Old School Teaches New Lessons

While Winter Storm Mara prevented me from speaking in person during the Real Places 2023 Conference, our three-speaker panel was able to visit with attendees remotely online. Our talk was timely, “Old School Teaches New Lessons: How Technology is Preserving a WPA-era Icon.” And in fact, being able to speak and share information online today is a godsend! Technology certainly saved our presentation.

I posted our slide deck to YouTube as a video. While our verbal commentary is absent from the video, we provided ample “notes” in the slide presentation to make watching it worth your time.

My thanks go to Jane Cook Barnhill, President of Atlanta Grade School Friends, and Danny Stanley, Treasurer for joining me in presenting, and to the nonprofit arm of the Texas Historical Commission, the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission. A few years ago, I served on the Board of the Friends under former Executive Director Toni S. Turner. State funding is rarely enough to fully fund the restoration and long-term preservation of the many historic sites of Texas. Private sector donations mean so much and make saving the rich heritage of Texas possible.

I had been taking a late Christmas vacation in January to see my family in Tucson, Arizona. My flight home was rescheduled due to the winter storm something like six times! So, I recorded my part of the Real Places discussion on Vimeo, and while a little rough around the edges, you can hear my thoughts and avail yourself of more in-depth discussion via my YouTube channel. In addition, the full slide deck has been saved to ISSUU for ease of reading in digital magazine format.

You might be surprised to learn, we talked about technology being very helpful, but noted that it does not replace human beings. Relationships matter. But technology can enhance your organization’s “reach” dramatically. Partners of all kinds, donors, and especially younger generations are online in great numbers today. Why not be online with them using the latest social media communications and tech tools available?

I find technology makes the work of nonprofits more cost-effective. Remote working is safe and fairly easy! Several of the tools I reference are free of charge at the most basic level, and modestly-priced in more extensive forms. Thinking smart and making use of these tools can “up your game” dramatically and make you more attractive to audiences and partners of all kinds. I find the cost is mostly that of your time: take it.

My thanks go to our tech partners at Atlanta Grade School Friends. We are grateful for being able to avail ourselves of their convenient services.

In closing, I share a video showed at the conclusion of our presentation during Real Places 2023. It was made with a combination of Google Slides, PowerPoint and YouTube (channel and audio library). Enjoy! And if you would like additional information, email us via our new Gmail: atlantagradeschoolfriends@gmail.com, or reach out to me directly by using the secure contact form on my blog.

Thank you for reading this post, and best wishes for your fundraising and communications success this year.

Our presentation also references information from these organizations: Brookings Institution, Forbes, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, National Council of Nonprofits, Psychology Today, Social Media Today, and World of Statistics on Twitter.

Everyone Matters | Facebook Article

I just noticed a new Facebook feature that allows one to write an article. I wrote the following on Facebook, and I am also sharing the text here with my WordPress followers.

I often encounter people who seek to raise major gifts for worthy nonprofit causes. And some believe all that is involved is chatting with wealthy prospective donors. But the process of inspiring the trust of potential funding partners is much more involved, and it can take months – even years – to gain access to them for a meaningful fundraising “chat.” Even then, after the “ask” takes places, it may take months of research and deliberation on their part (and on the part of their professional advisors), before a decision to donate is made.

What kinds of things can impact major gifts that you might not expect?

  • I have known a groundskeeper to inspire a $1 million endowment gift, simply by taking the time to walk with and talk to someone who – unknown to them – was capable of massive generosity.
  • I have witnessed a frightening temper tantrum on the part of a donor who called the office of a nonprofit, and was forced to speak with a secretary, rather than the capital campaign coordinator directly. And if you wonder why I no longer have a secretary, now you know why.
  • I have watched seven-figure donors work hard and thoughtfully alongside staff at all levels, doing routine and fairly mundane tasks. And the staff had no idea of their capability.
  • I have had a few nonprofit volunteers walk over to my desk where I was quietly conducting business, and tell me they would like to make five- and six-figure donations. I had no idea they were capable of such gifts.
  • I have seen completely “bombed-out” capital campaigns where the community, its civic leaders, and the local philanthropic community actually hated the nonprofit. And within six months, I’ve seen them change their minds and donate substantially.
  • I have seen expensive consulting firms conduct research on nonprofits and report that there is little or no hope of raising major gifts. This is even though some of the wealthiest people in the United States own property in the neighborhood, and they occasionally attend events hosted by the nonprofits.
  • I have seen a $25 annual donor turn into a $5 million capital campaign donor.
  • I have heard nonprofits say they only have a few donors and they wring their hands, fearing they can raise very little in the way of major gifts. But I have reviewed their modest donor and prospect lists, and I have found a billionaire or two, and some donors with connections to foundations and corporations.
  • I have seen donors look at a nonprofit website and determine solely from that (and perhaps also a lackluster Facebook page), that the nonprofit is primitive and doing nothing much at all. But, the nonprofit has been busy doing other, very important things.
  • I have also seen donors look at an all-volunteer nonprofit’s Form 990 (tax return), and because they have little income and expenses, say they aren’t sophisticated enough to handle a major gift. But then, being inspired nonprofit entrepreneurs, they got all their work done, and all their materials donated, free of charge. Surely, this must count for something, smiles.

