Whether you are new to grants, and re-evaluating how your organization seeks out grant funding, Rachel Werner will go through what you need to know to become more grant ready.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Rachel, I got 2:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially here?

Rachel: Mm-hmm. Go for it.

Steven: All right, awesome. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast, I should say. And if you’re watching this recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are. We’re here to talk about how to build a better grant strategy in this post-COVID, to the extent that we are post-COVID world. Thanks for being here. Hope you’re having a good day. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s session as always. 

And just a couple of quick housekeeping items, just want to let you all know that we are recording the session. You should already have the slides. But if I missed you, don’t worry, we’ll resend the slides and the recording later on today. So if you have to leave early or just want to review the content, don’t worry, we’ll get all that good stuff in your hands. Just be on the lookout for an email from me later on today.

But most importantly, as you’re listening, we love these sessions to be interactive. So don’t be shy, ask questions. There’s a question box. There’s a chat box. You can tweet us. We would love to hear from you. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t sit on those hands. We’d love to answer your questions. 

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome. We do these webinars usually every Thursday. We got a special Wednesday session today. But once a week, we have a great speaker. Today is by no means an exception. We love doing these webinars. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang beyond the webinars, we are a provider of donor management software. So check that out. If you’re interested, you can visit our website. There’s all kinds of goodies on there, watch videos, learn all about us.

But don’t do that right now. At least wait an hour because if you want to know about grants, we’ve got Rachel Werner here joining us from beautiful Maryland, my go-to for grants over the last few years. Rachel, how are you doing? You’re doing okay?

Rachel: I’m doing great today. Thank you.

Steven: This is awesome. I know you’re super busy. And you’re always so gracious with your time and fitting us in. Actually, you’ve been coming on since last March just to kind of give us an update on what’s going on in the grants world, which I know people have been really appreciative of. And that’s what you’re here to do today because it’s such a fast moving, wild space of the fundraising pie. And obviously, there’s a lot of things going on. So I don’t want to take up too much time from you except to say thank you and you’re awesome. And folks should check your agency out once the session is over, over there at RBW Strategy. She’s raised a lot of money through grants. She knows her stuff, folks. And I think you’re going to see that come through in the presentation. So I’m going to pipe down, Rachel. Let me stop sharing my screen her and we can bring up your beautiful slides, and you can take it away. Let’s see if . . . 

Rachel: Will do. Well, greetings, everybody. Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more, discuss grants. Now, when I think about this topic, especially for those who are thinking, and I know many of you are thinking about it now, trying to figure out what’s the best way to approach grants. And I think Steven was right. We’re not exactly post-COVID yet. We’re sort of in this kind of hybrid environment related to COVID. But I still think from what I’ve seen with my clients, what I have seen with other colleagues, there’s just been a huge uptick in interest in grants. 

And so what’s the best way to kind of think about it? So I always like to take a step back and say, “Okay, before we start to talk about writing, and management, and all of these other things, I think it’s really important to think about how do we get here? What’s our why? What’s our strategy?” So that’s really what I want to focus on today. And I’m going to leave time for questions, as Steven said. You will be done within the hour. I especially know everyone’s got Zoom fatigue, so I’m trying to be very respectful of your time and your bandwidth for being on screens. And you can always listen to the recording, follow up with any questions. I’m always responsive to those who have anything they want to discuss afterwards. So feel free to do that.

So, as Steven shared, we can share a little bit more about me. My firm is located in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of DC. And I operate a grants and fundraising consulting business, and we support nonprofits all over the country, started off primarily with those in the DMV area but it’s expanded since then. And there are 12 team members on my group, and we have really expanded what we do. And we all provide virtual support. And because of that, we really have an understanding of what’s happening with clients and what’s happening in the current world and just trying to work with them throughout COVID. So really just trying to see how nonprofits have managed and how you’ve really been able to thrive. 

This has been a rough 18 months for everybody. And nonprofits are no exception. And I’m really inspired and encouraged by a lot of the work you do. So I hope you are as well. So I hope that you can kind of take some nuggets of information to kind of help you think through ways that you could be more responsive, build a better process related to grants.

So here’s what we’re going to be covering today. First, we’re going to have like a little bit of an overview of what’s happening in the world of philanthropy. And that’s just something to kind of give us a level playing field to understand what we’re working with. And we’re going to talk about ARPA, which is the American Rescue Plan Act. And so I’m sure that many of you are familiar with it. But we’re going to kind of talk about that in relation to grants. And we’re going to talk through some strategy building blocks. And I’m going to reference some case studies of some clients that I’ve worked with. And I’ll leave time for more detailed questions at the end. Although, before each of these different parts of the presentation, I will pause to see if there’s anything in the chat box you want to discuss. And I’ll have a couple of questions that I’d love for you to answer.

So what’s happening in philanthropy? So the first thing that I want to know, this is a chat question, Steven, you can tell me how people respond, what are your biggest funding needs now versus pre-COVID? What do you see that has emerged because of the fact that maybe you’re moving to a virtual programming, maybe you’ve had to reorganize your organization, maybe you’re seeing greater needs with your population, and that’s especially true with a lot of those that provide basic needs services. So I’m curious if you can share a little bit and, Steven, you can just read a few just so I can get a sense of what are folks’ greatest concerns right now or needs related to funding.

