[VIDEO] What Now? Grant Seeking During a Crisis

Rachel Werner will discuss short- and long-term solutions and how to work with funders in a strategic way for sustainability.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Standby. All right. Rachel, is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially?

Rachel: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast, I should say. If you’re watching the recording and no matter what time it is, I hope you’re having a good day. Thanks for watching. Thanks for tuning in. We’re going to be talking about grant-seeking during a crisis. What should we do? What’s changed? What’s new? Obviously, a hot topic right now. So thanks for being here. Thanks for logging in. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out the slides and the recording later on this afternoon. So if you get interrupted or you have a meeting that overlaps with this, don’t worry. I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands. You should already have the slides. I emailed them out about an hour ago. But if you didn’t get them, don’t worry, you’ll get them later today with the recording.

But most importantly, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments you have along the way. We’re going to save some time for Q&A. So don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We’d love to hear from you. And we got an expert on the topic, for sure. So you’re going to want to get your question in. And there’s a chat box, there’s a Q&A box. You can use either of those. I’ll keep an eye on them, both. You can also use Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on Twitter if you want to send us a tweet. But we’d love to hear from you.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks. We do these webinars now a couple of times a week. We love to do them. They’re always free, always educational. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, just for context, we’re a provider of donor management software. So if you’re interested in that or just kind of curious, check out our website, you know, we’re pretty easy to find. We got all kinds of videos on there you can watch about Bloomerang. But don’t do that right now because if you’re a grant seeker, you’re going to want to be paying attention over the next hour or so because we got Rachel Warner here from beautiful Maryland, D.C. area where it’s hot and humid, I hear it. Rachel, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Rachel: Oh, just hanging in there. Just staying in the AC right now as much as I can.

Steven: Me too. We’re all hanging in there. She’s a working parent like me. We’re all doing our best. Maybe some other people can appreciate that or know what we’re going through, but we’re going to have fun. I was joking with Rachel. We planned this webinar a while back but didn’t necessarily land on a firm topic until recently when a lot of things kind of went haywire in the world. I think you kind of know what I’m referring to. But she’s here. She is definitely an expert on grants. She has gotten lots of money over her career from grants, so she definitely knows what she’s talking about. She has all kinds of awesome certifications, not just in grant management, but in project management as well. And I got a peek at her slides I think late last week, early this week, and you are in for . . . definitely in for a real treat. So, Rachel, I’m going to stop sharing. I’ll let you bring up your slides and then it’ll be your show. So go for it, my friend.

Rachel: Great. Okay. Thank you. All right. Oops.

Steven: Is it working? There we go.

Rachel: All right. We’re good. Okay. So hello, everybody. Nice to meet you all virtually. That’s sort of the name of the game now. I used to do a lot of in person trainings. Now I’m becoming an expert in all things, Zoom, GoToMeeting, all those wonderful platforms. So, you know, thanks to Steven for the opportunity to present you today through Bloomerang. So as I was talking to Steven before, I like to get input and answer questions that, you know, that we can address throughout the course of this presentation. So I’m going to keep the content to about 45 minutes and then what I’m hoping is that we can just, you know, answer some questions at the end and also have a couple of polls in here to kind of get a sense of what’s happening within your organizations and do a little something like that. I’m going to move it into slideshow mode. So hopefully that will work. Okay. Does that work, Steven?

Steven: Yeah. It looks beautiful.

Rachel: Great. Okay. So let’s get started. Okay. So here’s a little bit about me. As Steven mentioned, you know, I’m located in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of D.C. And I work with clients primarily in the D.C. area, but also have clients all over the place. And since D.C., there’s a lot of national, international headquarters, you know, working with organizations that have different touchpoints across the world. So it’s a really interesting perspective to see what everyone’s going through And I can say that with assurance during this time, that everybody is struggling to kind of deal with all of the fallout that’s been happening because the . . . not just the pandemic, but also a lot of the things that are happening from a racial justice and equity perspective and just seeing how that’s been changing our work. So I think that this is really meant to give you some useful tools and tips, and also just to kind of alleviate some of the stress that you might be dealing with right now to a little bit degree because maybe if there’s some tips and tricks that you can obtain, that can help make your work a little bit easier.

So here’s the agenda of what we’re going to cover today. We’re going to talk about the COVID-19 impacts with the nonprofit organizations, talk about sort of the short-term response, which is more of the crisis management moving towards recovery. And then we’re going to talk about thinking through a longer-term grant strategy. We’re going to go through some grant-seeking tips in terms of writing and prospect research. And then I’m going to also throw in some project management tools to help you, because I know that some of you are probably burdened now with a lot of different expectations and maybe different priorities. So this is to kind of help you through that a little bit more. And I know nonprofit professionals always wear many hats, so this will hopefully provide a little bit of support for you.

So we’re going to start with the COVID impact. So as we know, what we’re dealing with right now is not normal in any way. You know, I have done some previous presentations and I always used to reference Hurricane Katrina as a large event that had humongous scale, but I realized, you know, dealing with what’s been happening with COVID-19 is that it had no . . . you can’t even compare them at this point because what we’re dealing with right now is a global pandemic that has impacted many sectors and it has impacted all of us in different ways, and so we can’t shield ourselves from what’s happening. And I think unfortunately, you know, some are dealing with the fallout worse than others and some are being able to pivot. And so I think that it’s important to understand that a lot of this is happening outside of our control, but maybe there are some things that we can try to own and try to manage as we try to move forward, especially related to grant-seeking because I do think that there are opportunities to take advantage of this.