So, major gift fundraising has taught me that chatting with prospective donors is perhaps 3% of the total work involved, and maybe less.

As we move forward in this complicated, multi-faceted world, consider these things. Everyone needs to be a little more flexible and forgiving. And our sector must realize people at all levels of nonprofit organizations matter. They can have tremendous influence (positive and negative). Make them feel part of the organization’s overall success. Last but not least, volunteers matter. A lot. And of course, we must all do more research.

Best wishes for your fundraising success this coming year!

Carolyn M. Appleton

You can find me on Facebook at carolynmappletonfornonprofits

Year-end Wrap Up 2022

As the year draws to a close, I wanted to send holiday greetings to my readers. Thank you for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. This year alone, 12,900 visitors from more than 100 nations have visited its pages. As you may have observed, I have installed a Google Translate widget in the margin, and that is because – since its inception in 2011 – my blog has attracted a global following, from Qatar to Iceland, from the UK and Canada to Greece, Denmark and Switzerland. Welcome and again, thank you for visiting.

The past few years, our world has been changing in so many ways that I stopped sharing a “predictions” post with the year ahead in mind. I do believe the information on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog remains current in all respects from my humble standpoint of more than 35 years of hands-on work “in the trenches” of nonprofit fundraising and communications. I routinely update the more than 1,000 links shared herein. They provide additional perspectives, discussions and resources from others, thereby providing balance to what I share from my own experiences.

This year has been busy, as I help an all-volunteer nonprofit ramp-up for a major gift campaign in the months ahead. Modernizing the organization’s infrastructure with a more outward-facing perspective has been a big part of my work. Since returning to live and work in Austin, Texas in the summer of 2013, I diverged from working with traditional large institutions to helping younger “off the radar” nonprofits attract major gifts. I find this work to be satisfying, and I do hope that major gift donors will invest in smaller nonprofits – which are the majority – because they are engines of innovation and genuine caring.

The work of small nonprofits can truly be life changing. Yet by the books – if they are all volunteer – their actual income and expenditures are not reflected adequately on traditional tax returns. And so many donors and professional advisors look at budget size to determine the merit of an organization. This is a problem for our sector and it is why I urge nonprofits in this situation to carefully track their volunteer hours and share those with the public wherever they can, multiplying those hours by the Independent Sector calculator of value.

Volunteers in the United States hold up the foundation of civil society. They help their neighbors, serve their communities, and provide their expertise. No matter what kind of volunteer work they do, they are contributing in invaluable ways. In its newest Value of Volunteer Time report, Independent Sector, with the Do Good Institute, announced on April 18, 2022 that the latest value of a volunteer hour is estimated to be $29.95, which is a 4.9% increase from 2020 to 2021. Read the full report for national and state-by-state data on volunteer hours.

Independent Sector

I enjoyed speaking this year during the Crescendo Interactive Practical Planned Giving Conference in San Diego. You can view my slide presentation without my verbal commentary on YouTube. My focus was not surprisingly on tackling major gift fundraising in-house and how to do that effectively. My presentation was based on my own experiences and I hope the many nonprofit professional support organizations will take a good, hard look at the consulting industry and how they are supporting what may be an old and ultimately ineffective way to ponder, prepare and organize major gift campaigns.

Earlier in the year, I shared my background and how I became a grant writer, with Qgiv. My slide deck is also available on YouTube. This presentation may not be what you’d expect! I worked my way up through the ranks and did not take a university course nor secure an advanced degree to become a nonprofit fundraising executive. You can find a written discussion in a prior post on this website.

