Our Elevate Colleagues Weigh In With Advice

At Elevate, we’ve been thinking a lot this year about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it could influence the way that we perform our work supporting nonprofits in building more sustainable grants programs. AI is increasingly relevant in everyday business operations across numerous industries, and it has been applied for many years in ways that many people don’t realize –  mapping apps like Google Maps, voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, even the autocorrect feature in your texting app or word processing software are powered by artificial intelligence. 

Some interesting trends have emerged in 2023, which hint at AI’s potential while also raising significant ethical and information security considerations. A recent Forbes Advisor survey reports that: 

  • ChatGPT, an AI powered large language model, had 1 million users within the first five days of being available. 
  • 54% of survey respondents believe that AI tools like ChatGPT can improve written content by enhancing text quality, creativity, and efficiency in various content creation contexts. 
  • AI is expected to see an annual growth rate of 37.3% between now and 2030. 
  • The majority of consumers are concerned about business use of AI. 


Accordingly, Elevate is treading optimistically – yet cautiously – when it comes to AI! While we are exploring how AI can create efficiencies in our work, we are also committed to maintaining the highest quality and privacy standards for our clients. 

I recently spoke with a handful of my most forward-thinking and tech-savvy Elevate colleagues, who offered their thoughts on what AI applications are and aren’t helpful in aspects of their work advising nonprofit clients. We share their insights here for your consideration as we all navigate this brave new world. 


ChatGPT is NOT your next grant writer 

Because many of the questions Elevate receives about AI are about ChatGPT specifically, we begin with the 411 on this tool. 

Even if you haven’t yet used it yourself, you’ve undoubtedly heard the buzz about ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a free, natural language processing tool that can answer questions and support users with tasks such as composing emails, essays, and code. It can spew out responses in a matter of seconds. It does this by analyzing your question or prompt, then – using the dataset it was trained on – predicting the next word or series of words based on what you’ve entered. 

But is it savvy enough to write sophisticated, nuanced, and winning grants? 

Our colleagues were unequivocal in their response: Not even close. 

This is because ChatGPT lacks the context, experience and judgment to handle such complex work. Even when I asked ChatGPT “What are the Pros and Cons of Using ChatGPT for grant writing?” it didn’t disagree! While ChatGPT praised its speed and ability to maintain consistency in “tone, language, and messaging” across various sections of a grant proposal and to polish language, it cautioned that it may not fully appreciate the “nuances” of grant guidelines, that it has limitations in understanding the context of an organization’s work and history, and that it could also produce plagiarizing text. 

The text that ChatGPT generates in response to a question or prompt might not even be factual – there are absolutely no assurances that the information is accurate or true. 

What’s more, because ChatGPT and other AI models draw upon existing content, AI can reflect underlying societal biases, perpetuating stereotypes and white supremacist notions. At Elevate, we know that historically marginalized communities are not “vulnerable” objects of charity, but agents and partners of the social change that they desire to see. This level of social context is far too complex for an AI-powered language model to appropriately reflect. 

So, what are the appropriate uses of ChatGPT? 

If you do want to experiment with ChatGPT in your writing tasks, we suggest using it for simpler, less analytical tasks, such as condensing word count, identifying alternative phrasing to avoid repetition, or summarizing the main points of your research into more readable language. 

ChatGPT also has the potential to provide administrative support for your work, and can be harnessed to: 

  • Organize a to-do list
  • Summarize meeting minutes 
  • Brainstorm ideas


But whatever you do, do NOT rely on ChatGPT to produce your next grant proposal. 

I know what you are thinking: It’s no surprise that a grant writing firm is telling me not to use an AI tool to write grants! But we are not just saying this because we want to be your grant writers. (Though we DO want to be your grant writers!) 

At Elevate, we firmly believe that good grant writing is a thoughtful, strategic exercise that requires skill, nuance, and informed decision making. ChatGPT – like other AI tools – is neither  thoughtful nor strategic. It lacks discernment of nuance, and is incapable of making reasoned choices about how to present an organization’s work to a funding partner. 

Simply producing large volumes of content – that may or may not be factual! – is NOT the point of grant writing. And this is truly all that ChatGPT is doing: generating text. 