So let’s talk about some of those impacts. So operations. As we know that many of you are working virtually or perhaps you are able to social distance now and work in the office together, you know, wearing masks and having certain protections in place, but I think because of the fact that many people are working virtually a lot of times the offices weren’t set up to have that kind of infrastructure. So there could be lack of information, you know, you may not have access to certain files.

And in addition to your service delivery, you might not have programs that are offered in the same way. You might have had to pivot and move them to a virtual type of service delivery model, or perhaps you have to enforce some kind of social distancing measures or perhaps reduce the number of people, you know, so there’s a lot of different circumstances around that. And also, this has shifted your work priority. So the thing that you were working on back at the end of February, if you can think of that far back, probably a bit different than what you’re doing now.

From a financial perspective, and I’ve seen this with a lot of different organizations, is that you’re seeing reduced revenue from different sources. And also, the most critical is related to the special events because a lot of times the spring and the fall represent big special event timeframes for nonprofits. And if that represents a significant portion of your revenue, you’re probably dealing with some budget shortfalls and if you have to plan for your next fiscal year and maybe you’re starting your next fiscal year already, if you have a July to June fiscal year calendar, you know, you’re already seeing that impact and what do you have to do to project with maybe reduced budget or reduced expectations for the amount of funding to come through. And, unfortunately, I’m sure that some of you might be dealing with layoffs or furloughs within your organizations and hopefully those are temporary, but, you know, as you know, we have to see how things progress.

And I think that this to me is probably the most important, is the health and mental health of the people that work in nonprofits. And it’s not often top of mind because you’re probably so busy doing the work that it’s easy to dismiss, you know, what might be feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, all of those things. And not just related to work, but just managing all of the working style that you have to deal with.

You know, as Steven and I were talking before, I have two kids at home and I know that they’re going to be home through January because we’re going to be . . . our schools have decided to have online learning through that time, and so now it’s just changing expectations, you know, how do we figure out how to make this all work? And that really changes your morale, especially if there are layoffs and furloughs, that also makes you probably a little bit concerned about your own work. And so there’s a lot of that to factor in as well, in addition to the external and internal changes happening within the organization.

So one of the things that I did want to bring up to kind of show a model, and this is kind of a success story, so hopefully this gives you a little bit of a bright spot, is that I had a client that is a performing arts organization. And if you’re an arts organization, I completely understand that you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed right now because of the fact that you can’t hold in-person events. So they were providing performing arts and also doing classes and different trainings and educational programs. And they realized, “We can’t do this. We can do some things virtually, but what can we do in this timeframe?”

And so the executive director decided to work with some other local funders in Montgomery County and also some other providers of basic needs services to say, like in the upper part of our county, there’s a significant gap in what the distribution of food, and toiletries, and other goods to people in need. And because there’s been such an increase, they decided to become a distribution site. And so what they did was pivot a little bit to leverage the space that they had and try to help other people in need. So it’s just an example, and I know that there’s countless others of how organizations are really doing a great job of trying to pivot to address the community needs, so really stepping in when seeing that there’s a gap.

So in terms of COVID-19, you know, how is it changing our work? And I would say that right now . . . Oops, sorry about that. We’re looking at it in terms of crisis management because we haven’t quite moved to recovery yet. We thought that we were moving towards recovery, but we see that there’s still a significant number of cases in many states, the restrictions are coming back and, you know, we can’t say that we’re done with this phase. And so we have to think about that in two different mindsets. We have crisis management now, and then we can think about planning. And this is going to be different for every organization. You know, I think that if some of you are able to think more strategically and think in a longer term perspective, that’s great. And other people might take a little bit of time because you’re still dealing with the fallout and dealing with certain restrictions and so forth. So that’s just important to consider as well.

And so when you think about working through a crisis, you’re like, “Well, I’m a nonprofit professional.” And I know you deal a lot with a lot of different things, but you did not think that you were going to be a crisis manager in terms of handling yourself during a global pandemic. This is not what you signed up for. This is not what you had envisioned with your work. And so what do we do? So let’s think about, you know . . . I kind of want to learn a little bit more about what your organization has had to do to handle all the changes related to COVID.

So if you can maybe put in the chat box, and Steven, you can call out a few of, you know, what exactly you you’ve had to do to make your organization modify what you do. So I’m curious a little bit. And I see people are filling out the poll. And if you have any others, you can feel free to add them in the chat box. But it looks like people are filling out the poll. Looks like a combination.

Great. We’ll just do a few more. Maybe we can see if we can get a little bit more polling. It looks like it’s a combination of all the above. So it looks like while many of you have had to move to virtual and you’ve had those social distancing measures. Fortunately, there maybe hasn’t been as many furloughs and layoffs, but maybe that’s sort of part of the combination of the above. So thank you for participating. And, Steven, are there any other things in the chat box that we might want to bring up?

Steven: Yeah. New programs in development had to be redesigned. It looks like some folks have had to cut large volunteer events where maybe they had a lot of volunteers getting together. Yeah. Some folks are back in the office, but the programming has stopped and they’re just back in the office working on fundraising stuff.

Rachel: Yeah. And that’s really tough, especially if you rely on a significant number of volunteers, because those really run some of your programs, but, you know, if some of those are moving to virtual, then it’s probably, you know, going to be the expectation anyway. So I’m going to share the results. So you can see that about half of you said a combination and the rest were split mostly between admin and direct services working virtually, and also social distancing measures for direct service work. So thank you for sharing.