Steven: I’m seeing, Rachel, a lot of non-restricted funds, general operating, kind of synonymous, increased tech needs. A lot of people are saying this, more need for technology. Rehiring staff, so maybe folks were furloughed or reduced somehow during the pandemic. Yeah, a lot on staffing and operational I’m seeing here, Rachel.

Rachel: Yup, that does not surprise me. And I think that that’s been a very important focus because a lot of my clients are just saying, “We don’t need to build a project. We just need funding to just maintain. We need to make sure that our staff are able to continue to provide support. We need to increase our capacity.” And some of those areas are not the most glamorous that what we kind of look at grants for. But there are still opportunities, and there is some changes that funders have made to be mindful of those things during COVID.

So what are some of the challenges that I’ve seen? And I always like to point this out because I think mental health is extremely important, especially as the fact that you’re dealing with populations who might be they’re doing one of the most vulnerable parts of their lives, or maybe there’s a cause that is really, really necessary to focus on and requires all your mental energy. And so you feel this desire to continue providing support. And I think that what is a challenge is that given that many people are working virtually is that you don’t work the traditional hours. So you might be working longer. There have been studies that have shown that there’s not this sort of 9:00 to 5:00 job right now, especially when people working virtually, your office is where you live. And so that can really change things which makes you more susceptible to burnout and increased stress. So those are the kinds of things that I have seen just from professionals. I’ve seen a lot of transitions, people moving to different positions, people taking on more responsibilities than they normally would. So there’s a lot of pivots related to that.

And then in terms of organizations themselves, there’s been a lot of changes in the priority setting and also just the programming that’s being provided. I know that there are a couple people that mentioned moving to virtual programming. So I know that that has been a shift. And also thinking about it from a revenue standpoint, some nonprofits have been better able to sort of navigate some of those choppy waters than others based on perhaps a more diversified revenue portfolio. So those are some things that I’m sure you’re thinking about and also different kinds of funding. And we’re going to see what kind of shortfalls there are from a state and local perspective in the coming years because of COVID, but hoping that some of the other federal funds that we’re receiving through ARPA can try to help stop the bleeding a little bit.

And so in terms of the philanthropic sector, I have seen a lot of grant opportunities related to COVID, especially basic needs support and also other areas, maintaining services. So even if it’s not a basic needs program, it’s still providing support in other areas that have been impacted by COVID. And of course, diversity, equity and inclusion, there’s been a lot of money, especially in the corporate space. And there’s been also a lot of questions about that and applications about racial equity, and then the makeup of your staff and reflective of the people that you serve. So definitely, that’s been top of mind and something that I’ve seen quite frequently. 

And I think also I’ve seen a more openness with certain types of funders who are interested in supporting organizations and providing those unrestricted funds because they realize that there’s a lot of recording burdens. And so maybe trying to reduce that so nonprofits can do the work that they are really good at and really being assets in the community is critical. And also just seeing more organizations interested and going after grant funding, I’ve seen a lot of inquiries about that, and just thinking about the kind of readiness that you need to be prepared for those various different types of applications. There is a big difference between a federal application and then a private corporate foundation application. So those are just some other considerations.

And in terms of the nonprofit sector, again, there was a report that was issued last year, excuse me, about how the nonprofit sector is being prepared and how sort of the outlook. And I think those that shared their thoughts about COVID is that trying to remain positive and trying to look at it as a growth opportunity, trying to think about it a way that they can actually make their organizations thrive during these challenging times and also just adapting their services to be more responsive to their populations. I’ve seen that quite a bit. I’ve seen in our community, Montgomery County, there’s a performing art space that was closed because of COVID and they actually change to become a hub site for distribution of various foods, and household goods, and also different medical support for those who had COVID, things like tissues, and medications, and things like that, over-the-counter medications that could be helpful. 

And I think another thing too is the inclusivity. Going back to the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is organizations really taking a hard look at the services they provide and making sure that they’re cognizant and thinking about the different perspectives and thinking about the diversity of their organizations and how they can be more mindful of that moving forward.

And so if you think about now, why are we thinking about grants? There’s different kinds of grants. And the biggest thing is that there’s a lot of ARPA funding. That is going to be spread across, and the next part is going to talk a little bit more about that. And I also see organizations are trying to expand into new areas, areas where you might not have worked on before, perhaps you’re focused on individuals and maybe going into corporate or going into grants, or all these different kinds of areas. You’re just kind of seeing the opportunities that are available now that might not have been before because maybe you got increased donations, maybe you received a few grants. And so now you’re seeing that, “Okay, there’s a chance for us to be successful in this space.” 

And also the diversity of your revenue sources cannot be understated because I really think that it allows you to give you some flexibility and provide that sort of steady source of income so that you can have a little bit more cushion and thinking about maybe we can start looking at grants for new ideas, maybe we can think about those innovation and other areas where we might not have been as successful in other sorts of areas like individual giving. But the grants could be a really good way to parlay that and thinking about other areas like capacity building or a capital campaign, other things that could be really in line with what grant funding can do to support your organization. So before I go into ARPA, are there any questions, Steven, that I should be mindful of?

Steven: Not seeing any yet, Rachel. I think you can keep going.