AI Tools CAN Help You Take Notes, Summarize Content, and Find Information  

At Elevate, some of our staff are experimenting with the use of AI-powered tools such as Simon Says AI and Fathom Notetaker to capture meeting notes and provide summaries of important conversations that they need to refer back to later or share with colleagues who couldn’t attend meetings. By using AI tools for more administrative tasks, you can free up some of your own time and energy for tasks that require thought and strategy – something AI can’t do! 

As a tool developed by Google, Bard can interface with Google Workspace tools, if you choose to connect these. This means, you can ask Bard to find dates, taks, or other information in gmail, or to summarize a report a colleague shared via Google docs. 

Interested in exploring more options for what you can do with AI tools? Check out, which aggregates AI tools suited for different purposes. 


Please Please Please: Inform yourself about privacy! 

If you take only one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: get informed about the privacy of the information you share with AI tools, and take precautions to protect your information. 

When using any cloud-based technology platform, it is imperative that consideration be given to the way these tools use, store, and share information. Depending on your privacy settings, information you share with tools like Bard and ChatGPT may be used to improve its own language model. This means your data may not only be available to its creators (OpenAI), but also to others who use the platform. 

For instance, when first accessing Bard, users are notified that Google will collect conversations and other information like the user’s location, store this data for a period of time, and use it to refine the tool. Furthermore, users are informed that “human reviewers read, annotate, and process your Bard conversations,” and they are warned to not share confidential information.

For these reasons, think carefully about what information you share with AI tools. Remember that a grant application may include information about your organization, programs, staff, and future plans that might be considered private. A good rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t want a piece of data or information on your public website for anyone to find, you should not share that information with an AI tool. 

How is your organization using AI powered tools, and what have you found useful, scary, hopeful, or exciting about these tools? We invite you to share! 

Are you still feeling overwhelmed, or do you want to learn more? Here are a few sources the team at Elevate is using to stay informed: 

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 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.

Part 2 of our Conversation with April Walker of Philanthropy for the People


A few months ago, we published a Q&A with April Walker of Philanthropy for the People, in which April provided her perspective on centering equity and inclusion in nonprofits, and the limitations of institutional philanthropy in the pursuit of equity. As promised, we are back with more ideas and strategies from April for our readers!

Centering equity and inclusion in any manner of organization is a long-term effort that requires financial resources and buy-in from both staff and leadership. Unfortunately, equity has become a co-opted term, and the work so jargonized, that it is often difficult to tell what efforts are substantive and which are performative.

For this reason, we bring you four practical tips for meaningfully centering equity in your nonprofit. We hope that these tips help you in navigating the complex yet essential process of resetting your organization’s culture with a focus on equity.

Tip 1: Embrace Discomfort. April says: “You can’t gold star or checklist your way through [equity work]. You’re looking to exist in a very messy, uncomfortable space where you have to get comfortable not having the right answers and saying the wrong thing.”

Centering equity in your organization is not linear work. You will need to get used to engaging in uncomfortable conversations, grappling with hard truths about where your organization is falling short, and examining your biases, both explicit and implicit.

As Dr. Ella Washington, an organizational psychologist, explains, this work is about “making cultural changes, finding new ways to influence people, and making difficult decisions,” which requires an “intentional, nuanced approach.” It is impossible to change a culture, with all its systems, values, and traditions overnight, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and embrace the uncertainty and challenge!

Tip 2: Pay Employees a Living Wage. April says: “I urge people to ask, ‘What does our organizational budget look like with everybody at this organization earning a living wage? What does our budget look like with everybody at this organization having quality healthcare benefits? What does our budget look like with everybody having access to professional development?’”

A nonprofit’s most valuable resource is its staff—without their day-to-day efforts, it would be impossible to achieve any funded outputs or outcomes. Yet, workers in the nonprofit sector remain vastly undercompensated, and many of them identify as members of the most marginalized communities. Boards and funders have also enabled this disparity by focusing on the bottom-line of financials and failing to treat the people who do the work as part of the work itself. But this need not be the case! What if funders played a bigger role in helping nonprofits to better invest in the talent that drives them?

