What Do Funders Think?

Funders Forum

Nonprofits: does it sometimes seem as if there is a cloud of mystery keeping you from finding out what funders want?

All clouds lifted on May 11, 2018  at the Annual Central Texas Funders Forum presented by the Grant Professionals Association – Austin Chapter. Representatives from regional funders were there to answer questions, provide channels of communication and develop ways to work together.

The kinds of funders included: private, corporate, and community foundations. There were panel presentations and small group opportunities to ask questions one-on-one.

This year the themes and tips for nonprofits that kept coming up included:

  • Think of funders as partners;
  • Demonstrate there is a need that you will be able to solve together;
  • Funders want transparent communication;
  • Funders want to hear how their gifts and investments are touching the community;
  • Evaluation of activities is they key to sustainability;
  • Funders don’t want surprises.

It is conversations like these that help both service providers and funders support the community.

 

 

Image Credit: Erler

 

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Learning and Networking Opportunities for Nonprofit Professionals

Austin-based nonprofit professionals may already know of the services of the Texas Grants Resource Center – which offers grant-search support, such as access to Foundation Center databases.

But the TGRC also houses the Community Partner Learning Program – which provides events that will uplift, educate and advance in ways that make the Central Texas nonprofit community even stronger. Nonprofit professionals and advocates gain skills and insights to boost their social impact work.

Check out descriptions of some of the recent presentations below. And if you have not already, please sign up to get invitations to future events here.


 

Get Online! Using Google to Drive Traffic to Your Nonprofit with Robin Manas

Get Online! Using Google to Drive Traffic to Your Nonprofit with Robin Manas

Get Online! Using Google to Drive Traffic to Your Nonprofit by Robin Manas (Nov. 13, 2017)
Drive web traffic to your nonprofit’s site by using Google’s AdWords, free advertising offered to eligible nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits use these Google Ad Grants to recruit volunteers, attract donations and share organization information.

 

Susannah Erler of Greater Good Strategies

Grant Writing with Susannah Erler of Greater Good Strategies

Grant Basics: Write. Apply. Repeat. by Susannah Erler (Oct. 17, 2017)
A presentation about the key to finding the right grant opportunities and to writing strong applications! Susannah Erler, a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), presented approaches and offered tips for taking your grant strategy to the next level.

 

Marisol Foster of the Webber Family Foundation

Marisol Foster of the Webber Family Foundation

Funder Focus – The Webber Family Foundation by Marisol Foster (Feb. 12, 2018)
A presentation by The Webber Family Foundation – a local funder that focuses on the gap between proficiency and potential in lower income youth. Executive Director, Marisol Foster described the philanthropic work of the foundation and the grant-making process.

Award-winning Poems About Nonprofits

For Nonprofit Geeks, like me, who follow the excellent and super-funny blog about nonprofit life titled “Nonprofit with Balls” (NWB), you know that this week the “Nonprofit Poet Laureate of the Milky Way Galaxy” was crowned. Some background: NWB (written by Vu Le) had a nonprofit poetry contest this spring. Over 250 poems were submitted; 15 were picked for awards (and the top poet was deemed Nonprofit Poet Laureate of the Milky Way Galaxy). I encourage you to read the results. They truly are top-caliber; ready for a literary magazine or a liberal arts college poetry class or an emotional movie montage.

I entered the contest. Though I did not win, place or show – I will share the entry here. One note: a running joke in the NWB blog is that hummus is a staple at nonprofit events and functions. I thought by including a running joke, I would win favor with the judges. (Nope).

If you want to be inspired and moved, read the winning entries. Alternatively, read the poem below.

My Dog
My dog runs to greet me at the door when I come home.
Does he seem so happy because I submitted a 36-page grant application on time?
Or because I successfully executed a mail merge for a fundraising appeal?
Or because I typed the monthly board minutes in record speed?
Does my dog show me so much love because he knows I am trying to save the world?
No.
My dog knows not the cares of the nonprofit staffer.
He only knows that I feed him, I walk him…
And I smell like hummus.