Okay. All right. So I’m going to keep going on and I will ask if anybody has any questions before I get to part two, but I’m just going to go through one more. Okay. So what are some of the other priorities that we’re dealing with? Well, as I mentioned before, if you’re a working parent, you’re probably dealing with children. You might have parents that you’re managing as well, especially if some are aging parents. That’s another tricky situation. Also, might be dealing with technology challenges. If you don’t have certain access to certain systems or you don’t have great WI-FI access, it could be a little bit spotty and also just dealing with other personal obligations.

And although this isn’t as much of an issue about food and supplies, I know that that has been an issue in the past. I know that calls for hand sanitizer, toilet paper, definitely in the beginning, but, you know, these are just some of the other things that have been a challenge with your work. And so with that, I’m going to pause here before I dig into part two. So, Steven, are there any sort of questions that people might have at this point?

Steven: Not yet. I think you’re good to go.

Rachel: Okay. Great. All right. So let’s talk about the short-term response. So as I said, we’re still kind of in the crisis management period right now related to grant-seeking. So we’re still thinking about, okay, what are some of the programmatic operational changes that need to take place? Perhaps you’re also thinking about budget revisions as well and modifying projections for revenue and also expenses, and also thinking about COVID-19-related funding sources, probably also working with your board to connect with your key stakeholders, whether they be funders, volunteers, elected officials, and trying to leverage, you know, the people that are really close within your organization to just support as much as possible.

I mean, then we sort of look at the longer-term, that’s when we think through, what does the strategic plan look like? What are your new priorities? What are going to be your fundraising goals and projections for the different fundraising approaches? And then we think through, if you’re going to be making any changes to your existing programs or services, or you’re going to be adding some new initiatives or putting some of those new initiatives on hold, and then also looking at your operating structure to see if you have any revenue changes or, you know, either decreases and maybe increases. But, you know, I doubt that that will be most of you, how that changes the work and the, you know, how that shifting within the organization.

So right now I think that it’s important to really look at what do you have available right now in terms of personnel, infrastructure, facility, also knowledge about certain areas, whether it be content fundraising, what have you, and also financially, because I think that there is different projections that you can make based on your resource gap now versus what you think you will need six months to a year from now. And so I think it’s really important to think through and identify what those resources are so that you know you have something to start off with.

And so how should you manage some of their short-term deliverables? When we talk about grants, we want to make sure that we’re putting those low-hanging fruit as top of mind. We want to make sure that we update any calendars or any systems that we use to ensure that the internal and external deadlines are updated. And I know that as COVID-19 opportunities come in, you want to include that and track that as well and make sure that if you’re sharing the system with others, that those comments are included in the database and that if you know that well, this funder might not be focused on this area right now, maybe look at it six months from now that you put in a tickler to follow up in six months. And also just ensuring that you have some core information on hands, especially related to COVID. And we can talk about what that core information is and making sure that the team is able to be responsive and that you have some time to check in with them on a regular basis.

So what I encourage is that when you think about reaching out to current funders, if you haven’t done so already, always want to make sure you check in with them to see how they’re doing. It’s very easy to launch into some of the challenges that you’re facing, but I know that they’re facing some challenges as well. I always encourage you to extend a deadline, especially if it’s a short turnaround, whether it be an application or report, because there’s been a lot of wiggle room and funders, I find, are being very receptive to those changes, mostly in the private corporate space, not necessarily in government, because those tend to be fixed, but it’s really good to just check in with them.

And if you have any changes related to specific outputs or outcomes you thought you would achieve, it’s important to have those dialogues now and to make sure that that you’re sharing that information with them. And also letting them know if you plan on doing a renewal application, if there’s an opportunity to ask for additional funding related to COVID-19 because there might be that ability to do that. So keep that in mind.

And the approach is similar to new funders, but I think that when doing an introduction, whether it be a phone or email, to really talk a bit about how you can match your needs and priorities with their mission and just making sure that there’s that alignment and always do your research and making sure that if they have adjusted their giving cycles or any of their priorities related to COVID, or some of them have been adjusting it related to racial equity and some of the other recent events, that it’s important to keep that in mind as well and that it’s not something that you could pursue now, but maybe down the road. So just thinking about that.

So when thinking about putting together information, I think that you want to look at your story. And we talk a lot about storytelling, what does that mean? It’s really about your journey. It’s really about telling funders a little bit more to give them a sense of the beginning, middle, and end so that they can go on the ride with you, so they can understand where you are, where you’d like to go, and what your vision is for the future. And when we think about COVID-19, I think it’s really important because I think you probably have some of this information already, is to document . . . document, document about COVID-19 because it’s now being asked in most applications. They want to know how you’re responding, you know, how you’re pivoting.

So I think the most important thing is to identify the urgency, which is basically, you know, have you seen an increase need for your services? Can you document that? Do you have statistics to support that? Do you also have a story, perhaps, to show that that need? And also talking about your organization’s strengths? So if you’ve had to pivot your services or use different cost-effective strategies, what have you done to really showcase your ability to sustain your organization during this time?

And I think also just providing a sense of reassurance that, you know, we are working with our board, we have a plan, or we are working towards a more sustainable future, you know, even though we do see a 50 or $100,000 deficit in our budget, we’re working to minimize that gap. And I think also by gathering some of this information, it’s helpful to show your organization’s ability to be flexible, to be adaptive and responsive, and how it takes the funders on a journey.

