I realize that I haven’t been around in a while. I apologize…
The last six months have been a whirlwind:
In February, I was in the Vagina Monologues, then took an 8-day trip to Iceland
In March, I finished my book
In April, I went to China for 10 days to train nonprofit leaders
Later in April, I went to see my Dad, who’s battling cancer.
In May, my son finished up school and we went to spend some time with my Dad.
And this month, I went to CA for 5 days, presented @ the Network for Social Work Management Conference, and
spent a long weekend with my Dad.
As you might imagine, it’s been hard to find time to write.
But it’s been more than that, too.
I feel like once I finished my book, I needed to hibernate for a while. Take a breather. Rest. Recharge. Writing 110,000 words will do that to ya!
But now I’m back, ready to help you raise more money, build better boards, engage in strategic planning and strengthen your communications programs!
Today’s blog is the first in a four-part series on creative ways to generate more revenue. I hope you find it helpful!
I don’t have to tell you that things are tough out there right now in terms of funding. That being said, there are 5 things that nonprofits do that undermine their ability to attract and raise the funding they need.
- We fail to invest in fundraising.
Most nonprofits do not have staff capacity to adequately perform all the functions necessary to maximize the organization’s fundraising potential. Many of our organizations need to raise more money, yet do not want to invest additional resources into fundraising. So where is this new revenue going to come from?
- We fail to invest in our board.
Most Executive Directors cite under-performing boards among the top 3 challenges they face.
We need to remember that our boards are comprised of volunteers, who may or may not work in the nonprofit sector, and often do not have experience, skills or expertise in fundraising. If we want them to raise money, we have to teach them how, then give them very specific projects to work on and specific tasks to execute.
- We fail to engage our community.
Donors, volunteers, and other members of our community have a bevvy of gifts they bring to the table, yet we often fail to identify and leverage them. The work of our organization does not always need to be done by staff – I have seen volunteers do the most amazing things for the nonprofits they love!
- We have bought into a set of limiting beliefs that serve to suffocate us. These beliefs prevent us from “playing it big.” They are:
–Our organization has to stay in business forever.
–Our organization cannot be profitable.
–Our organization must rely solely on subsidies (private, corporate, government grants, donations, etc.).
–Growth will only make things harder.
–We must focus on expenses, not results.
–We cannot raise the capital we need to meet our needs.
–We must do more for less.
These are just stories we’re telling ourselves. What might shift if we let go of these beliefs and starting playing it big?
- We believe we can only budget for break-even, which keeps our expectations low.
Just changing one of these things will make a world of difference in your fundraising program!
So will integrating these 8 creative strategies into your grant writing!
- Communicate clearly and concisely who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why the funder should support your cause. Identify and broadcast your niche and strengths. Prove that your organization is the best one to carry out this project/program by demonstrating that you have a proven track record and can produce results.
- Focus on the problem and the impact it’s having on the PEOPLE YOU SERVE, positioning your agency as the vehicle through which change happens. Remember – philanthropy is a heart-centered activity, and philanthropists want to help people.
- Tell stories! Many people feel overwhelmed by today’s social problems. Issues like homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, etc. can feel too big to tackle. Telling stories helps break the problem down into manageable bits and helps people to connect to the people you’re serving through their heart. Be sure to emphasize the benefits for your clients and the community.
- Keep your audience in mind. Most foundation grant review sessions are held after work, so most of the people reading your proposal are volunteers who may have already had a long day. They will have most likely just eaten before sitting down to read your grant application, and thus may slip into a carb coma… To keep them awake – and interested in what you have to say! — avoid jargon, use short words, shorter sentences, and shorter paragraphs. Say it in 5 pages instead of 8. Leave plenty of white space and use a sans serif font in a size no smaller than 10 to give the readers’ eyes a rest. Consider using 1.5 spacing as well. A happy reader is one who is more inclined to say “Yes!”
- Did you know that you only have 7 seconds to capture someone’s attention? Be sure to start and end your grant narrative with a bang, and punctuate your proposal with action words.
Please don’t start your grant narrative with something like, “We are pleased to submit this grant application to Foundation X to support our food pantry.” Remember that carb coma I told you about? Well, your reader is now asleep! Instead, try something like, “Did you know that the prevalence of hunger in Worcester is SIX times that of the Commonwealth? That means 1 in 3 children live in households unable to meet their basic food needs.” End with something like, “A $5,000 grant from Foundation X will ensure that fewer children go to bed hungry tonight.” Bam!
- Find – and use! – your voice. Remember, you are trying to connect with a bunch of people (and their hearts!) through your writing. They are more likely to make that connection when you write from an authentic and honest place.
Grant applications are not academic papers. Writing a grant is more like writing a letter or persuasive essay to a single person, or a small group of people. (That is, after all, exactly what you’re doing!). Use the first and second person, not the third, to create a sense of intimacy.
- Use visual devices to direct your readers. Headings and bullets to guide the reader through the proposal and demonstrate that you’re adhering to the guidelines. For example, if the funder has asked you to outline your goals and objectives, create a heading called Goals and Objectives.
Be bold! Unless it’s forbidden, use photos, graphs, pull quotes, and infographics to break up the narrative. Using visual aids like these helps reinforce the words and also accommodates visual learners.
- Submit testimonials, articles, support letters, before/after photos, etc. to reinforce your narrative (provided they are allowed). When I worked for a community development corporation, when possible, I used to include a map of the neighborhood in which we worked. Each one of our projects was marked with a white dot with a number in it, which corresponded to a photo at the bottom of the page. That way, viewers could get a “bird’s eye view” of the impact we were having on the entire neighborhood, as well as see what each project looked like. This map was a huge hit!
The rejection rate with grants is upwards of 50%, but we’ve got an 83% success rate, because we use these strategies to make our grant applications more interesting, appealing, and compelling. Put them to work and see how you fare!
Next week, we’ll share some creative techniques for increasing the revenue you generate through direct appeals!
Meanwhile, if you’ve got questions, feel free to get in touch! Sarah@newera4nonprofits.com
Back in action,