What is the role of private philanthropy in the human services sector?

It is not uncommon for human services organizations to rely heavily on public funds – grants and contracts from local, state, or federal agencies. In fact, many would argue that this is the way it should be, that it is the responsibility of the government to fund housing efforts, health services, maternal healthcare, early childhood programs, arrest diversion, mental and behavioral health initiatives, and other programs that address the needs of vulnerable members of society. 

So what does this mean for fundraising from private foundations in the field of human services? 

Diversified revenues are crucial for just about any organization, creating sustainability and resilience when a funding source runs dry. While human services organizations may have a substantial public funding portfolio, and many government grants require a private funding match, this does not mean that other sources of revenue – including earned income and philanthropic funds – should take a back seat in your funding strategy. In fact, I encourage you to think differently about philanthropy and its role in supporting human services providers.

Imagine you’re on the leadership team of a service provider that implements a highly effective program for returning citizens; clients successfully maintain housing and jobs, and avoid further justice-system involvement. A contract with the state Department of Justice makes up the majority of the program budget, with the balance coming from a Master Leasing initiative and one wealthy individual donor who gives annually. For the most part, the program is meeting the needs of the population it currently reaches, but there is zero capacity for expansion, innovation, or outreach. 

The Board and leadership team is concerned with the long-term sustainability for the program, and next steps involve developing a strategy to diversify revenues for the organization. A discussion ensues around pursuing foundation grants as a key tactic for diversification. The leadership team considers which aspects of the program may be well-suited to private grant opportunities. Should you seek grant opportunities for direct program expenses like rent and food assistance? Or are foundations more likely to support a new outreach component focused on engaging those who are incarcerated before their release? Perhaps you should seek General Operating Support?

If invited to that debate, I would argue that public funds can and should be used for direct programmatic expenses, whereas there may be a unique role for private foundations to provide the funding needed to build capacity, test new ideas, and establish the evidence for what works.

My advice to the leadership and development teams at human services organizations: Do not primarily think of private foundation grants and other philanthropic contributions as a budget gap-filler. Consider where public funds can and should be used, and where private philanthropy can have a unique impact.

For example, social services organizations might focus philanthropic asks on: 

  • Well thought-out new initiatives for which you need to establish proof of concept before advocating for public investment; 
  • Support for concrete diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; 
  • Organizational capacity building (investments in a strategic plan, executive coach, or development strategist, for example);
  • Initiatives that are crucial to your clients’ wellbeing where public funders limit their support (such as access to abortion services, gender-affirming care, or harm-reduction initiatives); and 
  • General Operating Support! 


Above all, the grant request most likely to be funded is the one that is aligned with the foundation’s own priorities, adheres to its proposal guidelines, and for which you have the encouragement of foundation program officers, Board members, or other decision makers to apply. 

Is your organization ready to establish (or grow) a private grants program? The team at Elevate can help! Reach out to us at hello@elevatedeffect.com to learn more about our work with nonprofits throughout the U.S. to build smart and strategic grants programs.


A version of this article was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of The Provider Newspaper, the flagship publication of the Providers’ Council.

June 14, 2022

Aligned to our company value that Elevate is not just our name, we were proud to underwrite GrantStation’s 2022 Annual State of Grantseeking Survey.

Our friends at GrantStation surveyed more than 1,750 representatives of the nonprofit community about grant seeking at their organizations and published a comprehensive report of the findings. The data covers a wide range of topics relating to how organizations tackle grants, the time and resources they invest in their grants programs, the impact of these efforts in terms of grants won and dollars raised, and some of the challenges organizations face in their pursuit of grant funding.

At Elevate, we have partnered with hundreds of nonprofits to implement effective grants programs, and much of the findings of the State of Grantseeking Survey resonate with our experience. Here are a few of the key data points that caught our attention in this year’s report.

Most organizations report that the grant cycle for their largest grants was between one and six months from when the proposal was submitted to the day they were notified of their award.

This aligns closely with Elevate clients’ experience. While many foundations make funding decisions at Board meetings held on an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly basis, others have more flexible review processes that allow them to make funding decisions quickly. We find that well-cultivated opportunities with more progressive, less bureaucratic funders tend to have the quickest turn-around times. However, in most cases you can expect a response to your grant request on a slightly longer timeframe – 4 to 6 months after a proposal submission.

It takes a lot of staff capacity to prepare a strong grant! 63% of organizations report that 1-2 staff worked on their largest grant requests, while 25% of organizations have 3-5 staff directly involved in the grantseeking process.

It’s worth noting that having more individuals involved is not necessarily a bad thing – by engaging your finance, programs, executive, and other staff in the preparation of a funding request, you can build an effective culture of philanthropy where everyone sees themselves as playing a role in securing the resources needed to implement your organization’s mission. Further, once the funds are secured, you will already have a team in place that understands the proposed activities and outcomes associated with the grant and that is ready to implement!”

Grant writing takes time! Most organizations report spending between two days and two weeks writing a grant application.

