(This blog post is from Lauren Steiner, President, Grants Plus. Read her other posts here.)
A few years ago I was invited to speak at the Grants Professionals Association’s Midatlantic Conference in New Jersey. While I speak frequently on grant writing to a wide range of groups, this would be the first time I would speak to a group of my professional peers, people who did what I did every day. I did not know what to expect and walked in feeling trepidation about whether my tips on grant funder prospect research would be of any interest to my fellow grant writers.
From the moment I stepped into the conference center that day, I was overwhelmed with the camaraderie I felt. It was an instant sense of being among friends, where we could freely share knowledge, experiences, and information among each other on a deep and impactful level.
That day, I heard and took part in fruitful conversations about a range of topics including:
·Whether or not pursuing and attaining a professional credential (GPC) was worthwhile
·How grant professionals track and manage their grant project workloads
·Ways grant writers handle difficult conversations with their supervisors or clients
·Sources of lists of grant funders to use when prospecting new funding sources
Perhaps even more meaningful to me, though, was the realization that I was not alone. Grant writing can be an isolating endeavor. We often spend more time with our computers than with people, even within our organizations. It was like taking a deep breath of oxygen to realize that there were others like me, in fact there were many of them. We could start conversations in the middle, we could nearly finish each other’s sentences. We could commiserate about our daily challenges, realizing these are commonly faced and not due to any failings of our own. We could laugh about all of these things, talking like old friends even though many of us had just met.
While I knew a many people engaged in nonprofit organizations and philanthropy, my network did not contain very many grant writers. I was inspired when I returned to my home community of Cleveland, Ohio to explore whether we had a chapter of GPA there. I participated in a local effort to re-energize our Grant Professionals Association Northern Ohio Chapter and have been the Chapter president since 2014.
Since then we have begun to develop a phenomenal, supportive and growing learning community of grant writers in Northern Ohio. We meet monthly and communicate via social media, phone and e-mail in between. We use each other to troubleshoot, learn new things, and build a collective voice. We have planned social events, and I now count several of these people wonderful and valued friends. This year, we have begun to engage other associations, funders, and organizations in the sector in our work. I believe we are collectively elevating our field and the ability of the organizations we represent to change and improve our world.
If you are a grant writer or if grant writing is part of your vocation, I urge you to consider joining an association of professionals in the field for the benefit of yourself, each other, and your community.
For those who do not know already, I will be leaving the Foundation Center, and my last day will be August 7th. In the over nine years I’ve worked here, in the library and as a trainer, I have had a fantastic time learning about –and being inspired by – the nonprofit providers in Greater Cleveland and beyond. I’ve loved hearing your stories and (I hope) helping you find ways to fund your passion.
Though I will be moving on, I look forward to staying in close connection with John, Brian, Carrie, Melissa, Carlee, Joy, and everyone at the Foundation Center. If I do say so myself, they are a truly wonderful group of people who go out of their way to be helpful—stop in and say hi to them!
I know I will. I’ll be in the same building(!)—working for a terrific organization called Grants Plus. Hope and trust I’ll see you all again in a different context—maybe as fellow students at a Foundation Center training? Hope so!
It’s been an honor and pleasure to work with you all! See you at a Coffee and Conversation soon!
Data is often times overlooked as a powerful tool in grant writing and fund development overall. But it has its pros and cons. Consider the following:
Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact. This is a case of knowing when and how to use the data.
Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.
Foundation Center Resources on Data Consider the following resources as you examine the role of data in your work:
Also through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector. IssueLab provides free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs addressing some of the world's most pressing social problems.
Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice Huffington Post piece on the transformative power of data.
On Friday, June 27 at 9:30 am at Idea Center meet Erin McIntyre and Teleange' Thomas, of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, and learn about their grantmaking priorities throughout the region.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to improves the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty, working to end homelessness and to reducing health and education disparities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. As a faith-based organization, the Foundation extends the values of Jesus Christ through the mission of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and also works to sustain the ministries of women religious.
About the presenters:
Erin McIntyre: As Program Officer, Erin directs the grantmaking at the Foundation to support the ministries of Catholic women religious in Northeast Ohio and supports other programmatic and grantmaking efforts.
Previously, Ms. McIntyre worked at the parent organization of the foundation, the Sisters of Charity Health System in the Department of Foundations, Outreach Ministries and External Affairs. She has worked in various capacities with the city of Cleveland and Cleveland City Council.
