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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As the year draws to a close, I wanted to thank my followers and visitors. As of this posting, 108 nations have visited Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog this year. From Nepal to Luxembourg, Norway to Guatemala, Lebanon to Mongolia, and from the good old United States to Hong Kong, welcome to all! You are the reason I installed the Google Translate widget on my website.
This year marks my 10th anniversary on WordPress. Launched when I had just moved to San Antonio after a productive decade working in South Texas on a variety of major gift projects, Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog continues today from my home office on the western edge of Austin in Bee Cave, Texas. Grant writing and ethics were topics of great interest to readers this year. Realizing my blog is a teaching tool, this year I added to the main menu links to a few slide presentations and videos that make the website even more helpful. I notice SlideShare received quite a few visitors that way!
This year involved more email mentoring, with several inquiries coming in via my secure contact form from people across the United States asking how they might transition to new careers in grant writing and fundraising. Questions about how to blog on WordPress also kept me busy, as my blog is quite searchable now after ten years online. Thanks to Google Search for the high rankings. Grants Professionals Association (GPA) and The Grantsmanship Center have received quite a bit of traffic via Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, and I am glad to see it. Both are trustworthy organizations from which you can learn a lot.
Since 2015, I have been the primary volunteer organizer of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. It is a partnership involving TechSoup Global, NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and locally here in Austin, startup hub Capital Factory. As 2021 draws to a close and I peel off as lead organizer, I am delighted to see the club broaden its scope and become the TechSoup Connect Texas Chapter. Thanks to our volunteers this year and our valued partners. Your endorsement has meant so much! And we have more work to do. Follow the link above to sign up for program notifications and to obtain secure Zoom links direct to your inbox.
Normally at this time of year, I share my nonprofit predictions. Instead, I refer you to my fall 2021 post, “Nonprofit Fundraising: Reasons for Hope.” There are good reasons for hope, despite the many challenges we have faced!
In closing, I share below a menu of 2021 presentations and articles for ease of access. I enjoyed visiting with a wide variety of constituents across Texas and beyond, sharing my knowledge and insights. Thanks to those organizations for inviting me, and I look forward to 2022. In particular, mark your calendar for May 11: I will be giving a webinar on how to launch a career in nonprofit grant writing and fundraising – or transition from a for-profit position to a nonprofit one – for Qgiv. And on September 20, I look forward to speaking during the annual Crescendo Interactive Practical Planned Giving Conference on, “Using Technology and Data to Lay the Groundwork for Lean and Effective Major Gift Fundraising Campaigns,” which will be part of the “Navigating the Future” track. Check my Media Room for updates.
I hope to see you then, if not before!
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While developing some public presentations recently, I began considering the role of development professionals in nonprofit organizations today. That worried me.
When I began my career, the average amount of time a development officer stayed at his or her job was approximately 3.5 years. I remember many in the profession felt that was too short a time. Today, however, the average time a nonprofit fundraiser remains on any given job is 16 months. In the article, “Stop the Revolving Door in Nonprofit Development,” Benefactor Group concludes:
“According to a study by author Penelope Burk, the average fundraiser stays at his or her job for 16 months before assuming another position. And replacing these professionals doesn’t come cheaply—averaging 90% to 200% of their salary in direct and indirect costs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
This loss of talented development staff creates a tremendous burden for nonprofit organizations since fundraising is rooted in strong donor relationships. An absent or inexperienced gift officer can spell trouble for philanthropic support.”
My personal experience is that nonprofit leadership – directors and board members – often lack knowledge about what is involved in nonprofit development. There are, however, many trustworthy support organizations that counsel aspiring fundraisers in best practices and ethical behavior, and numerous excellent books discussing the role of development in nonprofit success.
When I began fundraising during graduate school, the role of a development professional was understood to be a high minded one. Your ultimate goal was to nurture relationships and guide modest annual contributors toward increasing engagement and a long term development life cycle. Your aim was to encourage donors to become active volunteers, advocates and eventually, you wanted to them to become so loyal that they not only continued to give generously, but they placed the nonprofit in their Will and estate plans.