When planning to develop a proposal, you’ll need to allocate time to review the application questions or proposal requirements, collect data, stories, and activities from your team, prepare budgets and other attachments, and write the narrative. And we always recommend allowing time for a thorough review – for strategic alignment, clarity, and basic grammar as well as adherence to proposal requirements. We explore much of this planning process in our FREE How to Write Your First Grant webinar.

Relatedly, one of the biggest hurdles for organizations in the grantseeking process is a lack of time and staff capacity to research, write, and submit grants.

However, making an investment of this time and capacity is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of your grants program. We find that organizations without dedicated expertise (either having grants experts on staff or the advice of an external consultant) and dedicated time (again – internal or external) are far less likely to secure significant revenue from grants. Aside from the time it takes to prepare grants, other challenges nonprofits face in pursuing grant funding include specific funder requirements, competition among peers, and finding well-aligned opportunities. While many of these barriers can be reduced by committing the appropriate resources to your grants program, the bottom line is that building a winning grants program is tough! It takes capacity, expertise, collaboration, hard work, and time to secure funding from grants. Are you interested in learning more about how the grant writing experts at Elevate can help you develop a sustainable and winning grants program? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us today to learn more!

July 27, 2020

In the era of social distancing, nonprofits across the sector are having to act quickly to move in-person events online — and for better or for worse, it’s likely that this will be our new normal for the foreseeable future.

Some of the types of events impacted by this are immediately obvious; things like fundraising events, galas, and in-person programs have demanded quick pivots and adjustments in order to make up for potential losses in earned revenue in response to COVID.

But as we’re seeing, site visits are another example of a once-standard practice that now require some flexibility and creative adjustments. And regardless of how long the effects of this pandemic last, knowing how to plan and execute a successful virtual site visit could still be an asset even when things return to normal.

Before we get too far, let’s establish exactly what we mean when we talk about site visits.

What is a site visit?

According to Exponent Philanthropy, a site visit is defined as a meeting with one or more staff, board members, or clients of a nonprofit organization, with the goal of understanding more about what they do and how well they do it. Site visits are often part of a funder’s vetting or decision-making process for a grant, or they may be used to help monitor a current grantee at the midpoint or end of a grant cycle.

At Elevate, we also leverage site visits in our work with nonprofit clients that are based outside of the DC Metro region. The primary purpose for these visits is to enhance our services to our clients by understanding their programs in more depth, seeing their programs up close, and building rapport and goodwill with our points of contact.

A virtual site visit has very similar goals, and may even look quite similar to an in-person site visit, with one obvious exception: the meeting takes place in a virtual forum.

As you think about how to make this shift for your organization and begin planning for upcoming virtual site visits with your funders, here are some ideas you might consider:

1. Start from scratch

Tempting as it might be, we do not recommend simply converting a previously-planned site visit into a virtual one. Instead, take some time to consider which aspects of your programs are easiest to showcase virtually, and how best to do so. For example: if you typically do a tour of your office or campus, will you try to do something similar via phone? Or does it make more sense to offer a tour via PowerPoint presentation?

2. Prepare an agenda

We strongly suggest you spend time putting together an appropriate agenda for the site visit ahead of time. We often think it’s best to ask funders if they have a standard agenda they’d like to use, or any questions they’d like to go over first; if they say no, that’s a great opportunity to share an agenda of your own.

When you do share your agenda, that’s a great time to ask your funder if there’s anything missing, or anything else they’d like to go over. This helps them to prepare a little on their end, and gives them an opportunity to offer more meaningful feedback about how they’d like to spend their time.

3. Bring in your participants’ voices

We always like for funders to hear directly from our clients’ program participants, volunteers, and/or recipients whenever possible. Depending on the options available to you, it may be fine to use a video or video excerpt if you have that prepared. However, if you’re able, you may want to invite a few volunteers or participants who are also working from home to join you. Not everyone needs to attend the full duration, but including others can lend more structure to the site visit and help make the tone less meeting-like.

If you do decide to include others, be sure to offer them a good range of topics or talking points ahead of time, to help clarify expectations. We recommend scheduling a meeting or prep call with everyone who will be in attendance, to walk through all the details together ahead of time.

Want this list in the form of a downloadable checklist?

We’ve turned this blog post into a downloadable checklist you can use as you start planning out your next virtual site visit, to make sure you’ve covered all your bases. Download the checklist below!

4. Consider inviting a Board member

Having a Board member join your site visit is an excellent way to demonstrate that the Board is engaged, and that they find it important enough to carve out time from their day to meet with a funder. When selecting a board member to invite, choose someone you can trust to stick to the agenda and talking points, and who is in-the-loop enough to answer questions that might be asked of them.

If inviting a Board member isn’t an option — or even if it is! — you can also have a staff member join you. If you end up having both a Board member and a member of your staff, it’s a good idea to prep them in advance, so everyone is clear about who should field which types of questions. Typically, staff will take on the more detailed questions, while a Board member’s role is more about lending support and credibility.