Articles listed in the main menu of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog (see the top of the website in the dropdown menu), include a number of discussions about grant writing specifically. Check them out! And as with most things, I can only speak for myself and my own experience, which is the main concept behind my blog: it is truly authentic and hopefully, its contents will be helpful to you.

My volunteer work continued this year as well. After six years of coordinating the TechSoup Connect Texas Chapter (a partnership involving NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, TechSoup and Capital Factory), I stepped down last fall, as work required my full attention. But I have joined the TechSoup Ambassador program, as I am a strong advocate for making use of new technologies and for supporting TechSoup and its global efforts to “build a dynamic bridge that leverages technology to enable connections and innovative solutions for a more equitable planet.” It is free for nonprofits to join TechSoup and to then avail themselves of the many discounts on tech software, hardware, training and more.

I also continued to curate the Twitter feed of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin Chapter @cclatx. One of the ways our world is changing has to do with climate and this is worrisome from a global perspective. I urge everyone to join the CCL national community platform, which is free of charge, and to avail yourself of the latest information about climate change from many different and nonpartisan perspectives.

Tying back to TechSoup for a moment, if you do not yet have a disaster preparation and recovery plan in place for your nonprofit, check out TechSoup’s resources. I helped develop the online course and I recommend it highly. If your organization would like to have a seminar hosted by TechSoup – and I believe the curriculum does apply readily to business communities as well as to nonprofits – please reach out anytime via my secure contact form, or to TechSoup directly. My experience is that nonprofit staff think they are prepared, but they really are not. There are some cost-effective ideas, resources and insights shared in the course and in the free TechSoup downloads.

Very best wishes to you and yours for a successful year-end fundraising season and for a happy New Year!

Carolyn M. Appleton

December 2022

Nonprofits and the Economy

When I first launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, America lingered in a punishing recession. I wrote, “Economy and Philanthropy” in 2011. I considered the “trickle down” theory of Arthur Laffer, and why nonprofit organization should care about the economy. I still find nonprofits rarely consider themselves integral parts of the economy, and sadly, neither do many America civic and corporate leaders. But in fact they are substantial contributors not only to society’s well being, but to the economy.

The National Council of Nonprofits has an excellent page on its website devoted to the economic impact of nonprofit organizations. A few highlights:

  • Nonprofits employ 12.3 million people, with payrolls exceeding those of most other U.S. industries, including construction, transportation, and finance.
  • Nonprofits also create work opportunities for millions of individuals above and beyond the millions they employ directly.
  • Nonprofits consume goods and services that create more jobs.
  • Nonprofits spur economic activity.

And like for-profit businesses, most nonprofits have fewer than 500 employees (99%). The Small Business Administration notes in, “Spotlight on Nonprofits” that, “like for-profit businesses, the bulk of nonprofits are small. And small nonprofits employ
about half of all nonprofit workers.”

I find since moving to Austin in 2013 and working with “startup” nonprofits, they frequently want to be perceived of as social good ventures. “Nonprofit” as a term for the nonprofit sector sounds weak, suggesting donors should pity (and condescend) to them. But nonprofits – especially startups – are quite innovative, with a driving motivation to help others and to improve society as a whole. And they embrace innovation to get the work done. I find they are unstoppable and that positive energy is very inspiring for someone like me.

Little discussed in terms of fundraising specifically (my specialty), is that consulting firms do frequently consider nonprofits to be unsophisticated, requiring professional assistance to work with philanthropists in a meaningful way. In fact, I was hired by such a firm in the 1990s, and saw this attitude at work, first-hand. And I departed after six months. Having witnessed how hard nonprofit staff work and how devoted to success they can be, I couldn’t stomach the arrogance. Still today, some of our nonprofit support organizations retain this same opinion, and they promote expensive consulting firms to get major gift fundraising done, for example. I think this is a mistake, and I am constantly showing nonprofits how to do it themselves.

From BrainyQuote, I appreciate this observation:

Every small business will give you an entrepreneurial way of looking at things. I guarantee you that for every plant that closes, if you gave it to one small-business person in that community, he or she would find a way to make it work. The small-business attitude is you always find a way to make it work.

Hamdi Ulukaya, Turkish businessman (b.1972)

The same is true of nonprofits! Our sector needs attitude change from within and from without. I would argue that we need to view nonprofits just as we do “small businesses”: integral, innovative, economic powerhouses focused on social good.