Rachel: Okay, will do. All right, so let’s talk about ARPA. So, in case you are unfamiliar, so the American Rescue Plan Act, it’s a $1.9 trillion package . . . sorry, this keeps going forward, and it’s based on the support that President Biden is going to do to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and what are the different follow up that we can do to really help support those who are most needy in our country and making sure that we don’t fall into a great depression, and what can we do to help support our agencies, support are nonprofits. And just some areas I wanted to share with you just so that you know the kind of funding that’s going to be out there is that 65 billion is going to be directed towards counties, and many of them are going to be in the form of community development block grants. And if you’re not familiar with those, you can take a look at that within your community. And also there’s going to be discretionary opportunities and they’re going to be directed towards states, and counties, and also to nonprofits.

And here’s just a sample breakdown, $56 billion for individuals and families, $86 billion for health, $211 billion for education and childcare, $40 billion for transportation. There’s more in there. And you can click the link if you want to see the exact breakdown of how the funds are going to be allocated to different areas. But I’m sure some of those are going to be of interest to you, so something to consider if you’re looking at federal funding. 

So what exactly does this mean, how you should prepare? First things first, you want to make sure you register with sam.gov and grants.gov to make sure that you have the appropriate registrations ready to go. And also just keep checking opportunities on grants.gov and also the agency websites to see what’s going to come through. I have started to see some funding trickle in. But they’re going to start popping up more and more frequently as the programs are established and the funding opportunity announcements are ready to be published and hit the street. And make sure you have your key attachments, your resumes, bios, job descriptions, budgets, and also what your concept could be for potential funding. 

And I also think if you are new to federal grants, one of the best things that you can do is connect with perhaps a partner who might have a track record of success. And perhaps you could be a sub-recipient to them or you could submit an application jointly. So there are some things like that that you might want to consider, especially if you’re maybe looking into government grants. And as I said, these are not necessarily all federal. Some of the funding is going to go to the state’s local government, so just to be mindful of all of those things, especially when you start thinking about what you can do in-house to prepare.

And so we’re going to talk through some of the grants’ building blocks. And this is really the meat. This is really talking through what’s the tools in my arsenal that I need to have to prepare that I can be successful in developing my grant strategy? So what I always like to do is start from beginning. I like looking at the grants’ lifecycle because it really breaks down all the different components of what makes the grant process run smoothly. 

Now, I know that people focus on number two, which is application development, but I really like to focus on number one, which is mostly what we’re going to be going over here, which is the research and strategic planning because that’s really getting you set up for success. That’s really making sure that you have your ducks in a row, that you have everything that you need in order to be successful in the grant-seeking space. And I want you to think about this because in each of these different phases, there’s different components required. And I want you to think about how much time you can devote, how many resources you’re able to allocate. And resources could be multiple things. It could be personnel. It could be equipment, technology. There’s multiple resources that you can use.

The effort that’s needed, some things are quicker than others. And also your priorities, you always want to bring it back to your strategic plan, which outlines here’s what we need to do to raise funds and here’s how we’re going to allocate the time to these different fundraising areas including grants. And within grants, there’s all these different components. It’s prospect research. It’s cultivating relationships with funders. It’s writing the application. It’s managing the application and reporting on it. So there’s all these different components. And so do you have that sort of squared away on the roles and responsibilities and the processes? 

And I think another important component is knowledge. Are there areas where you need to develop more of an awareness, going to presentations, perhaps through Bloomerang and other sources that can really help solidify the understanding and also just thinking about the content knowledge, leveraging your programmatic folks, your financial folks that can really help build a solid application and manage it effectively.

So here’s the first step that I think you really need to do is that needs assessment, figuring out internally, as an organization, what do you need in order to be successful in the grant space, and also looking externally and saying, “We might be seeing an uptick in services provided to this population,” or in the work that we do, or perhaps in a specific programmatic area. And so how are those two aligned? And perhaps, once you know the needs of your target population, you can figure out this is what we need internally. 

And so really kind of understanding that, and that’s the priority setting that happens during the strategic planning process, and thinking about how you’re gathering this information, is it just through check-ins? Are you actually doing a survey? Is there something more quantifiable that you can gather and assess and look at as a group? And how are you sort of looking at this beyond leadership? Are you gathering information from those who are in the frontlines who are actually doing the work or is this something that you’re just kind of doing ad hoc? So thinking about that kind of information that you need.

And then thinking about, okay, so once you have that information, it really helps you think through, are you going to keep? Are you going to change? Are you going to grow your fundraising campaigns? Now, I know that we’re supposed to be focusing on grants, but it is important to see how it touches on some of these different areas. For grants, thinking about how much time you have for prospect research and developing that track record of success and thinking about it as a marathon, not a sprint, because I think a lot of times people just say, “Well, we’ll just submit these grants,” but grants is a long process. And if you can develop those relationships with funders, if you can develop great core content, if you can leverage materials for different kinds of proposals, then that is really going to set you up for success. 

And with major gifts and sponsorships, that’s also about cultivation, but also building out who is going to do the cultivation? How strong is your board? How are they good at building relationships? Do you have other ambassadors who really care about your organization, and they can help support what you do? And thinking about the tools that you need to provide to these individuals so they can go out and cultivate what kinds of marketing collateral, fact sheets, data that would be helpful for them to do that.

And for social media, this is an area that people, you’re either really into it or not as much but you might just do it just as a matter, of course. And I think that thinking about how you want to leverage that,. I don’t think that social media on its own is a fundraising campaign but it’s more of a driver to get folks into your organization, and so how are you kind of building that out? And how are you growing your following in the various different platforms? 