5. Find ways to break up the monotony

Without having something to do or to look at, virtual site visits run the risk of feeling like a long drawn-out meeting. To help break up the monotony, think about introducing elements like a slideshow of photos to introduce your programs, or give a virtual tour of your space.

At a typical in-person site visit, we sometimes worry about focusing too much on having a PowerPoint prepared since we think it’s more important for people to have a conversation. While this is still true in principle, we also think having some prepared content to walk through can offer a welcome sense of structure and dynamism in a virtual setting. For example, you might break up a 60-90 minute site visit into a few phases, like:

  • Introductions
  • A virtual tour via PowerPoint/screen share
  • A volunteer or participant joins and speaks about their experience for 10-15 minutes
  • Q&A with the funder
6. Prepare thoughtful questions

This applies to a ‘normal’ site visit too, but the point stands: make sure you take time to prepare insightful questions to ask your funders as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, we’d recommend asking them about their future funding strategies and what is top-of-mind for them, if you haven’t already had that conversation.

7. Have a solid game plan for (and TEST) your technology

Hosting a site visit in a virtual environment is likely a new experience for you, so you’ll want to make sure you have a clear and thorough plan for how things are going to run from start to finish. Start by thinking through any apps and/or equipment you’ll need, and who on your team will be responsible for what components of the day. From there, we recommend doing at least one internal test run to make sure things run smooth, and nothing was overlooked.

We all know technology can be fickle, so having a contingency plan is key. What will you do if a team member loses their internet connection, or if that video doesn’t load properly? Once you’ve decided on what your backup plans look like for various scenarios, discuss them with your team and make sure you’re all on the same page. You’ll also want to make sure you have email addresses from all parties involved, in case you need to quickly share any documents or materials that fail to load properly. Finally, we recommend sharing a phone number with everyone who will be attending, that they can call in case of any unanticipated interruptions or hiccups.

Download the Virtual Site Visit Planning Checklist

We’ve turned this blog post into a downloadable checklist you can use as you start planning out your next virtual site visit, to make sure you’ve covered all your bases. Download the checklist below!

June 18, 2020

With all the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, there’s one thing we know for sure: nonprofits across the sector have questions and concerns about how to adapt.

In a poll we conducted during the first session of Elevate’s Summer 2020 Conversation Series, nearly two-thirds of nonprofit professionals surveyed said they were actively concerned about how they should be adjusting their budget, strategic plan, and programs — and in what timeframe.

Additionally, nearly half of the nonprofit professionals surveyed reported uncertainty about how fundraising is impacted during times of crisis, how policies and practices are changing among both government agencies and the funding community.

All of this points to a common question about where we go from here, and how to do things differently in an era of COVID-19, racial injustice, and civic activism. 

Last week, we kicked off our semiannual Conversation Series with an interactive panel discussion featuring leading thinkers and researchers from Independent Sector, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Our conversation addressed many questions about how nonprofits can respond in the short-term, take practical risk, and plan for the future — even when the future feels uncertain.

Below are some of the top few takeaways from last week’s panel discussion on how nonprofits can move forward in spite of the uncertainty we’re all facing.

1. Ask your funders for what you need

As all three of our panelists echoed, this is a great time to talk to your funders, if you haven’t already — particularly if you’ve received restricted funding. Across the board, we’re seeing that funders want to be supportive, and they’ve been willing to unrestrict grants and be flexible in unprecedented ways. Don’t be afraid to be proactive, start a conversation with your program officer, and ask for what you need.

Related: How to Fundraise in Times of Crisis or Uncertainty

2. Be willing to take risks, and lean into innovation

Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, spoke to the importance of risk and experimentation with a sense of balance. Nonprofits should definitely be willing to take risks, and to ask for funding to do things they haven’t done before. In fact, funders right now have been very open to discussing new ideas and ways of doing things! But if every initiative for which you’re seeking support is very risky, you’ll end up with an unbalanced portfolio.

When it comes to your approach to fundraising and any new programs or initiatives, some ideas should be very experimental with a lower chance of success, but you should also be pursuing funding for programs that have proven success. Aim for a balance.

3. Prioritize Advancing Equity

Related to the previous point about innovation: as your organization thinks about innovating and evolving, advancing equity should be a priority — one that helps shape the ways you think and talk about your work moving forward. As Allison Grayson, Director of Policy Development and Analysis at Independent Sector put it: “We cannot rebuild the system we had before, we have to build it back better and in a more equitable way… as a nonprofit organization, I would think about how my mission ties in with that narrative.”

4. Start Planning now for business continuity

It’s important that your organization has a continuity plan to ensure your ongoing ability to deliver services in spite of interruptions, both on a short- and long-term basis. For example, while we may be seeing increased giving right now, it’s likely that we could see decreases over the next six years. This is more proof that now is the right time to be talking with your funders and making the case that unrestricted general operating support is going to increase your organizational sustainability over the long-term.

Related: Every Organization Needs an Emergency Preparedness Plan. Here’s Ours.

April 10, 2020

As the nation’s nonprofit community responds to the urgent needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be all too easy to get hyper-focused on the now: providing critical services, supporting staff facing illness and working remotely, and navigating economic upheaval.