Some funders are starting to wake up to the implications of supporting nonprofits that undercompensate their staff. Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams, a program officer at the Pyramid Peak Foundation, noted an inconsistency inherent in this approach to philanthropy:

I took it upon myself to tell agency heads I could not in good conscience support a budget that didn’t pay people appropriately, and I backed that up with funding recommendations to support those budgets . . . We would need far less philanthropy in Memphis if we had higher wages. In deciding which programs to fund, if I had taken their board-approved budgets as presented, I would reinforce an expectation that people working in the nonprofit sector deserve less. I would have co-signed the myth that work in the nonprofit sector feeds the soul, so it doesn’t have to feed or clothe or house the body.”

Likewise, nonprofit governance can play an important role in changing compensation practices. The Center for Progressive Reform is an example of a nonprofit that committed to a multi-step process to reach the goal of paying its staff more than a living wage. To do so certainly took advance planning and didn’t happen overnight. First they worked with their board to establish a contingency fund to augment salaries to mitigate inflation; they also upgraded benefits packages, and partnered with Living Wage for US to conduct an individual assessment and achieve certification.

Beyond pay, it is also imperative to provide equitable opportunities for professional development, as well as more intangible measures such as mentorship and networking for staff.

Tip 3: Hold Leadership and Governance Accountable. April says: “Equity and inclusion also need to be baked into everyone’s performance evaluation, including the executive director’s and board members.”

We hold organizational leaders accountable for other job performance measures, so why should helping to shift workplace culture to advance equity be treated any differently? While we want to be careful not to equate progress with overly-simplified metrics, there are ways to thoughtfully gauge and measure progress over time. Doing so also reinforces the message that everyone at the organization is tasked with this work (see more on this point below).

Creating a culture of accountability in leadership and governance is key to sustaining momentum for long-range, deep-seated work. In the absence of such a culture, “any effort to prevent racial harm or provide proper redress when it occurs will fall short . . . and deepen distrust and disconnection among staff”; it can also impact employee retention and team performance.

Tip 4: Avoid Tokenization. April says: “Everyone at the organization should be doing equity work so that they can figure out what being an active ally actually looks like.”

There are a number of reasons why an organization should ensure that everyone shares in the work of centering equity. First, this work involves transforming workplace culture—if large segments of your organization aren’t engaged, how can a true shift take place?

Additionally, those who experience the most inequity should not disproportionately bear the brunt of these endeavors, both for practical and fairness reasons. Often, the voices of those who are most marginalized are numerically underrepresented in the organization. It is also necessary for those who enjoy the most advantages to learn to leverage their influence to support their colleagues in effecting change. This allyship can take different forms – it does not always look like being front and center.

Finally, you might want to consider a team-based approach to equity work that convenes communities of practice for staff and board members from different organizations to engage in learning sessions, peer sharing, relationship building and coaching. Check out ProInsipre for more tips on this type of team-based model for building equity, as well as other helpful resources and training opportunities.

If your organization has embarked on an equity journey, we’d love to hear what you have learned through this important and challenging work!

Interested in learning more from organizations who have successfully implemented these tips? Stay tuned to this blog for further discussion in our Elevate Q&A series with nonprofits and funders, or join our email list to be the first to know when new content is published.

August 16, 2022

New analysis from Elevate’s Data Team finds that our clients’ win rate for general operating support requests is higher than our win rate for program-specific requests. This is true for both new and renewal grants.

This exciting research means that Elevate’s clients – and likely many other nonprofits – have the power to ask their funding partners to invest in the flexible funding that they most need.

By win rate, Elevate refers to the percentage of grants our clients have won, when compared to all the grants that they have submitted and closed (or heard back about officially), whether the grants were approved or denied. 


How many times have you heard fundraising advice along the lines of: “Grant proposals that are focused on a specific project or program are more compelling than those requesting general support.” Or: “Foundations want to support programs, not overhead!” 

If you have worked in nonprofit leadership, development, or an adjacent role for any measure of time, I am certain that the answer is likely more than you can count! 

But how true is this traditional advice? 

In recent years, the team at Elevate has observed key trends in the types of grants our clients are winning. We had a hunch that our nonprofit partners were securing more general operating support dollars each year, and that grantmakers are warming to the idea of providing general operating support. And we saw the think pieces; read any listicle on the “top trends in grantmaking” and you’ll undoubtedly see increased general operating support and trust-based philanthropy on top of the list. 