-Susannah Erler

P.S. You should know that I don’t actually have a dog. Including a dog was another (unsuccessful) attempt to win favor with the judges.

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Photo: National Library of Australia, 1910

 

Heartfelt Work – Saving Lives

We hear about the good work that large nonprofits do. But it is less common that the stories of the foot-soldiers and smaller nonprofit organizations make it into public awareness.

Here is one of those stories; when one-on-one human connections were made. A mother needed help, someone listened, reached out to another – across borders. Requests were sent, generous people responded, and a life of a child was saved as a result.

I see it as the power of people who care – and the power of nonprofit organizations. Here are the words of the board chair of a small nonprofit organization, called Hearts Unite the Globe, doing a tremendous job spreading the word and also connecting the Congenital Heart Defect community. I’ll let her tell the story of this child’s lifesaving operation:

I am feeling so grateful right now. A few months ago a woman wrote to me from Africa. She had heard my radio show* and she wrote asking me for help. As a single mother in Africa, she had no way to pay for open-heart surgery for her son and the pediatric cardiologist said he would die without surgery soon.

I reached out to the two gentlemen I knew helping children in Africa and after many, many emails, many many prayers and much effort on the part of untold number of angels Elvis had his open-heart surgery TODAY! He’s recovering in the ICU and tomorrow I get to meet him and his mother! Such an amazing blessing! Please pray for Elvis and his mother Esther. They’ve been through so much, they are so very far away and they still have a long path to travel upon but I truly believe angels are watching over them.

Thank you to Ann Logan-Lubben, her husband Jack Lubben, Laura Schleicher, Laura Redfern, Frank Jaworski and all of the supporters of Hearts Unite the Globe. Because of the work we are doing with the radio show, we really are helping others.

I especially want to thank HeartGift, the nonprofit organization that flew Esther and Elvis here and have provided life-saving surgery at no cost to this family. I really need to recognize two angel dads who were so helpful in trying to get Elvis where he needed to be — thank you so much Peter Mbogo Kamau of the Take Heart Association Project and Fareed Matthews of Brave Little Hearts SA — both of these wonderful gentlemen continued correspondence with so many people in an effort to help little Elvis. Truly, this was a labor of love for so many people. I am very touched with how people came together to provide a miracle for Elvis.

– Anna Jaworski, Board Chair, Hearts Unite the Globe. January 21, 2016  

*Heart to Heart with Anna (about Congenital Heart Defects on Blog Talk Radio) a service of the nonprofit organization Hearts Unite the Globe

Your Nonprofit Geek

Greater Good Strategies

Are your donations wasted?

You have made cash donations to charities. You have probably thought about how those nonprofits are spending the dollars you give. But you trust them to use your donation wisely (otherwise you probably would not have given).

Landscape

In your mind, you might picture the organization using your money to buy cans of soup or bandages or other items to help those in need. How would you feel if your donation was used to buy advertising for the charity, to pay for the nonprofit’s fundraising activities or for other ‘overhead’ costs? Would you feel your donation was wasted?

Overhead Costs

There are two conflicting opinions on the question of overhead. Briefly summarized, they are:

  1. The less a charity spends on overhead costs, the better
  2. A nonprofit’s effectiveness at solving problems is more important than the amount it spends on overhead.

Charity Watchdogs

There are a number of charity watchdog groups that help people decide how to donate their money. Charity Watch is one such group that takes the first position (the less a charity spends on overhead costs, the better). In fact, a nonprofit’s spending is a big factor in the rating Charity Watch gives. If a charity spends 36% or more on overhead costs, that organization will receive an efficiency grade of C+ or lower (all the way down to an F).

Charity Defenders

A number of people and organizations are starting to speak out on the other side of the “overhead” question. The founder of the AIDS Ride and self-described “Charity Defender” Dan Pallotta gave a TED Talk (that garnered over 3.5 million online views) supporting the second opinion (A nonprofit’s effectiveness at solving social problems is more important than the amount it spends on overhead).