Adding to these competing priorities, the philanthropic community and federal government have stepped up to offer emergency funding and rapid response grant opportunities. Amidst so much uncertainty, we know how tempting it can be to put long-term grants planning on the back burner.

However, we also know how important it is to begin looking forward and creating contingency plans now. Deadlines may be in flux currently, but they will be back — and it’s important to not be caught flat-footed. Elevate has been spending a lot of time planning for continuation of operations, and through that process we’ve developed four preparedness principles that also can be applied to planning for the continuation of your grants programming.

1. Anticipate Changes in Capacity

Nonprofits are no strangers to doing great work with limited capacity. The current situation threatens further strain on that capacity- including staff taking long-term leave to care for themselves or their families. Now is the time to think about how your grants program can maintain if staff are unable to work as usual. For example, Elevate is working with our staff to plan intermittent leave of one or two days per week and reprioritizing responsibilities based on that understanding.

2. Begin Planning Early

Federal grants cycles will be re-stabilizing in the upcoming months and the key to successfully preparing for your renewals or new opportunities will be advance planning. We recommend finding time to review any opportunities on your radar for the upcoming 4-6 months and developing action plans for touching base, staying aware of updates, and the process for working on the application – leaving space for creative problem solving. Then, you can adjust your plan as circumstances change.

3. Assess how you describe your work

We applaud the philanthropic sector for its overall flexibility in supporting nonprofits during this critical time: by converting programmatic funds to general operating support, streamlining applications, and extending deadlines, funders by and large have helped nonprofits answer urgent needs with the understanding that there’s a lot up in the air. However, organizations should be thinking about how their work has changed and begin preparing for how they will describe those changes to funders and their community.

4. Ask for Help

Above all else, remember that you aren’t alone in facing these challenges! As we say at Elevate, we’re all in this together. Across the world, networks are pooling resources and sharing information about best practices. Although we are practicing physical distancing, now is a great time to leverage your connections, build new ones, and think creatively about how to work together.

Elevate is available to be a partner in these efforts, especially through Writing Capacity Projects, which provide support on a project-by-project basis. These projects can supplement your capacity to maintain your calendar, help cover staff leave, or pursue large new opportunities.

Final thoughts

We know it’s not easy for every organization to carve out the time right now to do this type of long-term planning, particularly if your organization is facing an increased demand for services and/or sudden drop-offs in projected revenue or staff capacity. But to the extent that you’re able to make time for it, this type of preparation will pay off in the long-term health and stability of your organization. And if you need us in the short-term, we’re here to help.

April 6, 2020

There’s no such thing as a good time for an emergency or interruption to ‘business as usual’ — but having a solid contingency plan in place makes all the difference.

The COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of how events beyond our control can impact organizational functions both quickly and significantly. This experience has underscored the importance of preparing for unexpected disruptions — both in terms of keeping the organization running smoothly, and protecting the health and wellness of employees and stakeholders.

At Elevate, we’ve drawn on the experience of our executive team to form an internal Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) Team, and keep things running smoothly in spite of the constant change we’re all experiencing. Specifically, our President & COO has been part of COOP teams in the Senate, the White House, and is now leading the COOP Team at Elevate.

We know this is a stressful time to try and figure out how to implement something similar at your organization, on top of everything else on your plate. But we’re here to help! Below, we’ve outlined our framework for forming and running a COOP Team, what to focus on as a group, and how to communicate the necessary updates with your broader team. 

The first step in creating an emergency preparedness plan is to assemble your COOP Team.

We recommend auditing the high-level core functions of your organization, and making sure your COOP team has at least one member that represents each of those departments. We suggest keeping your team small, and including decision-makers for each of the core functions. The COOP team will bring questions and tasks back to their department to keep things moving quickly.

At Elevate, the goal of our COOP Team is to foresee and address issues that may arise with our clients, client teams, finances, and human resources in the event of an epidemic or emergency — and our team includes key staff members whose work is closely tied to each of those core areas.

Once your team is assembled, there are three key areas you’ll want to think about:

  1. Continuity of operations
  2. Emergency preparedness
  3. Communication to stakeholders – internal and external


Let’s break each of these down further

Continuity of Operations

It’s important to develop succession and logistical plans that spell out how your organization will continue to operate in case of absences in leadership, and/or interruptions in critical business functions.

For each core area of your organization (including executive leadership), select a key staff member to create a chart of all key functions. Then, identify an order of succession with at least two-to-four staff members who can take over those responsibilities in the event of an unplanned absence, and be sure your successors are all cross-trained well before they need to step in.

This is known as redundancy, and it’s something you can plan for at all times — not just in the context of emergency preparation. We recommend taking these same measures when you’re designing job descriptions, and clarifying roles and responsibilities, to ensure all core functions have redundancy and everyone involved has been properly trained.