And I will leave you with this, which I really like this quote, is that “Authenticity counts. It’s disarming, causes deeper listening, and builds trust.” So I think that a lot of times nonprofits will want to only share the best case scenario, but right now, that’s a bit challenging. So I think just being able to be honest and also show a sign of hope is always good for organizations. And if there is a need for what you do and there is an increased . . . you see an uptick in your services, that is important to share as well so that they understand, you know, why their support matters so much.

And I also want to share, for your own reference, that here’s some COVID-19 funding resources and educational resources that I found to be extremely helpful. And so you can take a look. I know Bloomerang has a lot of resources and these are just, you know, helpful for you to kind of gain more awareness about things that, you know, you can use for your own purposes. And I will also open this for a chat, is that in terms of how responding to COVID-19 opportunities, in terms of the language that you use or any success that you might have had, if there’s any tips that you might want to share for others that you think would benefit those who are listening, so, Steven, you can call out anything that might seem applicable.

Steven: Yeah. A couple of people are saying they’ve moved events to a virtual. They sort of see that as an opportunity. Meryl’s saying they’re asking a lot more questions and listening more. I think that’s always a good advice for sure.

Rachel: Yeah. I always liked that. Great.

Steven: Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah. Okay. And I’ll also pause here before because I’m about to start part three, which is the long-term grant strategy, but are there any questions before we move on?

Steven: There was one from Kelly here, Rachel. I think it came up when you were talking about the funders, asking about COVID. Kelly’s wondering, how do you present a gap that you may anticipate because of COVID? So you think it may be coming, isn’t quite here yet, is that something maybe you should bring up to these potential funders or say that in the application, that maybe there will be a downturn?

Rachel: Yeah. I think that that could be addressed as a challenge. It could also be included as part of the budget. So when you submit a programmatic or organizational budget to a funder, you can add a caveat at the bottom that you may be experiencing a deficit or revenue shortfall or increased expenses, you know, whatever that is. I think it is important to be forthcoming, or if there’s an opportunity to have a conversation with a funder ahead of time, that’s always a good thing. I do feel that transparency now is incredibly important.

Steven: Cool.

Rachel: Okay. Well, I guess I’m going to move on so we can get through the grant strategy because I will get to your questions at the end. Hopefully, I can get through most of them, if not, you can always email or I can respond to them after the webinar.

So I think that somebody mentioned this about the virtual conferences, that it’s an opportunity. And I’d like to look at this as an opportunity. I know it’s incredibly difficult to look at this as a positive, but I do think it is an opportunity to kind of, I call it back to basics and really thinking through what can we do to change perhaps our operations, to rethink some of our program offerings, to rethink some of the staffing. And so I think it’s an opportunity to really try to start from a different vantage point and hopefully lead you to some more positive thoughts and working with your team to try to work together because this is really a time to collaborate and to also work with other peer organizations, because I know that, you know, if you’re struggling, chances are your other partners are struggling as well.

So here’s some questions that, you know, want to think about. And I’m going to go through these in depth, but just, you know, what do we need to accomplish? How are we going to get there? Do we have what we need? How will we remove road roadblocks? How are we going to measure progress and how do we make changes? So these are just some things that when thinking about unlocking the keys to planning, these are some considerations.

So the first step I want you to think about is a needs assessment. So we’re going to go through that resource list again, but the resource list is really just a way to understand of those resources that were highlighted, I’m sure there are others as well, what are some of the gaps? And are you including key stakeholders in the discussion? And I don’t just mean leadership, but other frontline staff who are working with your target population who are really trying to deal with things on the ground and also trying to identify some of the key roles and responsibilities and that there are people assigned to them and hopefully not all the same person.

And so after that sort of needs assessment, the next step is to kind of look at all of those in totality and to map out the greatest priorities. And then trying to say, okay, if you have a strategic plan in place, what needs to change? And aligning some of those priorities with those resource gaps and saying, “Okay, what are some of the significant client needs?” And one thing that might be helpful to do is to create a logic model.

Now, Kellogg Foundation has an extensive logic model development framework that I highly encourage you to use if you who don’t have one developed. And it just kind of goes through the process of what a logic model is and why it’s important. So just something to think about when you do that.

So now we just talk about the resources. So whatever systems that you’re using, whatever tools that you have, make sure that you’re tracking information and that you’re being consistent, that you’re also doing this on a regular basis, and that there are key stakeholders and other team members who are included in the process and who are updating tools as needed. And this is for tracking tasks and activities. And also if you have a dashboard for your organization, just making sure that’s updated and reflective of the current state of activities.

And so this is when I was mentioning before about the resources in the long-term, what you were thinking of that we need right now, how is that going to differ in the long-term? You know, what are the things that you need to ensure longer term sustainability? And I think I’m going to skip this one for now, but thinking as an organization about your biggest resource gaps, you know, I know that . . . The biggest challenges that I have seen are really the staffing capacity and some of the tools, and, of course, you know, financial is going to be the ongoing challenge. But I think that if you think about besides that, what is it that you can do within what’s your control?

Now, as I mentioned before, when I’ve referenced and I’ve done risk management trainings before, I have talked about contingency planning. So contingency planning is challenging because, of course, nobody anticipated this global pandemic when we were thinking about 2020 planning. And so when we think about what we’re going to do to move forward, it might be useful when, especially updating your strategic plan, to think about what are you going to do in these different situations so that at least you’re not surprised if something does happen. Like if revenue goals are not met, what happens if there’s some staffing changes, layoffs or furloughs, what happens if volunteers can’t assist? And I’m sure you can think about other things, but it’s good to kind of think through what the risks are and potential mitigation plans for them because then it allows you to prepare and at least start to think through with the team so that things aren’t surprising when, you know, if they end up happening.