In 2010, Ms. McIntyre lived and worked in Zaragoza, El Salvador as the interim director for International Partners in Mission (IPM) in their Latin American regional office. In this role, Ms. McIntyre was responsible for managing the regional office, working with project partners in El Salvador and other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and organizing and leading immersion experiences. IPM partners with community-based organizations around the world, working across borders of faith, culture and economic circumstance to serve the needs of children, women and youth. She holds a BA in sociology from the University of Dayton.
Teleange' Thomas: The Foundation’s Program Director, Health joined the Foundation in 2009 to oversee strategies to reduce health disparities among vulnerable populations through strategic grant-making in the Healthy Eating/Active Living initiative and Health Policy.
Before joining the Sisters of Charity Foundation, Ms. Thomas served for four years in leadership positions with the Cleveland Department of Public Health. In this capacity she served as Deputy-Project Director of MomsFirst, the National Healthy Start Project, aimed at lowering infant mortality rates in the City of Cleveland, and Steps to a Healthier Cleveland which addresses disparities and chronic conditions among local minority and underserved populations. She previously worked as the first project coordinator for Community Outreach at University Hospitals, Ireland Cancer Center. She is Chair of the Chronically Ill/Terminally Ill Cluster for the United Way Community Volunteer Investment Committee. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University, Ms. Thomas also holds a Certificate in Human Participants Protection Education for Research Teams from the National Institutes of Health. Ms. Thomas is on the board Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
Space is limited. Register here, in person, or by calling (216) 861-1933. Registrants requiring ASL signers or other disability-related services are asked to contact the Foundation Center at least two weeks in advance.
(This blog post is from Lauren Steiner, President, Grants Plus. Read her other posts here.)
One of the greatest parts of membership in the Grants Professionals Association (GPA) is learning from colleagues around the nation. Recently our GPA LinkedIn group debated a question I get asked all of the time: “How does my new organization get its first grant?”
What’s most important about this question isn’t so much the answer as it is the misconception it implies: the grant funding should be a new organization’s first priority in fundraising.
The response by my fellow fundraiser Brandy Moriah Wicker, Chief Development Officer at Cancer Care Services, underscores why counting on grants at the beginning of an organization’s life cycle is risky business at best:
“Grants are not generally a good source for startups,” she explains. “A handful of foundations provide seed money, but for the most part, you need a track record before you can get grant funding. A more fruitful early strategy for new organizations is hosting intimate fundraising events that will grow your individual supporters. Think of fun, creative themes and formats that will raise awareness and dollars.”
As Brandy advises, individuals are key to getting new organizations off the ground. By building a base of core supporters, your organization can begin to establish a fundraising track record, demonstrate success, and create a reputation in the community you serve.
From there, you can move on to these fundraising strategies recommended by Jeffrey Prottas, CFRE, founder and managing partner of Nonprofit-360 Consulting, LLC:
“Grant seeking is a smart strategy once an organization shows it can recruit support for its general mission. Foundations can provide the funding to launch great ideas and new programs. Of course,” he points out, “it takes a lot to be ready to put together a strong proposal.”
Jeffrey is right. In fact the first critical step in creating a stand-out proposal happens well before you put pen to paper. Competition for grants is fierce. Typically, no matter how persuasive your writing, foundations will not fund a request if there is no prior relationship and they have zero awareness of your organization.
Begin by making contact. Introduce yourself and your organization. Go meet the program officers, ask questions, and build rapport. This way, your proposal to the foundation won’t be cold—and you may glean terrific insights that will give you an edge in the process.
Then once you’ve established these relationships with the usual suspect funders in your area, start to broaden your net with some research. Visit the Foundation Center or bring in some outside funding research expertise.
I like the suggestion made by Kimberley Lee, Vice President of Advancement at Square One, to mix “typical” research with less conventional methods: “Try a ‘windshield survey’ of the Wal-Marts, K-marts, Home Depots, Petcos, and other major stores in your area,” she says. “Many of these corporations have foundation arms that make grants at local and national levels. Introduce yourself and the important work you are doing in the community.” The manager of your local CVS might be a helpful contact for leveraging grant support.
Bottom line is that grant fundraising for new organizations is not as straightforward as many people think. It is best to trust the experts on this one—I couldn’t have said it better myself!
At the beginning of every month, we review the top five posts read at Philanthropy Front and Center Cleveland the previous month.
If you didn't catch them the first time, we hope you enjoy reading them
now. And, we are always interested in your thoughts, so weigh in by
(This post is from Lauren Steiner, president of Grants Plus. Read her other posts, here.)