The final step here is to create (or confirm the existence and accuracy of) key documentation that spells out how to perform each responsibility. This could include written instructions, tutorials, and/or sharing any necessary logins and passwords in a secure way. Make sure this documentation is saved in a clear and accessible location! Cross-train your successors well before they need to use it in a real-time setting. Keep in mind that your redundancy plans may include key vendors and/or points of contact, and they may need to be looped in and cross-trained as well.

Emergency Preparedness

In this section, we’re dealing specifically with how your organization will respond to an emergency or unplanned disruption, and how you’ll adapt or change those plans as the emergency situation evolves.

First, you’ll want to go back to that list of core departments or business functions. For Elevate, that includes our clients, internal client teams, office status, operations, finances, human resources, and communication. Within each of those categories, we recommend identifying the different possible phases. Using Office Status as an example: Phase 1 might be ‘the office is open as usual, with limited restrictions’, Phase 2 might be ‘the office is closed to everyone except staff’, and so on. This will be specific to your organization. The final phase should be Back to Business as Usual. The more things change during the disruption, the more important it is to prepare for this phase.

Then, for each phase, you’ll want to make three lists: we’re calling them prompts, considerations, and preparations.

  • We use the term prompt to mean any information that would possibly prompt us to move into this phase. Make sure your team agrees on the reliable sources of information that you will all use to make informed, fact-based decisions. (Using the example of Office Status, prompts might include school closures, government directives or closures, etc.)
  • We use the term consideration to mean any valuable information that needs to be considered when moving to this phase — which often includes things that are not immediately obvious. (Using the example of Office Status, considerations might include how an office closure would impact staff, how to retrieve the mail if the office is closed, etc.)
  • We use the term preparation to mean any steps that should be taken before or during the communication and implementation of this new phase. (Using the example of Office Status, preparations might include communicating the change to staff and stakeholders, taking any necessary measures for building security, cleaning out the office refrigerator, etc.)


Once this information is all compiled in one document, you can use this document to guide the structure of your COOP Team meetings. Our team is currently meeting daily to share updates, discuss any new prompts/considerations/preparations for each stage, and develop communication plans as needed.

Developing a regular meeting cadence is especially important at the beginning of a crisis. Ideally, you’ll carve out 30-60 minutes to meet at the same time every day. As the crisis stabilizes, you may be able to meet less often and/or for a shorter period of time — but it’s still important to have a recurring and designated time for your team to meet and share updates.


As we’re seeing with COVID-19, the situation is evolving and there we’re seeing significant updates by the day — if not by the hour! In times like this, communicating on a regular basis can ease the uncertainty and anxiety of the situation.

As such, Elevate’s COOP Team has committed to sending daily emails to our full staff with information about any changes or updates regarding our phases, policies, and/or best practices based on evolving circumstances, etc. We use the same subject line format for each daily email, so staff know that it is from the COOP Team. We also save all of the emails on our Intranet for easy recall.

We encourage you to adapt this to meet your organization’s needs and culture! For example, the belief that we’re all in this together is central to our company values — so to maintain a feeling of connection, we also throw in a mix of personal videos along with our updates.

In addition to regular internal communication, you may also need to develop separate communication plans for external stakeholders. Is your organization adjusting your hours and/or operating procedures in ways that could impact your broader community? Do you have any timely new services or resources to share, or new initiatives to announce? Does your organization send a newsletter or other means of standard external communication where you could include some of these updates? These are all good questions to weigh as you put together an external communications plan.

Use this as a guiding framework, and be sure to make any necessary additions or modifications to meet your organization’s needs. We hope this provides you with a helpful jumping-off point to ensure your nonprofit’s long term health and sustainability.

Written by Katy Kale and Michelle LaCroix

December 9, 2019

When you think of grant writing, activities like drafting, editing, compiling attachments, and submitting proposals probably come to mind. But there’s a big difference between grant writing, and building a grant program.

Building a grant program is a bigger, broader, and more ambitious endeavor – one that requires the ongoing effort to find prospects, build relationships with funders, write and submit grants, and report on your impact to funders.

Sure, this approach takes more time effort than simply writing and submitting proposals and hoping for checks to arrive in the mail year after year. But it also offers much larger returns, when done well. Compared to grant writing, a grant program can help your organization achieve greater efficiency, build expertise among staff (including program staff), and decrease uncertainty when planning for the year.

As we approach the end of this calendar year, now is a great time to think about the state of your grant program, and what you’d like it to achieve over the next 12 months. Below we’ll walk you through some tips and exercises to help you set meaningful goals for your grant program in the coming year.

What Should a Grant Program Aim to Achieve, Anyway?

Just like your other programs, your grant program needs to advance your organizational mission. Tempting as it might be to throw proverbial spaghetti at the wall and pursue any grant you think might win you money, staying focused on the opportunities that support and align with your nonprofit’s existing programs, impact goals, and/or other organizational objectives is key.

As you’re outlining your goals, it’s also important to walk the line between aspiration and pragmatism. Your goals should be based on an understanding of what is feasible, and accurately reflect the resources (i.e., time, effort, and focus) it will take to deliver results. Once you establish what these specific goals are, it’s important to review your progress regularly and make adjustments as needed.

