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Recruiting Young Professionals to Grant Writing

This blog post by Dana Textoris appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland”

recruiting young professionals

Like with most development professions, few young people grow up aspiring to be a grant writer. Most of us in the grant profession stumble into the role at some point; some of us are lucky enough to be guided there by a mentor. Consider proactive ways you can encourage a junior professional towards grant writing:

—Dana Textoris
Contact Dana Textoris of Grants Plus at:

Yo-Pro Mojo: Retaining Young Leaders

This blog post by Dana Textoris appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland”

retaining young leaders

Recruiting and retaining new nonprofit leaders should be at the top of the priority list for any organization. The need to replace baby boomers as they retire from the nonprofit profession is accelerating, yet organizations often struggle to find—and keep—new professionals to fill their shoes.

And this struggle goes the other way. Young professionals, eager to make a difference and save the world, too frequently leave their positions in frustration when their expectations don’t match their realities.

Securing new young leaders may be especially challenging in the Cleveland nonprofit market. According to a 2011 report by the Cleveland chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN), 82% of local young nonprofit workers said they have considered leaving Cleveland to increase their upward mobility. This is especially the case among young professionals who feel their heavy workload is out of sync with their low pay grade.

“There’s a complaint that Millennials aren't loyal to their companies and change jobs more often than other generations,” says Katie Richlick, Board member from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cleveland Chapter. “I would encourage organizations to invest in their young professionals so they have a reason to want to stay.”

Extra perks can go a long way. The YNPN report showed that young professionals in Cleveland place high value on employer-supported benefits like professional development, mentoring, and flexible schedules. Megan Wilson, a donor relations assistant at The Cleveland Foundation, just completed her first year in the nonprofit sector. “I’ve learned that Cleveland offers so many networking opportunities. It’s helpful to have a place to talk with fellow young professionals. We can help each other through common struggles and celebrate our successes.”

Fortunately, organizations can take proactive steps to not only keep their young new staffers but help them thrive:

Encourage junior staff to network and establish a professional community of peers from within the field. Organizations like YNPN exist to ensure younger works feel connected and supported. The Greater Cleveland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) maintains an active Young Professional Committee with networking and training opportunities geared to development professionals under age 30. Young professionals join AFP at a reduced rate.

More experienced professionals can provide important role modeling. The Academy for Educational Development has a useful guide on mentoring for nonprofits of all sizes and recommends organizations authorize staff to spend at least two to four hours per month with an external mentor. Mentors can help employees, especially more junior ones, navigate their professional pathway, access resources, and serve as a vital sounding board. The Cleveland YNPN chapter runs a mentoring program that matches young nonprofit professionals with local mentors.

Sending a junior staff person to a workshop or conference shows a willingness to invest in his or her success—and the added skill will hopefully benefit the organization. Be sure to explain your organization’s policy on how professional development hours should be treated from a payroll perspective.

An employee who understands your expectations is much better positioned to meet them. Make sure your new employee has a clear job description that articulates his or her responsibilities (for tips, see the Nonprofit Job Description Toolkit on The Bridgespan Group’s website). Schedule regular informal check-ins as well as formal performance reviews. Consider a 90-day review for new employees, especially ones with limited professional experience, and speak directly about concerns—theirs or yours—early on. Partner with your junior staffer to identify solutions to any problems.

Early on, help your junior staffer to envision a pathway of success, within the organization and in his or her larger career. Make job announcements visible to your team. Practice promoting from within, when possible, and seek out ways to ready your team members to move up. When a quality staffer leaves the organization, make yourself available as a reference and future resource—you never know when they might want to circle back.

Build a workplace culture where everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Remember that something as routine as a staff meeting can be intimidating to junior employees who assume they should defer to higher ranking colleagues. In meetings, effective facilitation is key: invite questions, make room for discussion, and, at least occasionally, assign a junior staffer to lead an agenda item. Staff will take their cues on how to interact with one another from senior leaders; make sure your management
team helps promote respect throughout the organization.

An investment in your young professional employees is an investment in your organization’s future. Demonstrate your commitment and they’ll be more likely to give you theirs.

—Dana Textoris
Contact Dana Textoris of Grants Plus at:


cuyahoga county map

Great Advice From Public Funders

This blog post by Lauren Steiner appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland” It is her seventh for the organization.

In Greater Cleveland, Ohio we are fortunate to have Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC), a public entity that directs funding to arts organizations in a variety of ways including general operating support and support for specific projects. CAC is an independent unit of government that collects a dedicated tax on cigarettes sold in Cuyahoga County, to fund local arts and culture organizations. Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $80 million in 182 local arts and cultural organizations.

At the close of their recent three-day review of 61 proposals for general operating support, the reviewers were invited by CAC Executive Director Karen Gahl-Mills to share advice with grantees.Their advice was especially acute and relevant to anyone writing a grant proposal for any type of project. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear this kind of frank feedback—and I wanted to share the best of it with you.

When writing about evaluation, make sure you are not only discussing how and what you will measure but also what you have learned from evaluation results to date and what you are going to do or have already done about it.