In Greater Cleveland, Ohio we are fortunate to have Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC), a public entity that directs funding to arts organizations in a variety of ways including general operating support and support for specific projects. CAC is an independent unit of government that collects a dedicated tax on cigarettes sold in Cuyahoga County, to fund local arts and culture organizations. Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $80 million in 182 local arts and cultural organizations.
At the close of their recent three-day review of 61 proposals for general operating support, the reviewers were invited by CAC Executive Director Karen Gahl-Mills to share advice with grantees.Their advice was especially acute and relevant to anyone writing a grant proposal for any type of project. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear this kind of frank feedback – and I wanted to share the best of it with you.
When writing about evaluation, make sure you are not only discussing how and what you will measure but also what you have learned from evaluation results to date and what you are going to do or have already done about it.
When outlining partnerships in which your organization is involved, don’t just list them. Explain what makes the partnership successful.
Be candid about challenges, changes, struggles, etc. We are all operating in a quickly changing environment. It is not realistic to portray that your organization has not had any bumps in the road. As one reviewer colorfully stated, “Cut the bull****.”
Don’t assume a reviewer knows anything about your organization or community. Large organizations should especially beware of this, because they can often assume funders know things they may actually not know. Make sure you are adequately articulating how you are serving the unique needs of the community and how you know you are successful in this endeavor.
Make sure your proposal is well-written and not redundant. Never forget that real people have to read and understand the proposal, and it is likely that the reviewer will be reading many others. Respect their time and make sure your proposal language is clear, readable and understandable.
Many thanks to CAC for its significant investments in the arts in Cuyahoga County and for its transparent grantmaking process. This type of advice is rare and so helpful in making all of us better advocates in seeking needed funding for our organizations.
(This post is Steph Dlugon's first for Philanthropy Front and Center Cleveland. Steph is a writer, editor, and marketing professional who
has worked in the technology sector for 14 years. She currently serves as the
marketing and project coordinator for StreamLink Software.)
Recently StreamLink Software partnered with the Grant
Professionals Association (GPA) and published a survey about the current state
of grant management. Grant professionals from every conceivable role
participated, and offered us a glimpse into their processes. The survey data,
coupled with ancillary information from other sources provided the material for
the white paper “The Complex State of Grant Management: Adopting New Strategies
The title alone suggests two of the key findings:
Grant management is becoming increasingly
Nonprofit and public sector organizations need
to take new approaches in order to stay viable and competitive.
So what’s causing all this complexity? The data
shows there are numerous factors at play, including everything from increased grantor
requirements to a shift toward more difficult-to-manage funding options such as
consortia grants. And while this information isn’t exactly earth-shattering to
seasoned grant professionals who have personally witnessed these changes over
time, what is surprising is their response to them.
Only 7.3% of survey
respondents reported using software specifically for grant management, while an
overwhelming majority (90.6%) created workarounds from software tools designed
for other uses.
(Click to enlarge the chart)
Naturally the question becomes, are these
current processes sufficient? If the grant
professionals surveyed were satisfied with the ease and effectiveness with
which they managed each stage of the grant cycle, that would be the end of the story.
But the data suggests otherwise. They have identified specific obstacles that
impede their progress. They have called out tasks and requirements that are
becoming burdensome. And the elephant in the room is that the economy is
struggling. Competition for funding is strong, and funders want to see a
quantitative, measureable return on their investment.
joint survey was an important step in understanding what grant
professionals are experiencing during each stage of the grant process. The resulting information presented in “The Complex State of Grant
Management: Adopting New Strategies for Success” will help grant professionals
and organizations better understand what they need to do in order to improve
Software StreamLink Software offers grant and board management
platforms that connect disparate systems and processes creating dynamic
ecosystems that drive performance and compliance. StreamLink’s products,
AmpliFund and BoardMax, enable nonprofit and public sector institutions to
systematize complex tasks, secure additional revenue, and increase efficiency to
better serve their communities.
Professionals Association The Grant Professionals Association (GPA) is a nonprofit 501
(c) 6 membership association that builds and supports an international
community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good
by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. GPA is the first
organization focused solely on the advancement of grantsmanship as a profession
and the support of its practitioners.
Over the last few years, terms like "impact", "evaluation", and
"outcomes" have become standard components of most foundation grants,
and more and more foundations now require grantseekers to quantify the
expected reach of their services and programs. But what do these terms
mean and how do fundraisers fit into the equation?
Julia Bator, the Chief Executive Officer at Fund for Public Schools,
moderates the discussion at this Foundation Center special event, which
focuses on how to measure and evaluate your organization's impact and