You Might Also Enjoy

    • Wharton Knowledge, “Does Trickle-down Economics Add Up – Or Is It a Drop in the Bucket?” (2017). “It’s not clear that most Americans believe that anything good will eventually trickle down to them from the still-unfinished [Trump Administration] overhaul. When asked who the Republican tax plan would help most, 76% of respondents to a December 2-5 CBS poll of 1,120 adults nationwide said it would be large corporations, with 69% saying wealthy Americans would benefit most. Just 31% named the middle class as winners, with “you and your family” trailing at 24%.”

    Just as enough tiny droplets of water slowly fill a bucket, the growth of small businesses fills the U.S. economy. Big corporations might get a lot of attention when it comes to creating jobs, but small businesses employ more people and are more resilient when times get tough. Before coming up with something innovative that propelled them into growth, all big businesses once started out small. Not only are small businesses driving the U.S. economy, but they also keep the American dream alive.

    Martin Rowinski for Forbes

    For more thoughts on finance, economy and Wall Street, see the section in the main menu of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for similar discussions.

    Practical Planned Giving … and Major Gift Fundraising

    I enjoyed speaking during Crescendo Interactive’s 2022 Practical Planned Giving Conference, “Navigating the Path Ahead.” I remember speaking at the conference ten years ago. What I remember most is how kind and sincere the Crescendo community is. It was a marvelous experience and I am delighted to have been invited in 2022.

    While the title of the conference might lead you to believe the focus of the event was solely on planned giving, my talk focused on major gift fundraising. I did include planned giving in my presentation, however. Gifts by Will and via estate plan or “bequests” are of growing interest today.

    For those of my followers who are unfamiliar with planned giving, it is also referred to as gift planning or legacy giving. In a nutshell, a planned gift represents someone’s intention to contribute a meaningful charitable contribution to an organization beyond their lifetime. So, unlike an annual gift (an outright gift for use now), a planned gift is one made with the future in mind. Because a substantial generational wealth transfer is underway, nonprofits would be smart to invest in promoting planned giving. You might enjoy reading a prior post, “Nonprofit Fundraising: Reasons for Hope” (2021).

    Check out my slide deck on ISSUU. I have formatted the slides so they double as “notes” for future reference. ISSUU is a platform that provides a “magazine” format that makes documents and presentations easy to view on any digital device. If you would like to receive a copy of the slide deck via email, use my blog’s secure contact form to reach me. A video of the slide presentation – without my verbal commentary – is shared below.

    Carolyn M. Appleton

    September 2022

    Summer Updates from Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog

    Although I have not shared a thought piece in a while, that does not mean I haven’t been busy. I wanted to share a few updates from Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog.

    This summer, I updated my blog’s format to a new, more modern template. I also moved my disaster preparation articles and resource links to the main menu. And because some people in need reach out to me via my blog’s secure contact form, I also include a link in my main menu to HelpFinder by Aunt Bertha.

    I have added a new article to my series, “A Brief Account.” The latest post concerns a working meeting with the late Tom Frost of Frost Bank and you will find the link below. For the update you are now reading, I share links to each individual brief account so you can easily access the discussions, sorted by the name of the person involved (alpha order).

    Did you know:

    When we read, brain networks involved in deciphering — or imagining — another person’s motives, and the areas involved in guessing what will happen next are activated, Neeley says. Imagining what drives other people — which feeds into our predictions — helps us see a situation from different perspectives. It can even shift our core beliefs, Neeley says, when we “come back out of the story world into regular life.”

    Elena Renken for NPR, “How Stories Connect And Persuade Us: Unleashing The Brain Power Of Narrative”

    These real life stories share what fundraising and working with philanthropists and public figures is actually like. I often say these are stories from “the trenches” of nonprofit fundraising. As the world has gone more “online,” professional fundraising staff have fewer chances to work as closely as I have with philanthropists and civic leaders. I hope that will change and a more “blended” approach – online and in-person meetings – will become the norm in the future. Each story focuses on normal development office tasks, from orchestrating special events to creating videos, from prospect research to finding just the right place for a donor meeting, from “asking” to assisting with estate planning.

    • James Avery, “An Episcopalian Rockstar” | I am an Episcopalian and I had the good fortune to work with one of the legends of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.
    • Fabio Lanzoni, “Fabio and Meetings Locations Matter” | This chance encounter with Fabio at a cafe in San Antonio is hilarious. I treasure the memory. I will forever regret not having my picture taken with him that day.
    • Hugh McColl, “So, What Do You Want” | This “asking” tale underscores the need for fundraising professionals to be prepared. Mr. McColl asked the question very nicely, smiles.
    • Darrell Royal, “Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson” | This brief account discusses one of my earliest career experiences working with a donor who wished to honor a close friend. The memory of that deeply meaningful discussion in Coach Royal’s office is one I treasure still today.