And I think individual giving is also critical, if that’s something that you want to grow, and how are you creating that appeal? How are you connecting with different donors? Are you thinking about being part of your annual campaign? Is there something new, perhaps a capital campaign that you’re looking to invest in and thinking about segmenting that list? You have like major donors. Do you have individuals, faith-based? Those are all the kinds of things. And that’s where you can also leverage social media, can you create that call to action using social media and just thinking about how you want to build out those platforms?

And also in terms of keep, change, or grow, let’s talk about programs because that’s also a part of that needs assessment and thinking about, well, your current resource capacity, are you at capacity? Do you need more resources? What exactly does that look like for you? And then the personnel mix and thinking about the funding because something that’s really critical is that if you decide to sunset a program, think about if you have existing, restricted funding or grants associated with that program, do you have to have relationship outreach with the funder to determine that that’s going to impact their gift? And having those conversations in advance before just doing that will be very helpful and also thinking about what pivots or changes the organization needs to make as part of that planning process.

And so here are some planning tools. And I’m going to go through them a little bit more detail. This is when you conducted the needs assessment, now thinking through your greatest priorities. Do you have to change your existing plan because I know a lot of people are going through a strategic planning process right now, especially those who have a fiscal year that just started or perhaps you’re looking at the end of the calendar year and aligning those priorities with organization and client needs? And I want you to also look at logic model sample and a SOAR analysis because that could really kind of help you think through some of the priorities in the planning exercises. 

So logic model, this is my tried and true. I love this logic model. This is through the Kellogg Foundation. And if you click that link when you get the slides, you can go through they have a logic model guide. I’m sure that some of you have a logic model and some of you might want to have a logic model. And it’s just really a way to map out everything from soup to nuts for all the resources and inputs that you have and matching that and aligning that with your impact and all the steps in between to get you there. 

And some applications actually require it. But it is a great planning tool and exercise. And there’s a lot of great virtual tools that you can use, even in Zoom. You have the whiteboard that you can map them out. You could even do it in Excel or Word document, but just a way to look at this. And you can do this for your organization. You could do this for one of your specific programs, if you’re looking at grants for maybe one of your biggest ones in particular. So it’s really up to you on how you can see this working, but just something to think about.

And the SOAR analysis, I think, is a great brainstorming tool because this can really incorporate feedback from all different folks. This can incorporate feedback from various individuals across the board and brainstorm what makes your organization strong and how can you make it better. And really, this is from a positive, affirmational kind of space and thinking about what are the opportunities that you have available? What are the results that you want to achieve in order to ensure success? 

And so I think that this is a great way to incorporate feedback. We did this with one of our clients, and we had about 20 individuals respond. And it was very helpful exercise for them to see each other’s points of view and really understand what was important to them at all different levels within the organization, not just leadership, but also anything from administrative staff to people who are helping out on direct service. So it was really beneficial to do this collectively.

So I’m curious now, if you can answer this in the chat box, if you were to do a SOAR analysis for your organization, what do you think would be your greatest strengths? And you can just pick one strength if you want. I’m just curious to kind of hear about what you think makes your organization shine. You don’t need to give your organization name if you don’t want to, but I’m just curious what you think is the most positive attribute that you can share. And, Steven, you can just share them once they come in.

Steven: I’m seeing a lot of people, their staff, they have a caring staff, mentors, their mission, their loyal supporters, relationships with people in the community, programmatic strategies, holistic approach to the services we offer, institutional knowledge and history, that’s cool. A lot of team and people though I’m seeing here, seems to be the majority.

Rachel: Well, the greatest strengths are the people because if you don’t have a strong team, then it’s going to be very difficult to move forward. So that’s great. And I love to hear that because I think that so many things can stem from a great team and who are committed to the mission. If you are able to collaborate, if you have good relationships with different partners, I think that that’s wonderful. So thanks for sharing that.

So I’m going to just jump ahead and after you kind of map out the priorities and you’re thinking about grants, what do we do next? Well, prospect research. Sometimes prospect research . . . I should almost have the monk’s screen here because that’s how some people feel about prospect research is one of the least exciting components of grant-seeking. But I think that it’s very, very critical because all of those different components, if you understand your priorities, you understand your fundraising targets and what you want to come in the door, then you really have a great starting point. Then it just becomes a matching process. 

So I think the first thing you want to do is to establish criteria, what are you going to do to determine what’s a high priority prospect because you obviously can’t go through all of them, so what can we do to kind of figure out which ones should be go after? And this could be kind of a helpful exercise, and I’ll show you something to think about when you’re ranking them because this could also be part of your prospect research list. You can put this in Excel and you can have all these different criteria, areas of interest, the award amounts, similar grantees in the same space, if there’s an organizational connection so that you can cultivate a relationship. And they could also be are they new, are they elapsed, are they renewal funder, and also is this an open process or unsolicited, not accepted, and also thinking about the geographic area of focus.

So the way that you would do this in action is that let’s say that you are an after-school education program and you want to provide services. I’m going to say Washington, DC, because that’s my neighboring city here. So areas of interest, if it’s STEM education, well, maybe that’s a fit but it doesn’t say after school, I would put that as a five because that’s a partial fit. If the award amount, let’s say you’re looking for grants 25k and above and this organization is providing grants 10,000 below, maybe put that as zero because that’s not in alignment with the award range that you want to get. And then thinking about similar grantees, well, what if they provided support to two other peer organizations? Well, yeah, then maybe you would put that as a 10 because that’s a strong alignment. And so you can kind of get the picture of how you could organize and rank them. And then you could put criteria of, like 0 criteria means this, 5 means this, 10 means this, so that there could be a key so that all of your team members would understand how you would rank this information.