This means “development” takes time.
There are common misperceptions by fellow nonprofit staff members and leadership about what development professionals are actually doing. More than once, I have been hard at work on a multi million dollar fundraising campaign, when someone in the office mistakes my job as “schmoozing” with wealthy donors. They want that experience for themselves. To some degree, jealousy is a common human trait. But nonprofit directors and board members – if properly informed and trained – can become more mindful of jealous reactions and help prevent any “end runs” that may occur on staff.
“Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy.
Never underestimate that.”
Oliver Stone, American director (b. 1946)
My work in fundraising by the numbers is approximately 5% “schmoozing” and 95% research, identification, planning and strategy development, writing, documentation, reporting, communicating, organizing meetings small and large, taking meeting notes, managing social media and the like. This type of work takes quiet time, focus, organizational and listening skills.
I have also discovered startup and young nonprofits follow what they believe to be “business” practices, and they want to view development as an activity that is purely about getting money to serve a mission, now. Relationships (including communication) should not matter. If donors want to see the mission succeed, the thought is they should not care about any “emotional” connection to it. Give the money and get out of the way.
My job over the years has involved correcting several of these kinds of situations. That is because securing major gifts requires donor confidence, and donor confidence involves communication (including responding to myriad questions), research, staffing, organizational skills and the like. And yes, it also involves helping them become deeply engaged in the work of your nonprofit. And that can and does involve an emotional connection.
Nonprofit fundraisers are also protective of their donors. If a project’s parameters change, they are on task to communicate changes to the underwriters, whether that be an individual, family, corporation, foundation or a government agency. If there are ethical lapses internally, nonprofit fundraisers should try to correct those in-house. But if those dilemmas cannot be fixed internally, donors may need to be informed and requests for corrections made.
Development professionals also gain knowledge over time, both about the nonprofit’s mission and goals, and about the donors who ultimately sustain the nonprofit and ensure its future. Although they should strive to document everything they know for future reference, why let that knowledge (and the relationships that go with it), walk out the door? It doesn’t make sense. But again, I find the trouble lies in nonprofit leadership and their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the work that development professionals are responsible for doing.
The nonprofit sector needs to find ways to train directors, founders and board members. After many years on the job, I believe no one should be able to form a nonprofit organization in the United States today without being trained about the truly essential function of development professionals as well as other key staff positions that make for successful nonprofit businesses today. That training might also include ethical behavior in the nonprofit context, the importance of having a meaningful GuideStar profile to ensure public transparency, how to file a tax return that adequately reflects the work of the organization, and more.
The development profession does benefit from a number of excellent support associations. During webinars, in-person meetings and conferences they cover such topics. But the fact is, development officers often already know these things. But the directors and other leaders within the organization do not.
My message as April 2021 draws to a close is, fundraising professionals are #EssentialWorkers. Take the time to understand their vital role. Appreciate and nurture them. Fundraising takes time, and so does relationship building. Keep your nonprofit #EssentialWorkers as long as you can, and reap the benefits for years to come.
“Many in this generation are known for being well-educated, entrepreneurial, tech savvy and idealistic. They take risks, are bold and want to change the world. Unlike past generations, they want to make their passions, inspirations and desire to do good part of their identity—and part of their work. The lines between personal passions and professional engagements are already rapidly disappearing. As a result, this commitment to doing good in the workplace is quickly becoming the new norm that will define the generation.”
My experience is that Millennial and younger generations following on their heels are committed to a fixing the problems of society and to creating a better world at all levels. They are unafraid of tackling difficult challenges with creativity and conviction. And, they are already dominating the workforce. Their impact will continue to be far-reaching for decades to come. Hardly any American corporation today can afford to ignore them.