Still, we wondered what our own data would reveal. Are Elevate clients winning more general operating support or programmatic grants? How does the amount of grant revenue they secure compare between the two? And is it possible to secure general operating support from a new funding partner, or should we only ask our existing donors for general operating support? So we rolled up our sleeves, typed in our two-factor authentication codes, and dug into our trusty Salesforce database for the answers. 


Elevate and our clients win a higher percentage of the General Operating Support grants we submit compared to Program-Restricted grants. 

We looked at the overall win rate – the grants secured compared to the total number of grants submitted – for both general operating support and for program support for the two-and-a-half year period from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2022. During that period, our clients submitted a total of 6,229 proposals. The win rate for general operating support grants was 72.2% (for every 100 grants submitted, 72 were won), whereas the win rate for program support was 66.8%. While this may seem modest, we actually ran a chi-square test to ensure that these results were statistically significant (p < .0001), and not due to random variation. The findings were clear: there are real differences in win rate by request type.


Even when disaggregated by new and renewal grants, win rates are STILL higher for General Operating Support requests.

After examining the above, we wondered whether the result would be different if we broke the opportunities apart by new versus renewal opportunities. An opportunity would be considered “new” if it is one that the organization has never applied to in the past, and a renewal opportunity is a grant they have secured in previous years. Generally, a grantee has a much higher likelihood of securing a renewal grant than a new one. (You already know this if you read our two-part blog on How to Predict the Future!) But we wondered about the likelihood of securing a new grant for General Operating Support.

Interestingly, our findings held true for both new and renewal opportunities. For renewal grant opportunities, the win rate for General Operating Support requests was 92.2%, slightly higher than the win rate for program requests at 87.8%. For new grant opportunities, the win rate for General Operating Support requests was 54.3%, and the win rate for program requests was 47.1%. 

On the flip side, the total dollars secured for Program-Restricted grants is more than twice that of General Operating Support. 

While the data around win rates is very compelling, we also wondered about the total grant dollars our nonprofit partners secure that is designated as general operating support versus program-restricted funding. Interestingly, for the same set of opportunities that resulted in the win rates in findings #1 and #2 above, our clients secured roughly $370.3 million in programmatic support, as compared with $169.8 million in general operating support – less than half of the total amount of programmatic funding won! 

Naturally, we wondered why this is the case, which lead us to our final finding: overall, there are more opportunities to request Program-Restricted grants than there are opportunities to ask for General Operating Support.

While win rates may be higher for general operating support grants, the opportunity to request this type of flexible support is not the norm. Our data set revealed that Elevate clients had nearly 25% more opportunities to request program support than they had opportunities to ask for general operating support. 


Our analysis shows how important general operating support is to a holistic grant strategy. And, it shows how our nonprofit clients are both empowered to ask for what they most need, and able to find true philanthropic partners willing to invest in the sustainability and capacity of their organizations. 

Still, across the board, foundations invest more dollars in programs than in the operations of their grantees. We view this as a fundamental problem facing our sector today: many philanthropists are unwilling to invest in the necessary infrastructure of nonprofits. And as any nonprofit leader knows all too well, without unrestricted funding to invest in staff, technology, capacity building, anti-racism work, and unanticipated opportunities, nonprofits are hamstrung, unable to innovate or act swiftly to serve their community or constituents when the need arises. 

The bottom line is that general operating support is essential to the success of the nonprofit sector. Organizations need flexible funding that they can leverage as needed to advance their missions. And they need more funding partners who are willing to trust nonprofit leaders and invest in organizations in a way that allows them to do their work. 

We are hopeful: the data is pointing in the right direction. And, philanthropy must continue to invest even more unrestricted resources in the nonprofits doing the meaningful work of social change. 


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!

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 6, 2020

Though the effects of COVID-19 are far from behind us, hundreds of foundations are already committing to doing grantmaking differently in the wake of this crisis.

In March of this year, the Ford Foundation spearheaded a pledge in partnership with the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project and the Council on Foundations that encourages fellow grantmakers to commit to acting with urgency and finding new ways to support their grantee partners and the communities they serve in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, nearly 800 foundations have signed on to a long list of commitments ranging from loosening restrictions on current grants, to collaborating with grantees to find creative responses that help them move quickly to serve communities that have been hit the hardest.