    I hope your summer is going well. It is very hot here in Texas, and as a volunteer for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Austin Chapter, I have been busy sharing information about how our leaders can fix that. Follow my Twitter feed @cclatx and if you have questions, use the secure contact form to reach me.

    Be safe and well.

    Carolyn M. Appleton

    Be Strong, Sound and Secure: Supporting Uvalde

    As I write, the nation is reeling after a young gunman shot and killed 19 school children and 2 adults in Uvalde, Texas. I have received concerned emails from friends across the nation. And I have listened-in on conversations with elected officials struggling to find answers and to respond to questions about how this could have happened, and how we might stop future occurrences of gun violence.

    Uvalde is a beautiful city located west of San Antonio. In years past, I visited Governor Briscoe and his bank there, First State Bank of Uvalde. By way of background, the bank came under control of the Briscoe Family in 1960. It has a distinguished history and was founded in 1907. I know personally that during our nation’s economic downturn ca. 2010 (which is when it reached Texas in my opinion), some of my prior donors moved their money to First State Bank of Uvalde for safekeeping, trusting its conservative and smart leadership.

    Inauguration of Governor Briscoe in 1972 by Jay Phagan, Wikipedia Commons

    Wikipedia notes, “During his two terms as governor, Briscoe balanced increasing demands for more state services and a rapidly growing population. As the governor elected during a period of social unrest and skepticism about the motives of elected officials, he helped restore integrity to a state government fallen into disgrace as a result of the Sharpstown scandals [stock fraud]. Briscoe’s terms as governor led to a landmark events and achievements, including the most extensive ethics and financial disclosure bill in state history, passage of the Open Meetings and Open Records legislation, and strengthened laws regulating lobbyists. Briscoe also presided over the first revision of the state’s penal code in one hundred years.”

    You may have read my blog article, A Brief Account: Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. In that discussion, I share my professional experiences with Governor Briscoe and my prior work with the South Texas Council, Boy Scouts of America. At the time, we eagerly sought Governor Briscoe’s participation in a video featuring civic leaders across Texas, who gave testimonials about the merits of Scouting. Our interview with Governor Briscoe was one of the most memorable of that particular project, and of our lives. In truth, we thought we might not get the appointment to interview and film him, as he did not agree to meet with many. But we were ultimately approved, and our BSA team met with the Governor at First State Bank of Uvalde in his private office.

    The tragic events of May inspired me to remember that experience, and Governor Briscoe’s advice.

    … “Those who have had the benefit of the Scouting experience are not the problems of the present, and do not become the problems of the future. Today, our State government and its taxpayers support a very expensive system of enforcing law and order, a judicial system and a penal system. If we were able to reach more young boys with the Scouting program, the cost of those programs would decrease dramatically.

    Those who have benefited from the Scout program do not create problems, nor do they require additional law enforcement that jams and clogs the judicial system, or overpopulate the penal system. The cost of government in the future would be greatly reduced if the Scouting program reached a much larger percentage of our young people.

    Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr.

    My father was a Scout for five years. When I began working with the BSA, I immediately recognized the training my father had conveyed to my younger sister and me as children, as it came directly from Scouting! We often think today that Scouting is just for boys, but it has broadened its offerings to include girls. One of my favorite mantras from Scouting is, “leave no trace.” I live by that motto today when it comes to respecting the natural world. Having supported environmental education nonprofits for many years, I believe Scouting was the first, and it is one of the most effective environmental education organizations in the United States and the world.

    If the young Uvalde shooter had been enrolled in Scouting and had the benefit of its ethical and life skills training, I believe the May tragedy would not have occurred. Yes, I know the BSA has experienced organizational challenges in recent years, but I also know it has become more rigorous than ever in carefully managing staff and volunteers. In my opinion, we need more Scouting for young people in the months and years ahead.