So one thing you want to do, especially when we’re talking about longer-term progress and thinking about your strategy, is what are the measurable goals that you want to have in your strategic plan and in your fundraising plan. So in your fundraising plan, usually it’s separated out by the different fundraising approaches, you know, whether that be corporate sponsorships, grants, special event planning, individual donors. So there’s a whole lot of different approaches. And do you have milestones related to those? And can you track all that information just to make sure that you’re moving forward?

And also, you know, looking at it in terms of not being a punitive measure, but just as a way of a benchmark to determine if you’re on the right track, and if you’re not, what can we do to address that? Because chances are, it could just be the fact that you don’t have enough resources. And so do we need to modify the target? You know, what are we going to do to address that? So it becomes more of a collaborative effort rather than being pushed on someone’s shoulders.

So the next thing I think is important is to think about is reflection. So when you look at the lessons learned and really identify, you know, what some changes are, and especially as you’re going through . . . This year, I’m sure you’re going to find a lot of lessons learned. You know, think about how that’s going to factor into your planning. And so when you look at your planning, I would think that you’d want to have maybe check-ins every quarter or every six months to just see how that strategy that you’re putting together, if that is making sense, or if you need to change it and how can you shift as needed. And I’ll go through some of the specific tactics for implementing the grants and strategic plan efforts in the next section, but this is just sort of an overarching way to think it through the planning process.

And so something that I have heard before is, “Well, this all sounds good, but how do I get buy-in from leadership to make sure that we can actually do these things?” And I think the best thing to do is to do a cost benefit analysis, you know, look at the top items that you might need to acquire or the resources that you might need and talk about, you know, what are the potential solutions? Can you price out what the difference options are so that you can give them something to reference? And also, what would happen if this does not take place? What is the risk scenario involved? And look at the return on investment, you know, what could you gain from having this priority met or this resource obtained? And then maybe thinking through, from a creative standpoint, in terms of your budget, are there certain things that can be leveraged within your budget in order to acquire this item, or personnel, or whatever it is just to make sure that you can be creative using that?

And in terms of strategic planning, from the positive impact on your work, is that it really thinks through this long-term sustainability. And I think that that’s what’s really important about strategic planning if you have the ability to plan with the resources that you have, the more you’re able to achieve, and that can really support the continued growth and just building that culture of philanthropy within your organization. So with that, I’m going to hit Pause and see if there’s any questions before I dive into the last section.

Steven: Yeah. Just a few here, one from Suzanne, Rachel, wondering if you think or have seen, are foundations open to applications from brand new organizations right now. Should startups do anything differently, you think?

Rachel: Yeah. I definitely think that they are open to it. I just think that you have to see what their priorities are and having a conversation with them would be very helpful because I have seen some funders who are restricting, perhaps, to only those who they’ve given money to. And so just being mindful of that, but also I have seen increased giving. There have been a couple of reports that corporate philanthropic giving is an uptick. So that’s great. So I think that it’s important to just kind of be mindful and do your research to just learn a little bit more about them.

Steven: Cool.

Rachel: Okay. Is there anything else?

Steven: I think you’re going to cover them in this section, but if you don’t, I’ll come back to the ones in here.

Rachel: Sure. And this is where I get into the nitty-gritty. So now I’ve given you sort of the overarching structure. Now, how are we going to do the work? You know, what are some tools and tricks, you know, related to grants and project management? And I’ve thrown them both in here. So first, I want to go into the second poll. So if you could launch that, that’d be great.

Steven: Okay. Here we go. Poll number two. Okay. Here it comes.

Rachel: Looks like I’m seeing a trend here for what we’re getting. It looks like most people are saying a combination of the above. But I’m also seeing a little bit for lack of personnel and lack of time or priorities. So I’m going to close it in just a couple of minutes. Okay. Or I should say a couple of seconds. All right. So I’m going to end polling and I’m going to share. Okay. So most people said that the biggest impediments to success is combination of perhaps lack of technology, or systems, lack of institutional knowledge, lack of time, and lack of personnel. So I definitely think that that’s probably an accurate statement. Because it seems like it’s not just one thing, it could probably be a number of different things. So thank you for sharing.

So as we begin, I want to talk about, you know, how can we become more effective grant seekers? You know, we might have a plan in place, but now how do we actually implement it? How can we actually put in those targets and milestones? What are the activities that we need to do to make sure that we’re achieving what we set forth in our strategic plan, our fundraising plan goals? And I think it’s really important to be always mindful of what are the end goals in mind and taking time to do the research.

And I think that there’s this propensity to kind of open ourselves up to submit applications to many different funders, even though it’s not a fit, and that’s not the right strategy. It’s better to focus on the right funders even if there’s less of them because then you’ll be able to build better relationships, it’ll be more of a fit, and it’ll be more worth your time, especially since your priorities are shifting and also your ability address this work, your time is also limited as well.

And so trying to set up an infrastructure to divide the responsibilities, because even though you might say, “Well, I am the development person,” there could be other aspects of the grant seeking work that you can farm out to other people such as putting together attachments, maybe putting together the budget. So there’s other things that you can try to look at so that you’re not the only one responsible.

And I think also a good consideration is to think about having some strong core language, whether it be related to COVID, your organization, or some of your programs, which you frequently applied for through different funding sources, that you have that information on hand and being able to modify that language depending on how the programs are currently changing.