In this TED Talk (titled “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”) Pallotta says “…the next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams, their Apple-, Google-, Amazon-scale dreams, how they measure their progress toward those dreams, and what resources they need to make them come true, regardless of what the overhead is.”

Define “a wasted donation”

This is a fascinating debate, and I encourage you to visit Charity Watch’s web site to see how they calculate their ratings and I encourage you to take a look at Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk to hear more about his experiences and thoughts about overhead. Taking a look at these positions may even change your definition of a “wasted donation.”

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My position on this is closer to Pallotta’s than to Charity Watch’s. Although it makes my stomach hurt to watch reports on 60 Minutes about charities that abuse the trust of donors by pocketing donations for the personal benefit of the administrators instead of serving those in need, I think that a Charity Watch-type black and white grading system is not the solution. How a nonprofit achieves its mission is a nuanced road – and as Pallotta points out, there are some “unwritten” rules that need to be rethought. I believe, for example, that one “rule” is that grant funds should not be given for overhead costs. As a grant writer, I have seen this rule backfire. I have seen, too often, a nonprofit decision-maker hope that creating a new (and unneeded) program will somehow obtain a sliver of funding for vital overhead costs. Trying to “game” the system in this way demonstrates that there are many “unwritten” standards constraining the work of nonprofit organizations. And if a nonprofit is constrained, how can it achieve its mission?

Questions: What goes into your decision to make a donation? Have you consulted Charity Watchdog ratings? If so, what did you think?

Images: U.S. National Archives, Internet Archive Book Image

Independence – what this word can teach you about nonprofit organizations

Independence. This weekend, as the U.S. celebrates our independence, is a great time to examine this word. It can mean different things to different groups of people. Many senior citizens, for example, value the independence that living at home brings. There is a high loss of independence if health and mobility require someone to move away from home to an assisted living facility.

Focus on Nonprofit Organizations: Capital City Village

The Greater Good Geek blog will occasionally feature a nonprofit organization and “geek out” with a food for thought “case study.” Today’s edition focuses on an organization called Capital City Village. Capital City Village is an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping seniors stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible (a concept called aging in place and community). In other words, the organization supports the independence of senior citizens.

What Nonprofit Leaders Can Learn

This Independence-based nonprofit organization teaches us is how important it is for nonprofit leaders to be in tune with changing demographics. There will be cases when new nonprofit options need to be created to address population trends – and this is one of them.

The Growing Needs of Baby Boomers

The Baby Boom is one of those population trends that cannot be ignored by the community sector. The influence of Baby Boomers stems in part by the size of the group: there are currently 78 million boomers in the U.S. and 8,000 boomers are turning 65 every day (Source: How Baby Boomers Are Changing Retirement Living, Washingtonian, March 13, 2014).

Portrait

Seniors Value Their Independence

The “traditional” retirement options (assisted living, retirement communities) are not fitting the needs of today’s senior citizens. Many want to age at home, retaining independence and saving money. This is where nonprofit leaders saw a trend and Capital City Village (CCV) was created. Founded in 2010, CCV gives seniors access to volunteers, service providers and social and educational programs – helping them age in place.

This Geek’s Case Study

So the Geek’s “case study” lessons for nonprofit leaders are: keep your finger on the pulse of demographic trends, notice needs in your community, shift the focus of your organization (or start a new organization) to address a need that has not been addressed yet.

Population Trends

Questions:

What are some of the recent trends in your community? Do you see a population growth that needs services? Is there a recent community need that a nonprofit organization could better address? Do you have ideas about how those needs could be addressed? Do you have experience with a nonprofit organization that started a new program for the purpose of addressing a new population trend? If so, please share details.

Image credits: Flip Schulke, The U.S. National Archives (first image). Thomas Abercrombie, Internet Archive Book Images (second image).