    The tag line of First State Bank of Uvalde is, “Strong, Sound and Secure.” It was adopted during the mid-1980s when Texas faced a crippling real estate downturn. And I know a few of my prior donors found the bank secure place for investment during the economic downturn ca. 2010, as noted above. That is why, if you would like to contribute in support of the victims of the May shooting in Uvalde, I recommend the bank’s special fund:

    The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District created a bank account at First State Bank of Uvalde where people can send funds to shooting victims and their families. Funds can be sent electronically through Zelle using the email robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com or through the mail to 200 E. Nopal St., Uvalde, Texas 78801. Make checks payable to the “Robb School Memorial Fund.”

    First State Bank of Uvalde

    Society will also be “strong, sound and secure” if it provides life skills like those offered by Scouting to young people across Texas and America. Scouting dovetails well with traditional school curriculum and it enhances it. Scouting provides mental strength and clarity, and vital skills young people will use throughout their lives. I have found Scouting also provides invaluable support for single parents – particularly mothers – raising young boys. And Scouting welcomes people of all faiths and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an incredibly valuable program.

    Yes, I do think gun purchase should be restricted across the nation. The New York Times comments about mass shooters, “They fit in a critical age range — roughly 15 to 25 — that law enforcement officials, researchers and policy experts consider a hazardous crossroads for young men, a period when they are in the throes of developmental changes and societal pressures that can turn them toward violence in general, and, in the rarest cases, mass shootings” (June 2, 2022).

    And yes, I also believe in the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. But those allowed to acquire and use guns need to be properly trained and mentally fit. Our President and several Texas leaders have voiced the need for mental health solutions and monitoring going forward. I suggest that Scouting and similar programs be considered when it comes to developing “mental fitness” in young people everywhere.

    Punishment is the last and the least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the prevention of crime.

    John Ruskin, English writer (1819 to 1900)

    How to Launch Your Grant Writing Career

    This article was inspired by the many people who have reached out via Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog since it was launched in 2011, asking for advice about becoming a grant writer and nonprofit fundraiser. This article follows on the heels of my webinar for Qgiv held on April 5, 2022. To watch the program, follow this link to the Qgiv website.

    Those who have asked are of all ages, backgrounds, and life experiences. From accountants to college students, from administrators working in construction offices to legal professionals, many are considering new career directions to gain more meaningful work and to serve the greater good in their communities.

    Basic Office Skills Matter

    During both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I held a variety of part-time jobs to help defray my college expenses. These were modest jobs, many in campus offices working with university administrators and faculty members. They were an intelligent and sophisticated group, and I learned a lot from them. Prior to college, I had also taken typing courses to hone my office skills, and this made me a valuable employee. In fact, that fundamental training allows me still today to be independent and not to rely on office assistants, and it helps make grant writing a snap.

    While securing my two university degrees, I conducted in-depth research. I read about various subjects and shared my discoveries in a logical fashion, in writing. All the above are things that will help you become a successful grant writer and professional nonprofit fundraiser.

    Volunteering Can Change Your Life

    While I was busy conducting academic research and taking university classes to secure a master’s degree, I decided “real life” work experience in my area of interest would be helpful. It was then that I began working at a local art museum as a volunteer. I was assigned to the art school and to tracking art classes, enrollments, and to reporting and making sure records were polished and current. I did this for about a year when my skills were spotted by other members of the staff, and I was invited to apply to work jointly with the fundraising and media relations offices. This ultimately led to full-time employment.

    Four years later, I was assigned to coordinate a $6 million endowment campaign. All along this early adventure, I learned on the job. My mind was a sponge. I had an exceptionally knowledgeable mentor who ran an office engaged in multiple types of fundraising activities: endowment (major gifts); special project fundraising (grant writing); annual fund (with a corporate slant); membership; database administration; special events; and volunteer management. When I look back, this was one of the most sophisticated fundraising programs in Texas!

    Grant Writing Courses

    One of the best things that happened to me was the art museum funded my travel to Los Angeles and my tuition to take the week-long grant writing training bootcamp hosted by The Grantsmanship Center. In these early days, I was a “scholarly” introvert. During the week-long intensive course, I was called upon to be an active and vocal participant. I admit, I was a bit intimidated. But I came away with the mental framework required for meaningful, methodical grant work. I learned to step into the shoes of different types of donors to understand their expectations, to explain the needs of nonprofits clearly, about the importance of budgets, and more.

    Community Resources

    Today, there are many grant writing courses and educational resources available. I often recommend you look to your local community for grant writing courses offered by community foundations, libraries and those available in the continuing education offices of universities and community colleges. These frequently provide a certificate of completion which you can note on your resume.