So what are the goals of good prospect research? Really, we just want to find the right targets. You know, if I could just put a bull’s-eye there, that’s really what it is, is that you want to look at the right things to obtain the most accurate information you can about the funders to make a go/no go assessment to determine if they’re the right fit. And there’s a lot of different factors that go into, you know, what the criteria are.

And I think another important consideration is that you want to look at them as someone with whom you want to develop a partnership because they’re investing in your organization just as you’re investing time into researching them into submitting an application. And so what is it that they’re going to get out of that partnership? And so I would look at it as more of a dynamic partnership versus just someone like an ATM machine that they can just give you funding.

And I think one of the things that’s always a bit challenging with funders is that you often don’t know what they’re thinking. And so sometimes there are these closed door conversations that happen and that you might have missed something, maybe they’ve already distributed their funding and you weren’t aware of it. So there’s a lot of things that you still don’t know about a funder and also you don’t know about their relationships with other recipients. So sometimes you feel like you’re being locked out of certain things. But what can you find out? What are the things that you do have control over? And this is the criteria that I would use when doing prospect research and what we use ourselves is getting general information on the funder. You want to find out, can you email them? Can you call them? Who’s the contact person? And so getting that information is really critical.

Also finding out the giving cycles and the deadlines to make sure that, you know, you are able to apply within a specific period of time or if it’s rolling, that’s even better. And also determine what are their giving priorities and award amounts. And looking at the 990 forms, the treasure trove of information because you can always see who they’ve given money to and perhaps also what the focus of that funding was. So it’s a great way to gather additional information and also out some of the staff and the trustees and you can put them in your spreadsheet or whatever prospect research tool you use to see if there’s a connection with the nonprofit as well or your organization and determine if there is a fit.

And also you want to look at some of those eligibility and administrative requirements to make sure that you are able to address them and that it isn’t something that’s going to kick you out or dismiss your application just because you don’t meet them. So if they’re focused on health and human services and you want to apply for STEM education, that’s not a fit.

And so also looking at the geographic area of focus and making sure that you are in line. And I also know just from being in Montgomery County, Maryland, we are D.C. area. We are not Baltimore area, and that’s a huge difference. So making sure that you understand what their focus areas are and who they really fund and those organizations if that’s a fit.

So in looking at those criteria, and one of the things that I would suggest is that you can weight these criteria. You know, you can weight these into different areas to determine the right prospects. So what you can do is you can look at the areas of interest, award amounts, the grantees, if there’s an organizational connection, or if it’s a lapsed funder, and you can weight them one, three, or five and you can scale them to determine which ones are the highest priority.

And so I think that that’s a great way to kind of put this together, to see who would your highest priority prospects be. And I think that that’s important because when you put together your grants calendar, you basically put together the information that you use during prospect research, except you build it out to have some internal deadlines and also thinking about some additional comments, because perhaps there was some cultivation and developing relationship with that funder, and you can include that into a calendar. And this could even be in Excel spreadsheet, you could use a system like Bloomerang, or you could use another donor management system to kind of track all of this information and to have some institutional knowledge and so you can generate reports or you can put together an FY21 calendar that makes sense.

So when we think about the grant writing, want to make sure that we’re not looking at each funder as the same. So even though you might have core information, each funder kind of operates very differently. Family foundations operate more like individual donors and corporate foundations tend to be a little bit more interested in play volunteer opportunities and like to have more information on how they will be presented in press releases or social media because they like to have name recognition and also private foundations tend to be more open to communicating with you beforehand. So there is a very different approach and different writing style for each of those different funders, but it’s really critical for you to think about what your story is. Oops. Sorry. And when you think about that, it’s really about what is your, why. Why do you exist? What can you do to really share that with funders? So just being able to describe that in more detail.

And this is kind of reiteration of tailoring your application so that it reflects what the funders are looking for and being responsive to each question and determining, can you have a free flow proposal or is it going to be more responsive in an online format where you have certain character restrictions? So this is just, you know, some considerations for you to think of when you’re writing and also what kind of writing style, are you going to be more formal or informal? Will you use a more storytelling approach or are you just going to respond to each question as it’s written in the proposal?

So I have some general rules of thumb for when putting together applications, and there’s some specific character limitations. So you want to think about what is really important to share with the funder. Are you being responsive to the questions or are you just kind of giving more filler detail? And also thinking about use of acronyms and attaching files to provide a little bit more detail that you couldn’t provide in the application. So, you know, these are just some things to think about when you’re putting together that proposal.

So now I’m going to quickly pivot to project management and provide some useful tips and tricks to think about, you know, how strong project management can really assist you. So when thinking about grants work, we know that what you can’t control are some of the external changes happening, can’t change deadlines. You sometimes really can’t change the leadership priorities that have been established in the strategic plan. So what can we do? What we can do is we can try to get work completed within the schedule that works for us. We can also, perhaps, gain approval from leadership on the priorities that we can have to construct a more effective plan and we can also perhaps look at leveraging other resources to help complete specific grants. So I think that there is a number of things that we can try to implement to help us with the work.

And so when I think of project management now, even though I am trained through the Project Management Institute, and there’s a specific approach, thinking about it in terms of time management, so that’s the schedule, the habit management or better practices, and that’s creating a better project management system that works for all of us.