This is just one indicator of how the philanthropic landscape is starting to change in response to the global COVID-19 crisis, to better meet the needs of nonprofits and the people they serve. Last month in the second session of Elevate’s Summer Conversation Series, we took a closer look at what the future of philanthropy could look like if practices like trust-based philanthropy, participatory grantmaking, and less restrictive guidelines for grantees become more common. We also discussed how nonprofits can play a role in affecting these types of changes in giving.

Below are three of the biggest takeaways from that conversation:

1. Advancing equity in giving is a two-way street

Some funders are focusing more on equity now, but not all of them are — which means that whether we like it or not, nonprofits also need to work together to play a role in advancing greater equity in giving.

One simple way nonprofits can help bring equity to the forefront? Claim or update your Guidestar profile and share your organization’s demographic data. Doing so can help us all get a clearer picture of where we are collectively as a sector in terms of equity, plus it gives funders a more complete understanding of your organization — especially for those who are doing their research and actively looking for ways to give more equitably.

2. Find ways to provide feedback to funders

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to ask your funders for feedback — but in this Conversation Series session, our panelists highlighted just how important it is that we also find ways of providing feedback to funders about how they can adapt their giving practices to be more equitable, and make a greater impact.

Asia Hadley, Director of Partnerships – South at Candid and one of our panelists, gave an example of a funder in Atlanta who gave out a round of grants — none of which went to Black-led organizations. When the community members were rightfully upset, they got together with several Black-led groups and held a discussion where they invited funders in to raise the issue, and discuss how to make sure more of these organizations would be included in the next funding cycle. Examples like this illustrate the power of collective organizing to start some of those larger conversations.

Similarly, developing relationships with your funders can also go a long way. As one of our panelists, Jovana Djordjevic, said: “It’s important to build relationships with funders that aren’t just transactional — we can support them in doing things differently.”

Related: Three Steps for Creating a Grants Program That’s Built to Last

3. Consider the power of collective action in affecting change

If you’re in a particularly challenging situation with a funder, one solution for offering feedback is to consider collaborating with other organizations working together to start those important conversations. There are many benefits to collective action, and reasons why it’s an effective mechanism for affecting change. As our panelist Asia Hadley put it: “Every time we speak up in a collective way, that’s an opportunity to make the whole sector better.”

Initiatives like the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project illustrate how feedback from grantees can push funders to reconsider their practices — and ultimately band together and commit to changing the dynamic of the grantor-grantee dynamic to be more collaborative.

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.

June 2, 2020

“How do I know when my organization should engage a grant writing firm like Elevate?”

A big part of my role at Elevate is fielding inquiries from organizations of all shapes and sizes that are asking themselves the question: Is working with Elevate the right step for my organization?

While I am primarily responsible for new business development for our growing company, I am act as a trusted partner for nonprofits as they make this decision. Elevate is deeply committed to advancing progressive social change through the important work of the nonprofit sector. We want to partner with organizations that are creating meaningful and lasting change.

So, I take the responsibility seriously when an organization brings their challenges and needs to me — often sharing candid struggles they may have had with a previous grant writer or issues they are facing in taking their grants program to the next level.

Some of the organizations I talk with are strong and growing and need extra grant writing capacity to take advantage of new opportunities. Others are struggling to develop a strategy to diversify their revenue streams, especially if they are heavily invested in major donors or events. Nonprofit leaders often ask me if they are leaving foundation dollars on the table by not having the capacity to research them.

Over the years, Elevate has worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations who come to us with varying needs, grants programs in different stages of sophistication, and internal development teams ranging from robust to nonexistent.

We have learned a lot about the different scenarios that nonprofit organizations have implemented to staff their grant writing function, and we have observed the circumstances under which these scenarios work well and not so well. We have helped nonprofits that are considering whether to hire Elevate, an internal grant writer, or another firm or contract grant writer to navigate the complex considerations that go into making such a decision — from cost to building continuity to leveraging expertise. 

To learn more how to make the best decision for your organization, check out our recorded webinar in the Elevate resource library, How to Know When to Enlist Outside Grant Writing Support!

In it, we shared the key considerations for nonprofits, to help them answer the question of whether it’s time to engage a grant writing firm like Elevate — or to try another staffing solution! Other things we cover during the recorded session:

  • weigh the pros and cons of different staffing options,
  • discuss the questions you should ask yourself or your potential hire, and
  • examine the circumstances when it is definitely NOT the right time to outsource your grant writing function.