The Nuts and Bolts of Meaningful Goal Setting

We recommend zeroing in on 3-5 measurable, feasible, and sustainable goals for your grant program each year. Remember, these goals should focus on more than just dollars; instead, aim to set goals that help your organization secure the resources it needs in order to sustain (or grow) its work.

Some good examples include:

  • Secure our first grant award this year.
  • Win $75,000 in new funding, from at least 3 different funders.
  • Close the funding gap for our Senior Services program.
  • Cultivate 10 new relationships with funders.
  • Leverage our new Board Chair’s relationships to grow our prospect list by 10.
  • Improve our program evaluation by securing a capacity building grant.

Tips for Setting the Right Goals for Your Grant Program

1. Start with what you need.

A great place to start is to review your budget gaps: What programs need funding? Are you losing any key funders this year or in the next 2-3 years? What do those numbers look like? Also take time to review expense budgets for each program, as well as any dedicated and allocated revenue for each program, and factor those into this process as well. Keep in mind that this will likely take time, and your leadership must be involved

2. Next, add in what you’d like.

Once you’ve assessed and accounted for your immediate needs, consider your larger vision for the future of your organization and programs. What additional resources might you need to realize that vision and/or achieve those goals?

3. Be Realistic!

At Elevate, we use two primary tools to ensure are goals are rooted in reality: a landscape analysis, and a forecasting document.

We recommend conducting an analysis of your peers, to give you a fuller picture of the landscape and help you set reasonable goals and expectations. Start by assessing who your peers and competitors are – aim to identify 4-10 peer organizations, and look at how they similar or different to your organization or programs. Once you have your list or peer organizations, do some research to see how much funding they receive from grants or foundations, including which funders support them and the average award size. Doing this type of analysis will also help you determine whether it’s feasible for your organization to reach your revenue goals through grants alone.

A forecasting chart helps you understand and anticipate how much funding your grant program might secure in the coming year based on probability. It helps you plan for the uncertainty of losing grants you did not expect to lose – and win grants you did not expect to win!

The basic steps for putting together a forecasting chart are to:

  • Estimate the likelihood you will win a grant; and then
  • Multiply that by the amount of money requested.

Here’s the math:
$ ask amount x % probability of winning = $ expected revenue 

For example:
$100,000 request x 50% probability = $50,000 expected revenue

You’ll then add each anticipated proposal’s expected revenue together to create a forecast and get the total expected revenue from grant funding for your organization. Remember: your goal is not to get everything about every funder right! Instead: it is to play the averages and get your total projections as close as possible to reality.

For more on how to create a forecasting chart, plus a free downloadable template, check out this blog post.

4. Consider your organization’s unique story.

The more aware you are of your organization’s history, strengths, vision, and challenges, the better equipped you’ll be to set goals for your grant program that strengthen and deepen the impact of your work. Below are a few examples of how you might map your understanding of your organization onto your goals for the year:

Organizational Strength: Our adult workforce development programming serves more people, with greater need, than many of our peers.

  • Grants Program Goal: To secure public funding for our adult workforce development programming from the city for the first time, and explore at least 2 state grants. To focus on renewing existing workforce development grants and pursue at least 2 new large ($50,000+) grants for this program.

Organizational Challenge:
Our youth mentoring program does not stand out among our peers.

  • Grants Program Goal: To secure a capacity building grant to improve the program design and evaluation.

We wish you all the best in setting and reaching meaningful goals with your grant program in 2020! And stay tuned for a follow-up blog post on how to measure if your grant program is working over the course of the year.

Written by Alayna Buckner and Michelle LaCroix

October 24, 2018


Giving Tuesday is a fundraising force to be reckoned with, with over $645 million raised over the past six years.

Nonprofits across the country are busy preparing their campaigns for this year’s Giving Tuesday, which is rapidly approaching on November 27. As such, we are excited to launch a series of Giving Tuesday blog posts to help you prepare to meet and exceed your fundraising and/or visibility goals for this day of global giving.

We are kicking off the series this week with an introduction to the history of this growing fundraising initiative, and the critical steps your organization should take now to participate this year.


Now in its seventh year, Giving Tuesday provides a data-proven occasion for organizations to enhance end-of-year giving. Created by New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation in 2012, Giving Tuesday has become a global movement, joining diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations for the common purpose of encouraging and celebrating giving and philanthropy. The idea was to create a day of giving on the Tuesday directly after Thanksgiving, intentionally following mega-consumer days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and is unique in that it brings together the collective power of nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, and families and individuals.

Many thought leaders and influencers in social media, philanthropy, and grassroots social change became founding partners of the movement including Cisco, Mashable, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Groupon, UNICEF, Aldo, Sony, Unilever, Skype, Google, and Microsoft. In its first year, the day and concept was quickly popularized by news outlets such as the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and ABC News, and even made it to the official blog of the White House.

