one final story from Elevate’s founding.
Early on, a colleague and I were meeting with a potential client and explaining our three-person team model. (Yes, we do think it is distinctive and an important part of our value proposition to clients!) However, this person innocently said, “Oh, how innovative…!”
My eyes got wide and I was about to begin my multi-part thesis on why innovation is overvalued and effectiveness is much more important – when, thankfully, my colleague just said, “Don’t get her started…”
But it is true that after a decade of seeing funders prioritize the new and the shiny over the tried and true, I had developed a strong opinion on the matter. My staff who have worked with me long enough know that my favorite poem is To be of use by Marge Piercy (and my not-so-secret goal is for Elevate’s mascot to be the water buffalo).
That is because this poem encapsulates all that I love most about working with and for you – the nonprofit organizations that make people’s lives and communities better. It beautifully reflects how good people, doing hard work, day in and day out is what matters most. It is why I am so proud to have dedicated the last decade to serving you and your organizations. And it is why I am committed to ensuring that Elevate only improves in serving you over the next decade.
To be of use
BY MARGE PIERCY
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
November 3, 2022
I have been a grant writer pretty much my entire career. I always loved the work because it let me write professionally. (Who says a philosophy degree isn’t marketable?!) But more importantly, I enjoyed it because good grant writing makes good things happen. I loved winning proposals for important community projects. As a consultant grant writer, I loved working with nonprofit leaders to identify programming gaps, and find funding to address those gaps.
But having worked in-house at nonprofits, and then as an independent consultant to a handful of organizations, I felt that there were challenges with both models. Too often, I saw early career grant writers hop from organization to organization in order to grow their skills, advance their careers, and be exposed to different types of grants and organizations. (And, yes, I was guilty of this myself!) These nonprofits were likewise spending six or nine months training a relatively inexperienced grant writer, and then losing them after a year or so, only to re-start the expensive hiring, onboarding, and training process. And in the meantime, their grants programs stalled.
Later, as an independent contractor, I got to work with a lot of nonprofits and gain expertise on diverse topics quickly – but I missed having a team of other people to work with. I wanted to share advice, cultivation strategies, program ideas, and trends in the sector. I wanted to invest in the best research tools and have a robust grants database that would benefit all of my clients! And, I noticed that nonprofits were stuck in an inefficient position by paying me hourly. It is expensive to pay independent contractors who have high-level development expertise to also do a lot of the day-to-day work like managing the grant calendar and submitting proposals.
So I started Elevate with a clear purpose, a distinctive team model – and MANY questions.
Our purpose, which has never waived, is to ensure nonprofits have access to the best grants expertise in the country.
Our team model has been refined over the years, but remains the foundation on which Elevate is built. It is also how we stand apart from other firms. Simply put, when you work with Elevate, you get a whole team of people with distinct roles, training, and expertise. You get access to a high-level strategist and team manager; the dedicated support of a highly skilled grant writer based on how big your grant calendar is; and you get a data professional to manage your calendar and ensure all of the details are captured. Instead of hiring three people with these distinct skill sets, you can work with Elevate. Instead of trying to find a “unicorn” who can do it all, we hire, train, and support excellent fundraisers – and assign you a team based on your needs.
So, we had a clear purpose and a unique model,but the rest of Elevate was up for discussion, iteration, and improvement. I won’t detail the (literally) thousands of questions that I had – and the hundreds which we have systematically asked and answered over the past decade.
But I will tell you one question I had back then, sitting on my couch, planning Elevate’s future: I did not know if nonprofits would want to work with a firm like Elevate. Or if they would want to keep working with us over time. My clients at that time only knew me; they had hired me; they trusted me. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to translate that expertise over to people they did not know.
But year after year, our nonprofit partners have answered that question with a resounding YES!
YES! They want to work with our amazing staff. Our clients appreciate the diverse professional skill sets, past work experiences, and personal perspectives and backgrounds our staff bring to their work.
YES! They will stay with Elevate for years and years. Even as nonprofits have a growing option set of other firms, individual consultants, or in-house staffing, they continue to choose to partner with us to grow and sustain their grants program. They value our consistently high-quality work, our industry-leading win rates and ROI, and the stability we bring to their development departments.
YES! They will stay with Elevate as their needs evolve. Over the years, we have dedicated increasing staff time and leadership to working with clients to make sure they are in the right contract and scope of work to ensure their needs are met even as these needs shift over time.
YES! They trust us – and hold us accountable – to continue to improve our services. This past decade has had its ups and downs: as we have grown, we have improved the quality of our services and increased the consistency of our work. We have worked hard to respond promptly and thoughtfully to client feedback so that we consistently improve our work and the service we provide.
YES! They see the benefits of Elevate’s shared expertise, insight, and resources. Not as competition and scarcity – but as a mutual benefit that supports all of our nonprofit clients. They appreciate that we have a deep bench of expert staff and a long roster of clients.
A particular part of Elevate’s growth that I am most proud of is that with Elevate’s own expansion, our clients actually get more personalized attention and support than ever before.
As we have grown, we have not cut corners for clients – in fact, we have invested a lot in ensuring that our staff can focus on client work. In 2021, after a long COVID year that hugely impacted the sector, we adopted a priority of providing our team with the “Space to Succeed.” We reduced staff workloads by 20% for Grant Writers and over 10% for Team Directors, meaning our staff have more time and space for each client.
We also built out a stellar team of trained supervisors who support each member of the staff in navigating their work with their clients and teams. And, our excellent Data Team continues to grow and excel, bringing new insights to our work with clients and to the sector as a whole! (See their most recent blog post here.)
As we look ahead to 2023 – our 10th Anniversary Year! – we look forward to continuing to be a trusted partner to over 100 nonprofit partners every day. Thank you to everyone who continues to support us on this journey!
July 12, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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:
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:
January 31, 2020
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!
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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!
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:
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?
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:
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!
Photo courtesy of wocintechchat.com