    Advanced Degrees

    For my students and returning students, you may also wish to pursue a college degree in nonprofit management, which normally includes coursework in fundraising. Major universities from Harvard University to The University of Texas, from Purdue University and the University of California to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana. I mention the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy specifically, though, as over the past ten years, I find their research and scholarship when it comes to all aspects of nonprofits and fundraising to be stellar. Check out “The Fundraising School.”

    Do You Need an Academic Degree?

    As an “accidental” fundraiser originally focused on securing an advanced degree in art history, I can say without hesitation that you do not. But still, the university experiences of research and writing have been invaluable to my nonprofit career. The hands-on experience of working with a nonprofit as a volunteer can also provide a valuable inside look at what fundraising entails. You will also have the chance to network with nonprofit staff who can be helpful in your future job search.

    Transitioning from Other Fields

    What if you are an accountant, for example? I have noticed in the many grant applications I have prepared and submitted that budgets play a more important role than ever. I have also known some philanthropists whose grant applications include a large section for a detailed budget, and a relatively small section for a written description of the program for which funding is being sought. You can tell the story about your nonprofit’s work through its budget. My sense is, if you take a solid grant writing training course (earning a certificate if possible), your accounting training will be sought after by smart nonprofits.

    Those in the legal profession can be hard-nosed in my experience, but they are trained to develop solid arguments in favor of their clients, and you will need that skill to write compelling case statements explaining why someone should fund your nonprofit initiative. And although one thinks of nonprofits as bending the heart strings, often I find a well-written, organized, and factual case statement is preferred by potential donors. Keep in mind there are many nonprofit organizations asking for funding. Prospective donors including grant making agencies are overwhelmed with grant applications. A clear presentation of the facts and the argument in favor of support – and a well-targeted grant proposal that fits with the funder’s area(s) of interest – is often best.

    I have visited with administrators in offices like those in the construction industry who are also seeking to transition to grant writing. Administrators must be detail oriented, formally document a wide range of information (adhering to confidentiality), understand the “big picture,” and they must adhere to strict deadlines and produce reports based on data collected by their companies. I know from my own experiences that office administrators are often the “anchors” of their organizations. This mind and skillset are a good fit for a future career in grant writing.

    Networking

    I think it is always helpful to find others in the community who are doing the same thing: working to make the world a better place, learning how to perfect their grant writing skills, finding new jobs, securing credentials and advanced training, and who are seeking volunteer opportunities. There are quite a few professional associations today that can help you “network” and keep you on top of your game. At the conclusion of this blog article, I provide links to a variety of sources for ease of reference.

    One of my favorite support organizations specifically for grant writers is GPA: Grant Professionals Association. GPA chapters are located across the United States. You might attend a few meetings as a guest, to see if you like it. If you do like GPA and you join, you should investigate the Grant Professionals Certification Institute (GPCI). GPCI administers the nationally recognized Grant Professional Certification (GPC) credential, which is highly regarded and well worth placing on your resume.

    As I am sure you have noticed, the world is more online than ever, including fundraising professionals. NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network is focused on helping nonprofit staff adopt new technologies in their chosen areas of expertise, and to thrive by doing so. Grant writers are involved in NTEN (along with staff members of other nonprofit departments), and you will find the NTEN community to be friendly and responsive to questions. Another excellent source for the digital age is TechSoup. Check out the TechSoup blog and the grant writing section. You can learn grant writing via online courses, and there are quite a few webinars available. Another resource is Candid Learning. Candid is the parent organization of The Foundation Center and GuideStar, and they have long been a leader in nonprofit education and research. I recommend Candid highly.

    If you are serious about becoming a grant writing professional, you will thrive if you combine meaningful professional training with real life experiences. Yes, it is possible to transition from other fiends: look objectively at the skills you have gained and compare them with what is needed for grant writing.

    And keep in mind:

    • As a grant writer, you will need to focus and spend long stretches of time in a quiet environment working on your computer or laptop. If you cannot concentrate, you will be in trouble.
    • You will need to write comfortably and grammatically (and complete online and occasionally hard copy grant proposals), and you will need to document and track your work.
    • You will need to be well organized and tend to deadlines.
    • You will need to be flexible and patient. Each funder – individual, foundation, corporation, or government agency – has unique needs and interests.
    • You will be answering many questions in your grant proposals. That will require you to know a lot about your nonprofit. In fact, you may end up knowing more than any other member of the staff.
    • If you can get “real life” experience with a mentor(s) by volunteering for a nonprofit in the development office, do it!
    My Qgiv webinar slide deck is posted on ISSUU.