And in terms of the general information that you should gather, and this could be then built into your grants calendar, general information, and including contact information, it’s very, very critical to have that and how they like to be contacted. Is it phone, e-mail? Is there do not contact them until after the fact, after you submit? But I always think it’s a good idea to reach out to a funder, especially if they’re new before the submission. And thinking about the description of the opportunity, is it an open RFP process? Is it a different, selected opportunity? And also thinking about the submission date, is it a rolling or is there a specific timeline? Is it a two-phased approach where perhaps you submit a letter of inquiry or you submit a full application and then thinking about the drafting and other deadlines, and if there’s any other comments or relevant information and who’s responsible for this? So this is just something to think about as you start to put this forward.

So when you put together your grants calendar, it’s really based on the prospect research. It’s really based on how you should move forward with those opportunities. And I think that these two tools, I think, are helpful and that you can leverage if you want for your own work. But the first one is really thinking about the grants projection. So this is kind of mapping out to what your fundraising targets are. And what you can do is you can take that prospect ranking, and that could be medium, high or low, it’s kind of like 0, 5, 10, 10 being the highest, and thinking about, “Okay, what’s our estimated award amount and what’s the percent chance?” So you can assign a percent chance to that specific prospect ranking so you can get some kind of projected total. And this could be helpful in sort of figuring out your budget to actuals and figuring out your funding gaps. And you could even include things like different programs in here. And you could identify the different projections by that, by general operating support. And so you could really kind of segment this even more.

So this is just an example that you can build off of. And you could also have different revenue projections. Even maybe you want to be very conservative and say that for a high ranking, maybe it’s only a 50% chance, and a low ranking is only 10%. So you can kind of look through and see what makes sense for your organization. But it’s a great way to kind of map out because I know with board members, they might be interested in seeing where you are related to grants, and this could provide a snapshot of that for them.

And this is also just an example of that go/no go is kind of like 0, 5, 10. So you can see 0 is a no fit, 5 is a partial fit, 10 is a strong fit. And this is just something that we’ve shared with clients before just to kind of give that go/no go assessment to determine what’s the right fit in, and are you meeting the requirements? And if it’s not a fit, what exactly is it that’s amiss? So this can really kind of help. Especially, you can do this on a specific opportunity as well because sometimes, sure, you might be familiar with this, a board member might say, “Hey, I want you to go after the Target Foundation,” but you know that the Target Foundation is not going to fund your organization. So this is a great way to say, “Well, we put it through this go/no go and they scored so low that it’s not even worth pursuing.” And if you have some kind of concrete evidence or criteria, then that is a more helpful way to respond to those inquiries than just going after it and wasting time if there are better opportunities that could be in the pipeline.

And the last thing I want to do before we get to the case studies, I’m going to pause after this to see if there’s any questions, is thinking about how we want to measure progress. And I think it’s going back to that spreadsheet and seeing how you are and doing that maybe on a monthly or quarterly basis, whatever you kind of think is a good cadence for that review and determining how successful you are on those new grants and how successful you are on renewal grants. And if you have some kind of tool like Bloomerang, or another type of tool that can really help you sort of look at those grant submissions and try to put those into reports, that’ll be even more helpful in kind of creating a dashboard of that success and creating some milestones for yourself. 

And it’s not just money coming in, it’s also submissions, and cultivating relationships, and getting the number of prospects in the pipeline. So there’s more to it than just dollars in the door. It’s all the steps that go into putting those submissions out on the street and also making sure that you’re gathering relevant data so that when you look at this next year, is there anything that you’re missing, and just to make sure that you’re making progress and you’re on the right track. So I’m going to pause here and just ask Steven if there’s any questions.

Steven: Yeah. We had quite a few, especially when you were talking about ARPA, Rachel, kind of logistical things, do you have to have a 501(c)(3) to be eligible for that? I assume, yes, but . . . 

Rachel: Most of the time, yes. But, I mean, there are public entities, local government, school districts, state government that are eligible. There might be some other kinds of . . . I mean, there could be some for profits that could be allowed or 501(c)(4). It just really depends on the opportunity and making sure you meet the eligibility requirements.

Steven: Nice. Are religious organizations eligible for that funding?

Rachel: Same answer. Faith-based can be a little tough. It just depends. Generally, not government funding, but that doesn’t mean . . . As a sub-recipient, maybe.

Steven: Okay. Vicky here was wondering, is there a rule of thumb for how many grants you should be going after if you know what your target amount is? Is there maybe a good rubric you like to follow there, Rachel?

Rachel: I mean, that’s a good question. I wouldn’t go by the number of grants, but the funding total. So if you are a smaller organization, you might not need to have 100k proposal in the pipeline. I mean, you might want it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a suitable one if you’re a smaller nonprofit. However, others might be looking at higher high five-figure, six-figure awards. So I would look at it as what is your fundraising gap and making sure that you have more in the pipeline than what you need.

Steven: Got it. Cool. I think there’s some more here, but I think you may cover them. But I can come back to them, if not.