So when we think back to the strategic planning, what I like to . . . I like this one a lot because this is really helpful for the brainstorming and thinking about this decision making matrix. So when you’re trying to determine what are those key priorities, these are just some other things that you can think about, like urgency versus importance and also impact and effort. So there’s a number of different factors that you can include on this matrix, depending on what you think is most important for you, but just ways to think about prioritization.

And here’s another way to think about it. This is called the Eisenhower matrix. So this kind of breaks it down to do it now, decide when to do it, delegate, or drop it. And you can this every week, every month, you know, just to kind of update it just to see what you can do to manage your schedule a little bit better and prioritize some of the work that’s on your plate.

In terms of time management, this is another one, the Pomodoro technique, which is, you know, if you still have a timer, if not, you could probably set your phone for this, but just setting a timer for a specified number of time to work on a specific task and then take a break. And this is also useful for not checking email because I know that’s a challenge for me, but you can specify that you will only check email, you know, once every half hour, once an hour, and this also just helps you focus on a specific task at hand. And so it’s another way also because we’re all working from home or most of us are working from home. It can be a bit of a challenge during the day.

So in terms of habit management, there’s a great book called, “Atomic Habits,” which I strongly recommend and that I have read myself, and it’s about how small habits can create incremental change. So when I think about workload, I try to think about, well, what are the 15 minutes that I could offer for a specific activity? And can you put that in your calendar each week? And even also thinking about how you work or you work best in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, and now that you might have more flexibility to work at different times of the day, you know, thinking about how you can manage your tasks accordingly. And just make sure that you check with your leadership and also put into a shared calendar, just so that if you have certain times allocated for specific tasks, that it’s confirmed with leadership so that you’re not disrupted with specific meeting invites, or other priorities that could be shoved on your plate.

And this is something that I have developed myself. So when you think about your daily, weekly, monthly actions, I have a specific example task, which is building out a grant’s calendar. And these are just some specific actions that you can take that will really help you just to think through what does this look like on a long-term basis? So if you’re building out a grants calendar, you know, what do I need to do every day, week, month, and quarter to kind of make sure that things are running smoothly? And so what are those different priorities that you have that you need to address and how are you going to look at them every day, week, month, or quarter? And I know I just ran through those pretty quickly, but I want to make sure that I left room for questions. So I think that’s it with the content.

Steven: That was awesome, Rachel. Thank you. Wow. You zoomed through a lot of good stuff there. Hard to believe you pack that into an hour, but you did it. Very good talk. I love listening to this stuff. So it’s awesome of you that you’ve taken the time to share all this knowledge. And we got some good questions in here. So let me roll them here. You know, you mentioned a relationship building earlier, Rachel, and a bunch of people are asking, should they be reaching out to a potential funder prior to sending in that application? Just to maybe start building that relationship or at least give them a heads up that, hey, we’re going to be applying or we’re going to be submitting something. What do you think folks should do there?

Rachel: Absolutely. I think it’s always a good idea. I mean, because I think that if you look at it this way, you know, when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone, you’re asking them for money, you want to start off on the right foot. You want to start off not by just saying, “Hey, the first conversation, the first time that you meet us is going to be through an application,” where it become one of many, rather have it be more of, I call it informational interview at that point when you’re just introducing yourself to a funder and it really provides an opportunity for you to learn more about them, what they’re interested in, what they want to focus on, and also it can tailor your application appropriately because then you can see if there’s changes that can be made related to that conversation.

Steven: Makes sense. I love it. Here’s one from Amanda. Amanda’s mentioning that a number of funders have become non-responsive in the midst of the pandemic in the last few months. What advice would you have for her or anyone else that’s maybe seeing that from folks that maybe there was a relationship or a conversation or past funding, but now they’re just not answering. Should they be super persistence or maybe lay off? Or what do you think?

Rachel: I think that it’s good to just have a tickler maybe each month, try to do a reach out. And you could also maybe not relate it to the funding, but just say, “Hey, here’s some progress that we’re making regard to this.” Or it could be a success story, but just something that maybe is more uplifting because maybe they’re just so inundated with requests right now that they don’t necessarily want to respond. And so they’re kind of maybe putting their heads in the sand a little bit. But it might be a good idea to just keep trying and trying in different ways and with different information that will not fall on deaf ears.

Steven: Cool. Here’s an interesting from one from Liz. And I’ve seen folks answer this question both ways, both ends of the argument here. I’m curious where you stand, Rachel. Not to put you on the spot, but Liz is saying that she’s seen funders say, “Don’t contact us.” What do you think? Should you adhere to that? Or should you maybe be a little bit bolder and maybe contact in different ways? What do you think there if someone explicitly says we don’t want to hear from you?

Rachel: I mean, I think that it’s always good to write an email. I mean, maybe not call if they say not to call, but I think a good introductory email, you know, I know that you mentioned that you don’t generally converse with us before we submit an application, but this is just more for your own edification about who we are. This is where we are, what we do. I’m happy have a chat, but we can always wait until after the application is submitted. So I think it is a nice gesture just to, just to outreach because I think it’s important for you to get as much visibility as possible in front of funders.

Steven: Cool. I like that. Circumvent a little bit. That’s always good. Here’s an interesting one. I’m going to leave it anonymous, just in case, but this person is asking, what should you do if you have a supervisor or a boss who is pushing you to apply for grants, maybe just every grant under the sun, but you know that you don’t qualify for it. There’s just no chance. What would you do maybe on a personnel level to kind of deal with that? Should you just go ahead and do it to gratify the boss or what can they, or maybe, you know, say something to that person, any the experience with that particular issue?

