Saturday, September 1, 2012

Should your organization contract with a professional grant writer?

There really is no one size fits all answer to this question.  You have to evaluate your organization’s situation, the grant writer’s skill (and fees) and the possibility of return on your investment. 

Here are a few pros and cons to using an outside grant writer:

  1. Expertise.  Generally speaking, grant writers understand the process and can help guide you through it.  They can research for the funding, write the grant and often help with the follow-up required to tie up any loose ends.  If you are a smaller organization, you might not be able to hire someone full-time with this level of expertise.  Hiring a contractor in this case would make sense.
  2. Flexibility.  Using a contractor allows you to decide if you are content with the work they are completing on your behalf and if you are not, to discontinue the relationship.  This isn’t always as easy with an employee.
  3. Focus.  A grant writer that charges by the hour wouldn’t stay in business long if they were “goofing off” on company time. 

  1. Institutional Knowledge. An outsider will not have the advantage of seeing the day to day operation and might not always understand those special nuggets that make your organization unique.
  2. Priority.  Most grant writers will take on only what they can handle.  You want to make sure that you are working with someone who has the time to give your organization and its needs the appropriate amount of attention.

As with any line item on your budget, you want to make sure you are utilizing your organization’s resources wisely.  Grants can be a very large component of your income and must be treated with great attention to detail.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Paying a fund-raiser a percentage of the income… a big bad no!

Okay, so the heading gives it all away.  So why bother writing an entire blog about it?  Because as time goes on this is one of those topics that everyone (well intending) will bring up at some point.  Can you pay your fund raiser a percentage of the income they generate?  Simply put: No.  In all actuality, the State of Maryland prohibits registered fund raising consultants from accepting this type of payment arrangement.  Additionally, it is unethical for many reasons.

Development staff (whether full-time or on contract) spend their time developing relationships and strategies that are intended to benefit an organization for years to come.  The donors that make donations to these organizations, do so in good faith that the funds they provide will help greater the mission of the organization.  When utilizing development professionals, the organization must make this cost a part of their operating budget.  

I believe the The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) handled this topic best when it made the following statements in a 1992 position paper on the topic:
“The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) believes that individuals serving a charity for compensation must accept the principle that charitable purpose, not self-gain, is paramount. If this principle is violated and percentage compensation is accepted:
  1. Charitable mission can become secondary to self-gain.
  2. Donor trust can be unalterably damaged.
  3. There is incentive for self-dealing to prevail over donors’ best interests.
  4. In addition, percentage-based compensation, however administered, can produce reward without merit.
AFP holds that percentage-based compensation encourages abuses, imperils the integrity of the voluntary sector, and undermines the very philanthropic values on which it is based. AFP is restoring to its Code of Ethical Principles a statement that prohibits members from working for percentage compensation or accepting finder’s fees."

Unfortunately, in these stressful economic times, organizations must do everything in their power to stretch their budgets.  And, having worked in the non-profit sector for as long as I have, I understand the necessity in being efficient and prudent in utilizing operating funds.  That is why I also encourage organizations to examine their development staff and programs as a whole.  Using both a bird’s eye perspective to gauge overall success, in addition to utilizing the same methods that you would to determine salaries for all other staff and contract positions – are the only ways to ethically measure appropriate compensation for your fund-raiser. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Board Basics

I would like to say ‘Board Development’ has become a hot topic with non-profits, but the truth is, it has always been, and always will be, a hot topic- as it should.  An active and involved board of directors is the most critically important   commodity to the success of a non-profit organization.  It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that the organization keeps the promises outlined in the agency’s mission and for assuring that the agency is accountable for acting within the laws governing the operations of non-profit corporations.  Basically, a Board of Directors can make or break an organization.

Here is a brief overview of the key elements involved in Board Development simply described in what I like to call, the four R’s:  Recruitment, Retention, Recognition and Rotation.  

Finding the right people to serve on your board is more of an art than a science.  First, you need to recruit those that have a passion for your mission.  It is an honor to be asked to serve on a board of directors and you want to make sure that the people you invite have a strong commitment to what your agency is trying to accomplish.  Second, a good board member must have the means to give to the organization in a significant way.  By this, I do not only mean financially.  Giving of one’s time, treasure, or talent are all ways of making a significant impact on an organization.   There are many other characteristics to a ‘perfect’ board member, but ultimately a passion for the mission and the means to give (in some fashion) would be the most essential aspects in your search.

In terms of retention, board members must be trained and given the appropriate resources to successfully carry out their responsibilities.  Job descriptions, meeting agendas, calendars, minutes, governance rules and policies are just some of the basic tools that must be provided to each board member.  Additionally, updates on the organization’s successes and areas of concern should be shared regularly.  A steady stream of communication between the agency and its governing board is imperative to its success.  Consider your board your mouthpiece in the community.  If you share, they share.  It’s everyone’s job in a non-profit organization to ensure that the board of directors is readily prepared to communicate the mission, the success and the challenges that the organization faces.

As with any type of volunteer position, recognition should never be overlooked.  Remember the Robert Fulghum book, “All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten”?  We all know we are supposed to say thank you when someone helps us.  That’s all recognition is, saying “Thank you” often, always, publicly and privately.  Serving on a board is a big commitment and should be appreciated.  Additionally, public forms of recognition – i.e. events, newspaper ads, etc offer a great marketing opportunity.

The final ‘R’ is often the most difficult, especially for younger organizations.  Rotating board members can be tricky, but not if it is a concept discussed up front and often.   You’ve probably heard of the famous saying from Henry Ford, “If you always do what you have always done then you will always get what you‘ve always got.”  Rotating board members, both on and off, allows the organization an opportunity to grow with new perspectives and experience levels – while maintaining some of its unique traditions. 

I have had the honor of working with various types of boards and I have found if you really pay close attention to the four ‘R’s you have a great road map for success. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fund Raising vs. Development

After more than 40 years working directly for non-profit organizations, I recently made the decision to become a consultant.  Being a consultant offers me the unique opportunity to work with many organizations, sharing my experience and expertise.  I get to offer an outside voice to organizations of varying size, age and missions.  This rewarding experience suits my desire to enhance our local non-profit community.  It also has presented me with some interesting and unexpected challenges.  Through this blog, I hope to share my insights along the way.
Working in development for as long as I have, my primary challenge was somewhat unexpected.  Clarifying the difference between “fund raising” and “development” is so important and something I took for granted was inherent in every organization.  However, as I continue to explore our local organizations, I realize it makes sense to help make this distinction more clear. 

Simply put fund raising is one part of the broader term development.  Your typical fund raisers have short term goals to bring in revenue immediately to an organization.  Development, on the other hand, involves many strategies to successfully fund organizations’ missions for the long-term.  

A commitment to purely fund raising is not always detrimental.  It can be appropriate when an organization is committed to a cause that has a clear beginning and end to its needs.  For example, funding a budget for a summer camp for one summer for a group of at risk youth might require a one- time fund raiser.  On the other hand, using sound development strategies that same camp can operate and serve thousands of children for many years.   

Development could include any or all of the following:

* Prospecting
* Marketing
* Research
* Goals and Objectives
* Creating a strategic plan
* Annual
* Planned
* Grant Writing
* Direct Mail
* Special Events

Understanding this distinction is extremely important as each of our community organizations determines their individual futures.  Long term sustainability is only achievable with a commitment on the part of all those involved to move away from purely fund raising and onto a development strategy that encourages the right donors to make the right type of philanthropic investment at the right time.