And, yes, we’ll also share a little more about Elevate and the stories of several of our clients who came to us with different perspectives and needs and have benefitted from our grant writing capacity and expertise. 

I hope you’ll watch the recording and learn more about whether and when to engage external grant writing support. And if you’re interested in having a 1:1 conversation about whether Elevate might meet your organization’s grant writing needs, please reach out to us via our Hire Us form, and we’ll be in touch!

May 18, 2020

In many ways, coming up with a plan to reopen your organization and return to ‘business as usual’ after a crisis can be more complex than responding to that crisis in the first place.

Nonprofits across the sector have learned in recent weeks how important it is to have a plan in place to keep the organization running smoothly and protect the well-being of staff, in case of unexpected disruptions. We recently shared our framework for forming and running a Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) Team in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now that we’re starting to see early signs of a light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel, our attention has shifted to when and how we will eventually reopen — and how to do so safely.

Drawing on the experience of Elevate’s executive team, we’ve created a framework for how to plan for a safe and thoughtful reopening.

At Elevate, even as we’re waiting to see what an exact timeline will look like, our COOP team is beginning the process of planning for our eventual reopening. We’re starting to think about questions like how best to welcome staff and stakeholders back into our physical office, what a responsible timeline will look like, and how to roll out these changes in a way that prioritizes our staff’s health and safety. We also plan to survey our staff throughout the process and take their feedback into account as we map out the various phases of our reopening process.

We’ve mapped the basics of our framework below, as well as our recommendations for implementing it — we hope you find it useful as you begin this process within your organization!

As we explained in our last blog post, we highly recommend you start by having a COOP team in place with at least one representative from each of your organization’s core functions or departments. Having this team in place will help ensure your reopening plan is a thorough one that accounts for every aspect of the work your organization does, and prevents core business functions from being interrupted during the transition. (If you haven’t done this step yet, we recommend you start here!)

With your team assembled, you’ll want to think through how to move from your current office phase into a reopening phase — specifically in terms of any prompts, considerations, and preparations that will be involved.

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to establish a list of your organization’s core departments or business functions — then use that list to flesh out all the relevant prompts, considerations, and preparations to plan for as you prepare to reopen. For Elevate, our core functions include our clients, internal client teams, office status, operations, finances, human resources, and communication.  


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. 

When coming up with your list of prompts for shifting into a Reopening phase, there are two main categories to consider:

  • External prompts: we certainly recommend taking into account any rules and recommendations from the government and/or your locality. You’ll also likely find that it’s important for your organization to consider less obvious prompts as well — including changes in public health data, updates from your local public transportation authorities, the availability of testing and screenings, and school or childcare closures — and how they impact your staff.  
  • Internal prompts: for this section, you’ll need to consider whether your organization has the necessary equipment, supplies, and resources to reopen safely. This may require auditing available cleaning supplies and/or services, your ability to rearrange your furniture so staff can maintain a safe physical distance, and any other prompts that relate to your organization’s core functions.



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. 

Considerations for shifting into a Reopening phase will look different for every organization, and will depend on both the nature of your work and your size and structure. At Elevate, our list of considerations includes things like ongoing health and safety concerns, company culture and morale, in-person events or meetings that will need to change, and compliance with both federal and state guidelines.


We use the term preparation to mean any steps that should be taken before or during the communication and implementation of this new phase. 

Preparations for shifting into a Reopening phase might include developing any new protocols or policies in writing, developing a thorough reentry plan for your team, reinstating any vendors or services that you’ll need once you reopen again, and communicating the changes to staff and/or stakeholders.

Keep in mind, it’s very possible that you may need to reopen in stages. If that’s the case, your reopening plan should spell out what each of those stages entails, and include specific prompts, considerations, and preparations for each stage.

other things to keep in mind, as you work through this process with your team:
  • Communicating with your full team clearly, thoughtfully, and often is extremely important, particularly as you roll out significant changes that may pose new challenges and/or induce worry. Depending on the nature of your work, you may also need to put together a separate external communication plan for your stakeholders. Consider including relevant details like any changes in your hours, new or ongoing safety procedures they need to be aware of, and/or updates to your services. 
  • Make sure you’re also engaging with staff on a personal level as you put your plans together, asking them about their specific needs, concerns, and level of comfort. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you may choose to do this more informally in meetings or one-off emails; alternatively, you might also send out a survey as a means of collecting information. You can then factor in their collective feedback as you move forward with planning to reopen, while balancing it with any recommendations from government and other official sources.