Rachel: What I suggest, I always like to refer to something factual. So if you have the criteria, these are a go/no go. And if you start to rank them, okay, so if you say, if you have a threshold of, let’s say you have to have at least 15 points to pursue, if that falls under 15 points. And let’s just be honest, that has to be approved by leadership. So if everybody approves that this is the criteria that we’re using, and these are the benchmarks to determine which are go, which might be, well maybe if we have time, and which ones we’re going to put on the back burner or we’re not going to pursue that, you have that ability to point to that. So if that opportunity does not fit in, then you can always point to that because that happens all the time.

And I know with COVID opportunities, they come up very quickly and you have to respond within a week and it can be pretty challenging. And I get it because we dealt with a lot of those in this spring, but I think that it’s important to refer to that because at least it’s something factual. So you’re not throwing anyone under the bus, it’s just that we approve this system and now we’re going against it and now we can’t achieve the priorities. And so I think that’s also something, what are your priorities as an organization? If you keep having to address some of these low-hanging fruit grants, that might not be a fit, is that really going to allow you to do the other things you need to do?

Steven: Cool. I like that a lot of people are saying they like that go/no go phrase. So cool. Here’s a interesting one from Marilyn. So let’s say you’ve submitted an application and then something in your organization changes, maybe you do have to make an unexpected pivot or there’s some crisis. Should you update that potential funder that, you know, “Hey, we submitted an application prior, but something’s changed. Just want to let you know about that.” And if so, how should you approach it so that maybe it doesn’t look like you’re in a crisis or maybe kind of flaky, I guess, would maybe be one way that it could be inferred. What do you think there, post-submission?

Rachel: You know, I do think . . . So if we’re talking about COVID, I think that that’s pretty obvious. There could some changes there. So that’s a natural conversation to have. That’s very common. I think it is important to be as honest as possible because the thing is, is that if you start to try to hide it, it always comes out. So I think that it’s good to be honest and it’s good to communicate within internally to talk about what are we going to do to pivot? Is there something else within . . . I mean, let’s say it’s a sub program within a larger department, can there be another program that might be a better fit or is there a reason for this? Did people leave or was there a dip off because program location change?

So being able to come back, as I said, with facts and statistics is always good because at least you can reference that and try to find a solution together. And you can say, “Look, we’re asking for your advice here because we want to make the best use of this funding. How can we be more impactful? And here are some suggestions for that.” So I think that being able to show that you have a plan is very helpful and encouraging to them.

Steven: Going back to what you said about having a relationship, it seems like if there is a good relationship, that should be an easy update to make with them.

Rachel: Yes. Hopefully. I hope so.

Steven: Hopefully. Well, cool. Jeez, we’re about out of time and I feel like I could just talk about this stuff all day, but I want to be respectful, certainly of your time, Rachel. You’ve been so generous already. Maybe a good way to end it, a lot folks are asking, your favorite place to find grants. It’s kind of an obvious question, but is there a particular search engine or site that you really like that folks should know about?

Rachel: Yeah. Sure. I personally use Foundation Directory Online. Now, that is for private, corporate foundation, family foundations. You know, government grants are a little bit a trickier. There’s also another tool Instrumentl, which I strongly encourage as well. So I think that there’s a couple of them. Now, the great thing about Foundation Directory Online is that it is a resource that you can access for free at specific community center and library locations. Now, current situation, you know, the way it is, I’m not 100% sure if you can access it online, but you can check Candid, which lists out, was Foundation Center, but now folded into Candid. So you can check there to see if they’re offering it, you know, online. I’m not 100% sure about that, but something to consider.

Steven: Cool. Yeah. Instrumentl, is one that I’ve seen recently. It looks pretty cool too. So, yeah, Rachel, jeez, this was awesome. Thanks so much for doing this. This is a lot of really good information. Obviously, this is a topic that is changing every day. How can folks get in touch with you? We didn’t get to all the questions. I’m so sorry for that, but do you mind taking questions offline maybe through email?

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. So here’s my contact information. I have been doing pro bono coaching sessions because I know that this has been really tough for nonprofits, but just answering any questions that come up. I understand, this is a tricky time. We have been trying to do our best to work with nonprofits where they are. So feel free to reach out and let me know if you have anything that you want to address, some really hot topic. So happy to do that.

Steven: Cool. Thank you. That’s really generous. Take her up on that. We’re all pretty busy, so give her a little grace and patience it’s a little slow to get back, but obviously she’s a wealth of knowledge. And yeah, keep the conversation going. Rachel, this is awesome to have you. Thanks for doing this.

Rachel: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I hope everybody has a pleasant afternoon, evening and looking forward to connect again soon.

Steven: Yeah. You too. We owe you a big time for doing this, so thank you. Thank you. And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know it’s a busy time of year and lots of stuff going on, but if you aren’t busy next week, we’ve got some great presentations coming up, particularly on design thinking. Our buddy, Carol, is going to be given a really cool presentation, a brand new one. She’s done a couple of webinars for us before. Going to be an interesting one, for sure, but we’ve got lots of great topics coming up. We’re going to recovering virtual events, board diversity. So just check out our webinar page. There’s lots of good sessions there and hopefully we see you again.

So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. I’ll get that out here this afternoon and hopefully we’ll see you again on another session, maybe next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Stay safe, stay healthy. We need you all, please. Have a good weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Rachel: Great. Thank you.

Steven: See you.

Author information

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang

Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. She also serves as the Director of Communications for PRSA’s Hoosier chapter.

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