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.
WHAT WE LEARNED
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 THOUGHTS ON THE FINDINGS
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.
ABOUT OUR DATA
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
As your partners in fundraising, Elevate staff know all too well the importance of the work you do as nonprofit professionals.
We also know the need for your work does not pause — and in fact, may increase — in times of crisis or global concern.
Securing funding for your work is arguably more urgent and important than ever during periods of uncertainty, though we realize the way forward may feel unclear. As such, we’ve put together our best advice for continuing to fundraise effectively, even when ‘normalcy’ has been disrupted:
Assume grantmakers are continuing to operate unless you hear otherwise.
So far, we’ve seen a few deadlines shift, but not many. We recommend monitoring funders, updates, and deadlines closely, with a presumption that they’re still accepting and awarding grants.
Monitor emerging “rapid response” opportunities that FALL OUTSIDE standard grantmaking timelines or processes.
For example, the Greater Washington Community Foundation is working alongside the DC region’s largest philanthropists to establish an emergency fund and distribute rapid response funding to the organizations meeting the needs of communities most impacted by this virus — families who have lost needed childcare, low-wage, hourly workers, people experiencing homelessness, direct service workers, and senior citizens or people with underlying health conditions.
Get a clear picture of your finances.
Our colleagues at Your Part-Time Controller and 20 Degrees both highlight the importance of understanding the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on your “financial runway.” Ask your finance staff or consultants for more frequent financial reports, updated modeling for various contingencies, and even advice revising your annual organizational and program budgets. If you’re using our guidance on predicting grant revenue, consider adjusting your grant projections to reflect reduced likelihood of funding from prospective grantmakers to better understand how this will impact your grant revenue.
Tell your nonprofit’s COVID-19 story to your most loyal supporters.
The experts at Chronicle for Philanthropy note that global crises that affect all members of society can motivate significant philanthropic giving. However, the people motivated to give often don’t know where their giving will have the most impact. Clarify for your staunchest donors how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, staff, and stakeholders so that they know the value of their past and future contributions.
Take stock of your community’s needs and your response and align your outreach to funders accordingly.
While all organizations should remain in contact with your key philanthropic stakeholders, your approach should be tailored to the larger community context:
If you are expanding your services to address the community needs due to COVID-19, you can reach out to your long-term funders about these emerging and how they can help. First, review whether they have launched any specific funds so you can request support through those channels. If they have not created any designated funds, consider reaching out to your primary point of contact directly about the increased need you anticipate, how you are responding, and how a one-time gift might help.
If your services are not expanding, avoid soliciting new funding. As our society comes together around this issue, it’s important to acknowledge that new giving will be directed toward the causes that are most in need of support right now. However, you can request other types of support during an uncertain time from current funders, even if your services remain unchanged. Many grantmakers may be open to requests to extend report or proposal deadlines, adjust how or when a grant is paid out, transition restricted funding to unrestricted funding, or even convert an event sponsorship or ticket purchase to a simple donation that can help ensure sustainability for your organization.
Find creative alternatives to building and sustaining donor relationships.
We’ve seen remarkable ingenuity around the country regarding donor engagement that has historically happened face-to-face. Organizations are converting in-person fundraising events to virtual celebrations, holding performances via Facebook Live, or even phone banking to thank organizational supporters for their past gifts. Remember that the important part of any fundraising event is to connect with your donors and you do not necessarily need a venue or catering to do that.
Finally, times of uncertainty like this remind us that a diversified fundraising strategy is a pillar of organizational sustainability. Elevate has consistently found grant programs to be more stable than other forms of revenue in times of sudden change or economic downturn. We’re seeing foundations step up to fill some of the voids that appear from canceled events or individual donors who may be less able to give in an unstable market.
We’re Here to Help!
Elevate is committed to being a resource for nonprofits at this time.
If you are a current client, please reach out to your team Director for support revising your annual grant projections, developing messaging for current funders, rearranging soft or rolling deadlines on your grant calendar, or strategizing emergency funding requests.
You have a big grant proposal to write to a long-time funder, but you can’t get a straight answer from your program team or your Executive Director about the goals for next year. Or, you just got an email from your Executive Director saying she had a great meeting with an important donor, but that they didn’t really discuss a specific project or initiative that needs funding. What do you do now?
These situations are more than just frustrating. They could be a key reason why the study “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising” noted high rates of turnover and extended vacancies in Development Director positions. And it makes sense! Talented fundraisers don’t want to work somewhere that lacks the tools and resources they need to be successful.
But all nonprofit leaders and staff know how important fundraising is. They know funding pays their salaries and creates opportunities to do the work they care about. How can you ensure everyone is pitching in?
Elevate and our partners at The Collective Good believe the secret lies in creating intentional alignment between fundraising goals and activities, and organizational goals and activities. Too often, nonprofit staff, including Executive Directors, aren’t on the same page with organizational strategy and priorities, which makes it difficult or impossible to articulate them externally.
In a follow up report to the study referenced above, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders advocate for viewing fundraising as central to achieving an organization’s goals and mission rather than a necessary evil. This means fewer silos and more collaboration between development and programs, communications, boards, and executive staff.
But how do you shift the entire culture of your organization? How do you move from “I’m responsible for raising 50% more from foundations this year” to “we’re all in this together?”
In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of our recommendations:
As Executive Directors, ensure development staff/directors are part of the leadership team and equal partners with other senior staff; they participate in all planning, strategy, financial and organizational meetings.
Tip: This is important on an ongoing basis, but even more important during strategic planning! If you develop programmatic and fundraising goals together, it is much less likely you’ll set an organizational strategy without resources or let your fundraising strategy pull your programs in the wrong direction.