Rachel: Sure. Yeah, I’m going to leave some room. I’m going to go through these case studies, go through some takeaways. And it sounds like we’re going to have a lot of questions at the end. So I think I’m going to leave 15 minutes for those questions. And I’ll be available to answer those. So please feel free to ask those. So put them in the chat, and I’ll get to them.

Okay, so I’m just going to talk about some examples here. So one of my clients, they provide basic needs support. So they provide emergency and longer-term, permanent supportive housing to individuals who are experiencing homelessness. And also they are providing clothing and household goods to families in need. And so they provide a full range of support to vulnerable populations in my county. And what they saw during COVID was that they needed to step up and provide additional support based on what the county was experiencing and saying, “Hey, you already provide these services to the community. You already have an accessible location that a lot of people can access through public transportation. And it’s also just centrally located in the community. So maybe we should think about having this be a central hub that could be for food distribution. We could also have legal services there and all of these different kinds of support offerings. 

And so they’re kind of creating this hub, and being able to do that will allow them to expand into different areas. So they’re kind of trying to take advantage of the larger county contract that they’re receiving and also additional larger opportunities because of the demand for the services that they are offering. So if you have something that perhaps you’re able to leverage through county funding, it’s a ripe opportunity to expand into different areas and expand the services that you do and thinking beyond perhaps the original intention of the program, of the service offering.

And I think this is a unique situation, and I love this one. So I have a client that received a $2 million . . . it says a million, but it’s a $2 million gift from MacKenzie Scott. And so this is an organization that is really trying to figure out, okay, how do I manage this? And how do I sort of built in because we know that if you receive a large gift like this, the executive director is concerned that they’re not going to be able to show an area of need. But I think that it’s actually an area of growth because then you can reach out into new areas. You can really be thinking about using that huge gift to kind of focus on maintenance, and cash reserves, and operating funds. We know cash reserves, nobody talks about, but critical, and just being able to increase salaries for their staff versus going into new areas and focusing on the grants that they receive on those different, more innovative, or new offerings that can really focus on the community building that they’re doing already, and so thinking about that in a different way.

And another one, a large membership organization contacted us saying that they want to branch out into grants. And so how do they do that? What’s the best approach? And thinking through the prospect research and kind of with organizations of any size and thinking about what are the things from soup to nuts, from planning through management that they need to address in order to be successful in this area. 

And so the last thing I’m going to leave you with, these are my key takeaways before I get to questions. It’s just really be proactive with your prospect research, really kind of use this as a first step to engage and learn about funders and also look at the last funders that you have and including them in your research because you might be surprised to find that some of those hidden gems can actually become recurring funders and being mindful of the ARPA opportunities and seeing how they’re going to be distributed, your community foundation, or perhaps listservs like Candid has a lot of information and other sites that will be sharing more information, your local listserv. 

I don’t know if you have a local state, nonprofit umbrella organization that you can get information from, but that’s another useful resource, and using your grants calendar as your guide because once you understand what your pipeline is, once you understand where you should be focusing your efforts, it kind of gives you the direction that you need to do that work each day, each week, and so forth, and gives you some targets, and thinking about how you’re going to connect with those stakeholders, how are you going to cultivate relationships? Who’s going to do that? Are there certain individuals that are going to be responsible, not others? and trying to be consistent with how you track and how you’re managing that information, are you using a manual system? Are you using an electronic or digital system? 

So thinking through that will be very helpful, especially since everybody might not be working in the office yet and just thinking about, if some people work from home, how’s that information being shared? How are you all using it and the tools in the same way? 

So those are just some things that you probably want to think about. So I’ll leave this time for questions and my contact information. This is some resources for you to have. But my contact information is here if you have any follow up questions. But right now, I’m going to leave it to Steven. You can feel free to ask those questions from the chat box.

Steven: Nice. Yeah, send them in if you haven’t already. But Rachel, thank you. This is an awesome update. I just love having you on every six months or so because things move so fast. So thanks for doing this. I know you’re super busy.

Rachel: You’re welcome. By the next time we do this, gosh, the whole world is going to change again.

Steven: Yeah. Hopefully, we will be out of it. But yeah, we’ll cross our fingers. Speaking of, do you think ARPA will hang around? What’s your crystal ball opinion on how long that’ll be there?

Rachel: I was working in management consulting during the ARRA funding of 2009. Some programs will stay, some will go away. I think it’s just the question of how the agency absorbs that into their operating budget. I think there’s so many things that are unknown. So I do believe it’s going to be a combination of some funding will stay and some won’t. So that’s one thing is that ARPA funding is really great to kickstart some things. But don’t anticipate that that funding is going to come through every year, that it’s going to be as dependable. So it’s a great way to launch, and to build those relationships, and to infuse some operating funding of a project, specific funding into your budget, but something to consider.

Steven: Cool. Speaking of things not to count on, a couple of people were curious about the MacKenzie Scott thing. What was the story there?

Rachel: Oh, gosh, well, Mackenzie Scott, I guess, she has various advisors, who kind of locate different nonprofits and who say, “Hey, this one looks really interesting.” So they asked them to share some information. And they did. And I guess, she gave approval. And this organization was part of that big windfall funding that was distributed. It’s almost like a blessing and a curse. You receive more funding than you ever thought possible, so now what do you do with it?

Steven: Yeah, right. That’s tough. Cool.

Rachel: It’s a good problem to have.