    You might also enjoy reading the following on the Qgiv website: “Interview with Carolyn Appleton: How to Launch Your Grant Writing Career” (April 1, 2022).

    From Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog:

    Check out my 2021 webinar for Qgiv, “Adjusting Your Mindset for Successful Grant Writing Today” (2021).

    We Must Have Plugins and Other Myths

    Since launching Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog back in 2011, I started learning how to use WordPress “by hand.” I continue to design and develop all my own content and design elements. And while I have moments of frustration learning the latest capabilities, I can say without hesitation that WordPress is a marvelous platform. I recommend it highly, and on occasion, I have helped nonprofit organizations develop cost-effective websites on WordPress.

    A question came to me recently via my contact form. In brief, they asked how I could possibly claim that I do not use plugins. Here is one definition: “In WordPress, a plugin is a small software application that extends the features and functions of a WordPress website. Plugins play a major role in building great websites using WordPress. They make it easier for users to add features to their website without knowing a single line of code,” according to WP Beginner.

    But I have found that today, WordPress provides a variety of helpful widgets along with most templates that allow you to have greater functionality without paying for extra plugin support. HP Tech Takes notes about widgets, “On websites, blogs, and in WordPress specifically, the term is more likely to refer to a small piece of software officially called an application. This application usually performs one small task, takes up little resources, and updates often.” This sounds like the same thing as a plugin, smiles. And again, there are quite a few widgets on WordPress that come with the template you select.

    I also use secure links for gift processing like those available from Qgiv, which is a favorite, by creating a WordPress “button” and adding a donation link to it.

    It is also possible to embed donation forms you create on your WordPress website. Abby Jarvis notes, “Some nonprofits go a step further to earn donations and embed their donation form right onto key pages, such as their homepage. This ensures that your donation form will be impossible to miss and that supporters will have multiple places on your website where they can complete a donation. If you’re interested in this strategy, make sure to partner with a fundraising platform that lets you easily embed donation forms (like Qgiv!).” One does not need a separate “plugin” for that.

    Think twice before assuming you need a plugin. Check your widget options on WordPress. You will be glad you did.

    Hurricanes and Other Disasters: Nonprofits Must Prepare

    And the good news is, there are helpful resources available to help you and your nonprofit prepare.

    “Climate change is already driving more severe flooding across much of the country, especially along the East Coast and Gulf Coast where residents are experiencing the triple threat of rising seas, stronger hurricanes and heavier rain. By 2050, annual losses from floods will be approximately $40 billion, according to the new study by scientists in the U.S. and United Kingdom.”

    Rebecca Hersher, NPR (January 31, 2022)

    And sadly, residents in low-lying areas including communities of color are often affected the most.

    Hurricanes are predicted to get stronger in the years ahead.
    I live in Texas, and I have seen the devastation of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast first hand. With advance preparation, nonprofits can not only survive hurricanes and other emergencies, they can also thrive. Part of planning involves moving more operations “online.”

    Back in February 2020, I shared my thoughts in, “No Time Like the Present: Disaster Planning Helps Your Nonprofit and Community.” There – in addition to disaster preparation ideas – I share information about the ever-growing importance of nonprofit organizations to society. With our heads down working hard to achieve our many missions and meet our goals, nonprofit staff often feel they do not have time to stop, learn about disaster preparation, and implement those concepts.

    But not to take the time ultimately undermines nonprofit effectiveness, long term viability, and it can endanger the lives of staff, volunteers, clients and the public.

    Our nonprofit leaders, including board members, should demand nonprofits set aside time to prepare. And one of the most cutting-edge programs available is provided by TechSoup.

    For the past two years, I have maintained a disaster preparation menu with resources – my own and those of TechSoup – on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. These items have been moved to the main menu. Click on the menu bar at the top of the page to access them.

    You will notice my photo blog from a day-long in-person program TechSoup hosted in Houston just prior to COVID-19 lockdowns. This excellent program could be replicated once it is safe for us to meet in person again. But also, with a bit of philanthropic investment, TechSoup could probably fine-tune the program for remote presentation on video conferencing platforms. If you have questions, reach out anytime!

    Check out the recording of this April 4, 2022 program hosted by TechSoup Connect, NTEN and Capital Factory, “Powering Up Disaster Management: Tech Then, Now, and Later.”