As I note in, “Nonprofits and Boomers: Are We Missing the Boat,” nonprofit organizations must also be mindful that Boomer and older generations are key for successful fundraising, for their knowledge and their valuable life experiences. Boomers are a generous generation and highly supportive of nonprofit endeavors, yet they are often seen as being stodgy and old fashioned.
Marketing professionals continue to focus on the young and the aesthetics of youth. And while many older adults do strive to be “younger” in some ways, as time moves forward and the aging population explodes worldwide, we are seeing a growing pride in being “older” and in the aesthetic preferences of older adults.
A few months ago, I approached a large national foundation that also has a substantial number of donor advised funds. I wanted to submit a proposal to fund an outstanding nonprofit project. But the nonprofit’s annual operational budget – being “under $1,000,000” – meant the foundation declined support based solely on that criteria. They would not take even a cursory glance at what the nonprofit is accomplishing, at how well it operates and how worthy it could be as a partner. On a personal note, what that foundation’s professional advisors also missed is that some of the Board members and donors of that nonprofit were capable of establishing donor advised funds. They would have been thrilled to receive even a modest grant and might have themselves become donor advised fund clients. But the “under $1,000,000” rule supplanted all other considerations. But why is operating budget size so important?
Since returning to Austin in 2013 and helping nonprofit “startups” bolster their infrastructure and credibility in order to secure more substantial donations, I have noticed some of them are reluctant to support younger nonprofits because they are, “too small.” Potential donors cite the nonprofits have not been in existence long enough (i.e., five years or more). Some decline because these smaller and younger initiatives have not had formal audits, which are an expensive undertaking for most small nonprofit organizations (and there are reputable alternatives). I visited with one foundation a few years ago that required every nonprofit applicant to have four consecutive years of professional audits. That is way over the top. I advised focusing instead on gold-level or higher GuideStar profiles, and GreatNonprofits reviews by those actually involved with and volunteering for the nonprofits applying.
The fact is, many of these startups and young nonprofits are lean staff- and budget-wise, and they operate highly efficiently. They accomplish amazing things with relatively little and the staff are deeply loyal to their missions. In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the donor and professional advisor sectors, and the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, which are in fact smaller in size.
“The majority of nonprofits (66.3%) have annual budgets of less than $1 million. From there, as organization size increases, the number of nonprofits decreases. For every 1 powerhouse (annual expenses more than $5 billion) nonprofit, there are thousands of grassroots organizations.”
My hope is for deeper, long-term partnerships between younger and older generations, the latter holding significant disposable income to make charitable donations. Boomers and older adults (and their professional advisors), often focus their charitable giving on tried-and-true nonprofits that have been in existence for many years. That is certainly their choice to make, but having seen nonprofits large and small in some detail as a professional fundraiser, I can say without hesitation many of younger and smaller nonprofits, startups and social good enterprises are more efficient and more likely to create positive change in society than the older, top-heavy ones. But these younger initiatives are often seen as being, “riskier.”
Lose your fear and support startups and smaller nonprofit organizations. Younger generations are – and will be – driving much of the social change ahead. We need to trust and encourage them. But also, younger generations need to engage older citizens and tap their knowledge and enthusiasm for social good, as well as their charitable donations. Together we can change the world for the better.
“Furthermore, demographic trends make it clear that over the next decade increasingly greater numbers of Millennials will be elected to office, giving them the power to enact laws that can change how corporations are governed and what responsibilities those entities owe to all of their stakeholders. When that happens the entire edifice of corporate governance constructed on the idea of only maximizing shareholder value will come crashing down and a new foundation for American corporations, built on trust and the values and beliefs of Millennials will arise in its place. Those companies that dedicate their future to changing the world for the better and find ways to make it happen, will be rewarded with the loyalty of Millennials as customers, workers and investors for decades to come. Those that choose to hang on to outdated cultures and misplaced priorities are likely to lose the loyalties of the Millennial generation and with it their economic relevance.”
Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.
I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.
Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.
When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.
I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.
In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.
There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.
Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).
Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.
Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!
For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).