Steven: Right. On your calendar, a couple of people were asking, do you have a grants calendar that’s separate than your fundraising calendar, or is grants just a component of your fundraising calendar? What have you seen work there? Is there a right or wrong answer?

Rachel: I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I think you just have to see what works for you. Personally, for me, because grants has so many different deadlines, I mean, I think there’s two different ways you look at it. You can look at it into the task management. That’s one component of the calendar. And then there’s sort of the financial component of how you’re going to track your progress and status. I think the latter, you could probably do with other fundraising. And you could look at your task management, if you want to separate it out by grants and maybe by each function, or you can do it by week. It’s really kind of up to you. 

I mean, if you use a system, like a project management system, or a task management system, or something where you can include tasks like Bloomerang or other sorts of databases, then that’s an easy way to organize it because some people just don’t like to necessarily use a standalone system. They like to manipulate data in an Excel form. So it’s really specific to what works best for you.

Steven: Cool. The Foundation Center, any changes there that you have seen or think may be coming around in terms of their parameters? There were some people asking about kind of their scope there. I’m not sure if you have an inside track of that.

Rachel: The Foundation Center, you know that they merged with Candid.

Steven: Right.

Rachel: Yeah. So I think they’re just sort of figuring out what they are right now because underneath, Candid has always been GuideStar, and then the Foundation Center has the Foundation Directory Online, and they do offer some courses as well, some fee-base and some that are free. But I think that there’s always been the ability to use the Foundation Directory for prospect research. And you can do that not just within one of the Foundation Center offices, but actually within . . . there’s libraries and other nonprofit organizations where you can actually access the professional level of FDO. But I don’t know about that online. I believe you can access it online. I’ve just haven’t . . . because I have a subscription, I haven’t needed to. But I mean I think it’d be worth investigating if that’s what you want to get into. But I don’t have any other information besides from an org and operations perspective [inaudible 00:48:27].

Steven: Something to keep an eye on then. This one is from Whitney, any guidance on regional versus kind of nationwide grants. If you’re maybe a more local nonprofit, should there be a certain percentage that you pursue regionally versus nationally? Is there a good rule of thumb there?

Rachel: I always think it just depends on your track record. If you haven’t saturated your local, then you definitely want to do some more local, then regional, then national. I mean, national has been broadening, and so they are providing support to community-based organizations. But this is where you need to do your research because there’s some national organizations that they actually distribute funding regionally. And so especially for financial institutions like M&T Bank, Capital One, there’s always some kind of local or regional context. So it’s always worth connecting with them. So even if the funds come from the national level, they’re distributed locally. That’s going to be different for something like a Robert Wood Johnson or a Hearst Foundation. Those tend to be a lot more structured and there has to be more concept refinement before submitting an application and cultivation with the program officer. There’s a little bit more there. So it really depends on the type of entity. And I would definitely do the research to see what organizations they’ve given to in your area. And if you see that they give to some community-based organizations, then maybe it’s worth a shot.

Steven: Makes sense. Here’s one from an anonymous asker, organization has been around for almost 30 years, but they’ve never done an official audit. Do you think that can be something that a grant could help with in terms of a specific funding designation, I suppose? We’ve seen grants specifically for that purpose.

Rachel: I wouldn’t necessarily say you could get funds for audits, like basically have a grant pay for the audit. Is that what I’m understanding . . .

Steven: Yes.

Rachel: I would say that it would have to be part of sort of a capacity building effort, so sort of putting your ducks in a row because I have seen things like building out database to measure performance metrics and staffing capacity building, strategic planning. I haven’t seen for the audit, but if you can have the audit become part of maybe some larger capacity building effort for the organization, perhaps, but you really have to communicate that with the funder because you want to make sure that that’s something that would be in line with what they would be interested in funding.

Steven: Cool. That makes sense. Here’s a nice one from Matt, what makes you excited about grant-seeking, Rachel? How do you keep from avoiding burnout? It seems like you can get a lot of nos or non-responses and can be a little discouraging, but how do you stay motivated?

Rachel: My team. We were talking about staff before, my team, because we all try to keep each other lifted and motivated. We all try to focus on the little wins. we know that grants are hard. I mean, federal grants are not easy. I’m not trying to put rosy colored glasses on. I mean, I think that they can fundamentally change an organization. But I also know that the process can be exhausting, and also just the grant-seeking process. So I always try to focus on little wins, when we received that even like $10,000 grant from the hard to reach funder, or we received . . . I was just talking with one of my clients just before and said, “Hey, we’re finally able to have this second conversation with this funder. Thanks to your support and sort of building out that work.” 

I mean, that’s what keeps me motivated because I think that if we try to focus on the big goal, the big idea, it’s just going to be really daunting. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me anxious and stressed. So I’m trying to do these little chunks, little bits, that kind of little words of encouragement, or little things that you’re just totally . . . as one of my former business advisors said, “Eating that elephant one piece at a time, even though I would want to eat an elephant.” That’s how she would phrase it. So I’m just trying to take them out in smaller chunks because I think that any little win is a step in the right direction.

Steven: Here’s one from Stephanie, what if you want to start to begin to build a relationship with a foundation? Any tips there? Should you ask for a meeting? Should you, I don’t know, try to go to their events or something like that? What if you’ve kind of identified a foundation but you there’s no relationship there? What’s a good first step?