By the Numbers

Classy, a leading online and mobile fundraising platform for nonprofits found that nonprofits acquire 3 to 5 times more donors on Giving Tuesday than on a typical day. In 2017 alone, an estimated $300 million was raised online (up from $180 million in 2016) through more than 2.5 million total donations. Last year’s day of giving involved 150+ countries and saw an impressive 21.7 billion social media impressions and 1,010,045 social mentions.

Year over year, Giving Tuesday goals have exceeded expectations. In 2017, Cave Canem Foundation raised well beyond its goal of $5,000, raising about $18,000 in support of African-American poets. The United Way of metropolitan Dallas raised more than $22 million for 92 organizations and logged more than 484,445 volunteer hours. And JPMorgan Chase increased its employee giving 23 percent, generating $4.7 million.

In 2016, DonorsChoose.org had then, their single biggest day in the organization’s history, reporting 17,000 donors, 3,210 completed projects, and $1.8 million raised for classrooms. Also in 2016, the University of Michigan raised $5.5 million and acquired 2,000 new donors.

How Organizations Participate

While Giving Tuesday is a sure bet to increase dollars, the entire day encourages holistic giving in all forms. By harnessing the potential of social media, Giving Tuesday encourages the donation of time, resources, and talents to address local challenges. In 2016, enough toys were collected to break a Guinness world record, and even more notable, one organ-donor registration drive was so successful that someone donated a kidney. The donation of time is also encouraged either day-of or through campaigns and in-person volunteer events that encourage people to sign up to volunteer. Other popular days of service include dance-a-thons, blood drives, and meal and toiletry preparation. Some organizations also encourage or let their stakeholders know how they can hold personal fundraisers on Giving Tuesday with the intent to donate money to their organization.

Last year, the top five issue areas discussed were public and societal benefit, human services, education, health, and the environment and animals. In a survey conducted by Classy, results found that donors feel the number one cause needing the most support this Giving Tuesday 2018 is disaster relief (48 percent) followed by health issues (37 percent) and environmental causes and/or animal issues (36 percent.).

Get Involved!

This year, Giving Tuesday will take place on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 but organizations should be planning their approach well in advance in order to truly leverage the day.

In order to get started, organizations need to join the movement by registering on Giving Tuesday’s website. The official Giving Tuesday site also provides a downloadable toolkit that provides resources to getting started with a Giving Tuesday campaign along with ideas and case studies on how other organizations  creatively found ways to get their stakeholders involved as well as reach new audiences with their campaigns.

Whole Whale, a social-impact-focused digital agency, predicts that $331 million will be raised on Giving Tuesday 2018.

The potential of Giving Tuesday is immense. Check out our next post in the series where we discuss ways in which organizations can make a compelling wish list to encourage individual donors to give.

This is the first of three posts in our Giving Tuesday blog series. Stay tuned next week for our next post.

JANUARY 18, 2018

In the grant writing world, there is understandably a huge emphasis placed on writing a compelling narrative. However, it is also important to think of grants as packages composed of several components, all of which call for careful thought, planning, and tracking.

First, there is the list of requirements for each submission – what information is required, and how it needs to be formatted and presented; there are the attachments, which often need to be gathered and updated from various corners of the office (see our best tips for keeping them organized); and even the narrative itself often includes sections written by several different team members. A process-oriented approach that treats your grant as a complete package with moving parts that all need attention will not only strengthen the grant’s narrative, but will lead to a stronger overall grant application.

Through the Grants Coordinator and Project Coordinator roles on our teams, Elevate adds a layer of project management approach to the grant writing process that emphasizes the creation, management, and adherence to internal deadlines. This more systematic approach to grant writing helps our teams manage multiple grant deadlines at once, which allows us and the nonprofit organizations we work with to build out robust, well-organized grants calendars.

Below are four ways to systematize the grant writing process to strengthen your grant package, and reduce stress:

1. Pull the application questions first

Before you begin drafting any content, pull the application questions from each specific funder’s website, template, or online portal – and save them in outline form. Though this may seem like a redundant or even unnecessary step, it allows you to see every piece you need to plan for, as well as which narrative components may require input from different staff members. Are there statistics or program outcomes that a certain program staff will need to provide? This step will help you plan ahead and build in enough time to collect the data you need.

2. Create an attachment needs table

Create a table that lists all the required attachment for the grant. This table should include a note of where the attachment can be found, and who may have it. Will you need a program budget? An audit from a specific fiscal year? Letters of support from partners? If the funder allows for supplemental materials, also include any additional collateral you may want to include in your application packet such as media articles, annual reports, and images.

3. Set a timeline for gathering all the pieces

Once you have listed out the various components of your grants package –and noted where to find them–it is time to create a timeline for the compilation of your grant package. Be sure to consider the following as you put together your timeline:

  • Prioritize any materials that you may need to procure externally. For example, letters of support from partners or a Certificate of Good Standing from your local government.
  • Assign tasks to appropriate team members well in advance.
  • Think about how long it may take for various team members to produce certain materials. Be sure to consider each team member’s schedule, workload, and work style.
  • Allocate ample time to assemble all the components of your grant package and double check that everything is up-to-date, present, and accounted for.
4. Have one person be responsible for the management and adherence to internal deadlines

It is futile to create a timeline if its deadlines aren’t closely followed. Adhering to internal deadlines is easiest when one person takes the lead on monitoring the timeline. This can be done through task management software (at Elevate we use Asana), project management tools such as Gantt tables, or something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. No matter which tool you choose, be sure to regularly check on your timeline and gently remind team members of upcoming tasks.