Written by Katy Kale and Michelle LaCroix

May 5, 2020

At Elevate, we generally recommend thinking long-term when it comes to investing a grant program for your organization.

We know from working with hundreds of nonprofits over the years that in most cases — and under normal circumstances — that the most successful partnerships between organizations and their grant writers are built over time.

But things change. With the many ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know nonprofits are suddenly facing an uncertain future with more questions than answers. And for many organizations, it may be less feasible than ever to invest in hiring a full-time grant writer — even at a time when they may need it most. 

So what can nonprofits do? 

We recommend adding experienced capacity for a short period of time. For many organizations that can afford it, hiring a full-time in-house grant writer is the default choice. But this is a decision with a long-term impact, and for many organizations, it is off the table right now while there is so much still unknown about how the pandemic and recession will play out. Elevate has talked to nonprofits that have agency-wide hiring freezes, that are concerned about how to best hire remotely, that do not have the systems in place to onboard a new team-member virtually, or who have background check requirements that they are not able to fulfill right now. 

This is why, in times when uncertainty is high, like now, adding short-term capacity may be the most strategic option. And, because the timeline is condensed, it is important that the people you bring on know what they are doing from Day 1. 

When short-term capacity makes sense.

In periods of high uncertainty, like what the sector is facing right now, focusing on short-term needs makes sense — as long as it leaves all future options on the table. This is because uncertainty decreases over time: within the next few months, we expect to know much more than we do now about things like: 

  • The full extent of increased demand for our programs, and the cost; 
  • When our paused programs can re-start; 
  • What institutional philanthropy’s collective response will be to the pandemic and a potential recession; 
  • The full governmental response at federal, state, and local levels; and 
  • How individual donors are responding. 


One of the few upsides to so much uncertainty right now is that we are almost guaranteed to have more information in the future. And more information means better decisions. This is why postponing certain decisions that have a long-term impact on your organization makes sense at the current moment.

But this obviously does not mean you can stop your fundraising — now is the time to be ramping up your fundraising! Doing so will enable you to both capture rapid response dollars, and be in dialogue with your funders and prepare for changes brought on by shifts in the sector and the economy. 

Adding short term support to your grant program could allow your organization to act quickly in response to the challenges you’re facing. But you need to focus on adding high-level capacity, meaning people who come in on Day 1 with significant expertise. 

The timeline is short, so invest in expertise. 

Typically, an outside grant writer will have more expertise than an in-house hire and therefore, will often require less training than a full-time staff member. Firms like Elevate also likely have systems in place to make onboarding and getting started even quicker and easier. (We’ve had processes and systems in place for years to onboard and work with clients remotely, and we continue to refine them.)

Moreover, experienced grant writing consultants know what questions to ask. We know what funders are looking for. We know how programs throughout the sector are designed and are adapting to these confusing times. And, most critically, we have a wealth of experience to draw on with a variety of issue areas, regions, and specific funders. 

We know that many nonprofits aren’t necessarily looking for freelancers or have had bad experiences with consultants in the past. This is where research and vetting are critical! Finding a reliable consultant you trust, with the experience and case studies that illustrate a breadth of experience, will help you address your immediate needs — while leaving your options open for the long-term without the pressure to decide on those plans right now. 

For example, at Elevate, our Writing Capacity Projects have been effective in supporting organizations to maintain their grant calendar or pursue large opportunities during hiring freezes, staffing searches, or temporary staff leave. These projects assign an experienced writer to efficiently gather the information needed to develop compelling proposals or reports and provide project management to coordinate all the necessary pieces. After completing these projects, some organizations choose to engage long-term with Elevate through our Comprehensive Grant Writing Services, while others have taken the opportunity to restructure internally or otherwise be more deliberate in their hiring process.  

Above all, the key benefit of a short-term engagement is flexibility. When we have a good picture into the long-term future, flexibility does not always rank as a top priority — but in times like now, it is the top priority.  

>> Learn more about Writing Capacity Projects