Rachel: I think that the first thing is to determine how they want to be contacted. If they have a phone number, I would call. And I would just look at it as I call like an informational interview. You’re not there to make an ask. You’re just there to learn, like, “Hey, we are ABC organization,” and do your research. Come up with a one pager to kind of understand where they have been focusing their fundraising efforts and really just having that prepared in front of you so you can always refer to it and just to get a sense of their funding priorities and just to build that initial rapport and just say, “We look forward to submitting a proposal.” And you might even find out during that initial conversation that it’s not a good idea for you to submit a proposal. And so I think that that’s equally important as well so you don’t waste your time. 

One of my clients said, “We want to go after this funder who I know that they’ve been focusing their efforts on Baltimore,” and this organization is not in Baltimore. And I said, “I think you should really call them because I know that that application is at least 15 hours of work, and that’s a waste of resources.” And so she did, and they said, “Nope, just Baltimore.” And I said, “Fine, let’s cross them off the list.” So I feel like that’s something that is really important, and having some kind of standard email. You could even save it in your drafts folder, or you can cut and paste it from a previous one you sent, just something to kind of engage them. You can have a one-page piece of collateral, like a fact sheet or something like that. That can help out as well kind of map out.

Steven: That’s cool. Speaking of spreadsheets, is there any kind of formal data that you should be tracking, that should always be included, the deadline, the dates? What are some of those standard kind of KPIs that you find are useful in kind of your spreadsheet or your tracking mechanism maybe if you’re in a CRM or something?

Rachel: Yeah, definitely. There could be some internal. I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. You could say first draft due, second draft, final draft. I would definitely have the submission deadline, any cultivation in advance because you want to have that in there as well to make sure that you have at least attempted to make contact, if that is an option in advance of submission. And I would also think that you’d want to have information on the status of and also kind of what I was sharing before about, is it a low, medium, high, how you’re keeping track of the amount of funding that’s currently out the door, and how much is in pending, how much is pledged, how much has been awarded, how much has been denied, and using that as kind of metrics to see. And again, it’s not really meant to be punitive, but more to explore. Okay, if we’re seeing more nos for this particular type of funder, maybe that’s telling us something. Do we need to revise our approach or maybe we need to focus on these funders where we have more success?

Steven: That makes sense. Speaking of the projection spreadsheet, how do you come up with that confidence percentage? I think you mentioned or did I understand that incorrectly, was that sort of what you’re getting at there, kind of your. . . 

Rachel: Your estimate, I mean, it’s also based on your experience with . . . I mean, I think renewal funders is probably the easiest to do. Others can be a little bit more ambiguous. But, as I said, those projections are just sort of . . . they could be shots in the dark. You could be more conservative or you have a little bit more risk. So it really just depends on how you, as an organization, want to estimate it. If you say, “You know what, we want to be very clear. We have to have very conservative amounts in order to make sure that we get that money in the door,” then keep those percentages low. So that might mean that you need to send out more submissions. And it also just depends on the nature of that relationship. If you know that you’ve cultivated a relationship with a funder, and so maybe the submission of that grant is just a stamp that they don’t even need to review. It’s just they’ve already kind of pledged the funding for you. That’s almost 100% right there.

Steven: Yup. That makes sense.

Rachel: So, yeah.

Steven: And the conversion rate, yeah. Okay, that makes sense. That’s cool. Dang, there’s a lot of questions we didn’t get to here. Rachel, are you okay if people reach out individually by email? Is that cool?

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. My contact information is here. I’m happy to respond to questions. I might not get to all of them over the next couple of days, but I’m happy to answer questions. I know that this is top of mind. I know that people have a lot of thoughts on it. So I totally get it. So, yeah.

Steven: Well, we’ll have you back in six months again, if you’re up for it. I don’t know how much longer you’re going to let me take advantage of your kindness. But I’ll keep asking.

Rachel: There you go. Maybe we could do like an ARPA 2.0 and see what’s happening with ARPA.

Steven: Yeah, who knows what’s going on in January. It’s not that far away.

Rachel: I have no idea. There’s going to a lot between now. I’m like, gosh, let’s just get through the fall of 2021 and one step at a time.

Steven: Well, this was fun. Thank you so much, Rachel. And I hope you all will take advantage of that kind offer to reach out to her. You got her info there on the screen. So thank you. This was awesome, Rachel. Thanks.

Rachel: Thank you, and have a great afternoon or morning, depending on what coast you are.

Steven: Yeah. Thanks, you all, for hanging out over the last hour or so. We’ve got a great webinar coming up next week. I’ll highlight real quick. Back on Thursday, so you’ve got a one extra day to prepare. But our buddy, Jen Shang, who is probably the world’s foremost philanthropic psychologist, she is awesome. She has written the coolest research studies and papers that we’ve had the opportunity to sponsor over the last few years. And just my brain just explodes five minutes into any talk of hers. So check that out. This may be the strongest month of webinars I can remember, present company included. So we’re really going to end it with a bang there with Jen. 

So next Thursday at 2:00 Eastern. If you can’t make it, register anyway because you’ll get the recording even if you don’t make it. Speaking of, I’ll be sending out the recording of this session. So if you missed it, you’re not hearing me talk right now, but you’re going to get it anyway. But all of you, be on the lookout, you’ll get all that good stuff. And hopefully, we’ll see you next week. So have a good rest of your week and a good weekend. Stay safe, stay healthy, and we’ll talk to you again soon. See you.

Rachel: Great. Thanks. Have a good one.

Steven: Bye.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.