There is no worse feeling than realizing at the last minute that you may not be able to submit a grant because you do not have your adequate time to collect a required letter of support, or that your narrative could have been significantly strengthened if you had built in time to add a programmatic statistic or anecdote. The systematization of the grant writing process, and the implementation, management and adherence to internal deadlines, mitigates the risk of a last-minute grants-related crisis. It creates safeguards that allow you to thoroughly think through every aspect of your grant submission, and ensure that you deliver the strongest possible application to potential funders.

November 17, 2017


Hopefully, we have already convinced you to create a forecasting document. Now it is time to go into more detail about how not to create one. We also provide some tips and tricks to make your forecast more accurate and useful.

Tip 1: Use a template so you don’t reinvent the wheel!

In the previous post, we talked about creating probabilities based on the type, tier, and history of the funder. But we do not want you to reinvent the wheel when doing this work. A template can make this process a lot easier, and we’ve provided one that you can download at the end of this post.

Type of Funder

You should classify your funders as either public, corporate, or foundation. Depending on your circumstances, it might also make sense to have a category for family foundation, major donor, or local v. national foundation. In general, public agencies are going to have a lower funding probability than corporate foundations and both will be lower than private foundations. National foundations are going to be much lower than local or regional funders.

Tier or Alignment

Tier should be used to classify funders by how well aligned you are. Obviously, you are more likely to be funded by organizations with which you closely align. Some nonprofits also benefit by classifying funders by which program they support. They know that one of their programs is able to win new funders 10% of the time, while another might only win funding 5% of the time.

History or Relationship

Your probability should obviously be MUCH higher among existing funders. In fact, if you are not renewing over 90% of your existing funders, at least among those who fund annually, you need to examine your stewardship efforts. History can also help you classify funders by your cultivation efforts and how long you have been building a real relationship with them.

Tip 2: All your funders must be named. Prospects AND ‘TBD’ ARE not funderS!

A major problem we see with forecasts is that many people want their projections to yield more money than they do. They frequently add a line for prospects that are not yet identified. Whether you call this TBD or ‘unidentified funders’ or ‘prospects’ — it does not belong on your forecasting chart, and you need to immediately delete that row.

Of course, there is an exception to this rule and it depends on timing. If you’re creating a projections chart for next year just a few months into your current fiscal year, you can have a line for unidentified prospects. If you have included this, you or your development team should ensure your team is actively bringing a lot of prospects to you every few weeks.

However, if you are approving an official projections chart for the upcoming year, there is a small probability that you are going to find new prospects, cultivate them, apply to them, and win first-time funding during that same year.

Tip 3: Expand your list or increase your renewal amounts (NOT your percentages)

If you have elected to set a fundraising goal before looking at your revenue projections, we recommend that you revise your goal after seeing what is possible from your projections.

In particular, please do not arbitrarily fiddle with your projections, percentages, or ask amount to get to your desired fundraising goal. Instead, create a low and high version of your projections, with riskier percentages. (To see a real example of how we did this, make sure to download the free template at the end of this post!)

If your projections still do not reach your goals—again—please do not adjust your projections arbitrarily. Instead, this is your opportunity to see what is missing from your projections and if you need to expand “the top of the funnel” by adding more prospects. You can also look at your renewals and increase the ask amount in order to upgrade them to larger amounts.

Finally, if your projections still are not where you need them to be, you need to adjust your goal downward. It is MUCH better to do the difficult work of limiting expenses now, before you have spent the money, than it is to be mid-way through the year looking at an expense budget that surpasses your revenue projections. You will have less time to cut those expenses, and so the shortfall will actually feel more significant if you wait for six months.

Tip 4: Examine your assumptions and learn as you go!

The goal of your forecast is to predict reality given all the uncertainty there is – so even if you raise a LOT more than you thought you would, your forecast was not as helpful as it should have been.

Much worse, and more common, is if you have projected that you will raise much more than you did. You are likely stressed already and will have to cut major planned expenses.

If you’re new to forecasting, and this has happened, you have to fully examine your assumptions:

  • Are you better or worse at cultivating than thought? You can determine this by noticing if what you projected as very unlikely—5% or 10% possibilities—turned out to be funded closer to 20% of the time.
  • Were there external things you did not predict but could have – i.e. new government opportunities that became available or former funding streams that were shut down? To predict these better, you can make sure you’re on the right listservs, attending the right coalition or association meetings, and networking with your colleagues to stay in the loop about local and federal funding opportunities.
forecasting isn’t an exact science, but it is a necessary practice.

Estimate on the conservative side, be realistic about your probabilities, and adjust your assumptions as you become more comfortable with your organization’s probabilities for success.