As Development Directors, lead your organization through this shift in thinking and structure by developing tools, systems, and messages that everyone can use to cultivate greater community and donor engagement.
Tip: get comfortable with managing up and across so that your colleagues and bosses have the information they need to engage donors at least as well as you can. Check out our blog post on Clear, Collaborative Communication for more tips here!
Be patient and set realistic goals for adjusting how your organization integrates organizational strategy with fundraising strategy. Culture change does not happen overnight and everyone will need time to change how they think about fundraising in the context of more programmatic and operational goals.
If you’re curious about learning more about any of these steps or want to learn how other C-suite executive and development staff are tackling this type of culture change, join us on March 19th!
You’ll walk away with a better understanding of key terms like organizational strategy and culture of philanthropy as well as some concrete exercises to do with your colleagues to make everyone part of your fundraising efforts.
August 9, 2019
THIS POST IS PART OF A SERIES ABOUT GRANT WRITING
DO’S AND DON’TS, STRAIGHT FROM FUNDERS! READ PART 1 HERE
When it comes to winning grants, getting down to the numbers and making the ask is where the rubber truly meets the road.
But there are plenty of mistakes that even the most experienced executive directors, development directors, and grant writers can make when it comes to asks and budgets—mistakes that can cost their organizations significant grant funds.
Below are four strategies for getting the numbers right and making a winning ask. These strategies are based on survey responses from dozens of funders around the country who were willing to share their insights and experiences as grantmakers.
1. Do Your Research
Avoid asking for an amount outside a funder’s giving range. To determine an appropriate ask amount, learn as much as you can about the funder’s previous giving. Use all available resources: websites, nonprofit/professional networks, foundation staff presentations/panels, Google News Search, IRS Form 990s, etc.
Never ask for budget items that are not eligible. Foundation’s typically include funding parameters on their website or application guidelines. Typically, direct program expenses are safe bets (exceptions for staff, rent, equipment). If considering requests for indirect costs, check if there are restrictions. For example, some funders explicitly state that they will only fund 10 to 15 percent of a project’s indirect expenses When in doubt (and if you’ve made every effort to find out for yourself) ask the funder directly.If your program requires a cost that is explicitly restricted (like scholarships for a college access program, or computers for a robotics team), consider briefly mentioning in the funding request or budget narrative that your budgeted expenses include this item and how your org funds it (e.g. “Because tuition costs prevent so many students from pursuing a degree, we raise 100% of scholarship funds through our annual luncheon and dedicated individual donors”). This demonstrates your commitment to this specific intervention/expense while simultaneously assuring the reviewer that their dollars won’t be spent here. (Make sure this aligns with your program budget/request column as well.)
Do not present an ask for 100% of project costs. Funders are not monolithic, so this point will vary on a case-by-case basis. But generally, you should demonstrate the sustainability of your program to reassure funders that your program isn’t wholly dependent on their gift. Similarly, funders also want to see community buy-in (everyone wants to be on the winning team), and multiple funding commitments demonstrate a broad base of support.
As a general rule, requesting funders to support 10% of a project’s overall costs is a safe bet. If you plan to exceed 30-50%, proceed with caution. You might even consider reaching out to funder for guidance. Avoid asking for 100% unless you are confident that the funder is open to it—whether you heard that information directly from funder staff, through the “grapevine”, or by looking at recent grantees. (e.g. a $60K gift to purchase 3 vans seems like a possible 100% gift.)
2. Be Transparent & Consistent
Reviewers look at dozens or hundreds of proposals/budgets every application period, so it’s unlikely you will successfully pull a fast one.
Don’t disguise an operating ask as a project ask (i.e. staff member salary). Or, relatedly, stay away from trying to include something like computers in a “Supply” line item, just because the funder explicitly prohibits requests for “Equipment.”
Don’t include things in the budget that are not referenced in the narrative.At best, a reviewer may assume incompetence—at worst, deceitfulness. Neither will set your proposal up for success.
3. Be Realistic
Again, funders review tons of proposals. Even if they have never led a particular program (and many of them will have), they have a broad perspective of the resources required to successfully run a similar program.
Cost-per-participant is not the only tool a reviewer may use, but it is a basic way to compare proposed programs that may appear apples-to-oranges. Depending on their org values, some funders may wish to stretch their charitable dollars to support the greatest number of people, period. Others will understand that deeper/longer interventions require more intensive resources. Either approach has pros & cons.
Regardless of which route your program takes, take time to explain WHY your afterschool program costs $2,000/student vs. a peer program that costs $1,000/student (year-round vs. school-year only; meal vs. snacks; transportation provided vs. using school/metro bus system; highly-qualified staff/MSW/clinical staff/Special Education accreditation vs. volunteers; etc.)
With this in mind:
Don’t ask for a large amount if you serve a small number of people without providing context.
Relatedly, use caution when asking for the maximum of a foundation’s funding range. If you have explained your program well, reviewers will have a pretty good idea of what it costs. While it might be tempting, never inflate your budgets to get to the maximum amount.
4. Check Your Math
This might seem like an obvious tip, but details can get lost in a complicated proposal with a lot of authors or sources of input. Double-check your work using a calculator or spreadsheet—and don’t forget to update/confirm Excel formulas if you’re using them.
Your budget and budget narrative present another opportunity to justify the appropriate costs of your intervention.
Never submit a budget that doesn’t match the proposal (a reviewer may think it was a mistake or will have questions about cost allocations).
Similarly, don’t submit a budget that doesn’t balance for a program. Don’t leave room for assumptions—if your program operates at a loss that’s made up with General Operating dollars, show those General Operating funds in the revenue portion of the budget.
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