When outlining partnerships in which your organization is involved, don’t just list them. Explain what makes the partnership successful.

Be candid about challenges, changes, struggles, etc. We are all operating in a quickly changing environment. It is not realistic to portray that your organization has not had any bumps in the road. As one reviewer colorfully stated, “Cut the bull****.”

Don’t assume a reviewer knows anything about your organization or community. Large organizations should especially beware of this, because they can often assume funders know things they may actually not know. Make sure you are adequately articulating how you are serving the unique needs of the community and how you know you are successful in this endeavor.

Make sure your proposal is well-written and not redundant. Never forget that real people have to read and understand the proposal, and it is likely that the reviewer will be reading many others. Respect their time and make sure your proposal language is clear, readable and understandable.

Many thanks to CAC for its significant investments in the arts in Cuyahoga County and for its transparent grantmaking process. This type of advice is rare and so helpful in making all of us better advocates in seeking needed funding for our organizations.

—Lauren Steiner

Contact Lauren Steiner of Grants Plus at:

re-engage past supporters

Four Ways to Re-Engage Past Supporters

This blog post by Lauren Steiner appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland” It is her sixth for the organization.

In the fundraising profession we all know it costs more to engage a new donor than to get a donation from a current or past donor. It always surprises me when I hear organizations spending lots of time and resources reaching out to new donors when they have not paid adequate attention to past supporters, who for one reason or another have not made a gift to the organization in a while. When you re-engage past supporters, you can generally skip the “get to know you” phase because they have already been a supporter. The communication with them can be instead about the most exciting recent developments at the organization, which can lead to discussions of opportunities for support much more rapidly than with a new potential donor.

Here are four tips for re-engaging past supporters, including:

1) Major donors who made large gifts to the organization several years ago and nothing since

Do some investigating around the circumstances of that past gift. Who was the lead contact? Is that person still an employee/volunteer? What type of recognition did the organization provide the donor? Have you heard from or reached out to this donor since the recognition? What did you learn when you did? While it is true that some donors make a “one-time-only” large gift, it is also likely that they still feel warm about the organization and want it to succeed.

If the organization has not been in touch with a past major donor lately, develop a re-engagement strategy that is focused on opening the lines of personal communication with the past donor, and filling him/her in on the organization’ s latest news. It may open the door to new donations to the annual fund or special projects.

2) Foundations that have awarded the organization grants in the past but not recently

Recently many foundations have re-evaluated their giving priorities, which has left some grantees outside of those priorities. Take a look at some of your recent declined grant proposals. Do you know why they were declined or is there more to learn by having a conversation with a foundation representative? Meeting with a former funder can help illuminate whether there are any synergies between the foundation’s current priorities and the organizations existing programs and near term plans. Some foundations still have ways to support organizations that may fall outside of their current priorities, like through discretionary or board-directed grants, or donor-advised funds of community foundations. Bottom line: don’t assume the organization is not a fit, make sure you have explored all the options.

3) Donors who are not living up to their potential

Does your donor list include a Fortune 500 CEO who is giving $100 per year to your annual fund? Does the largest local foundation grant your organization $2,500 per year when the majority of their other grants are in the five- and six-figure range? Mine your donor list for these gems and investigate what the missed potential might be. For foundations, look at their 990s for recent giving. For individuals, you may be able to assess their giving levels to other organizations by looking at other annual reports or using a wealth screening program like Wealth Engine. If you find that you are on the low end of a donor’s giving potential, develop a strategy to move them up the ladder of support. Hint: think to yourself,“Have we done everything we can to communicate the organization’s needs and what we could do with a higher level of support?” You might find that this donor may not fully appreciate the impact a larger donation could have on the organization.

4) Individuals who attended a special event or volunteered for the organization but have never made a financial gift

Savvy organizations capture the names and addresses of their event attendees and add those to their mailing list and include them in other fundraising strategies. Think about the last communication your organization had with these people. For many organizations, these people/companies get added to a newsletter list and nothing else. They think because there is a donation envelope in their newsletter, they are being “asked” for their support. The reality is that there is no “softer” ask than a passive envelope folded into a newsletter. Develop a plan to test out some different strategies to generate financial support from this group. Tests can include an e-mail campaign, a targeted fundraising mailing campaign for a specific need, or a phone campaign. In all cases, make sure the request is as personalized as possible and paints a specific need. If one of these methods works well, try it with a larger group.
We’ve all heard it said that effective donor cultivation is like a courtship, and you would not ask a potential donor for a gift at the first meeting just like you would not make a marriage proposal on the first date. The trusted relationship that often precedes charitable support can take years to build. It makes sense then to look inward to your organization’s past supporters to expedite and increase future gifts. Of course it is always important to engage new donors, but make sure in your efforts to attract the new, you are not ignoring those closest to your organization already.

—Lauren Steiner

Contact Lauren Steiner of Grants Plus at:

startup grantseeking

Successful Grantseeking for New, Startup Nonprofit Organizations

This blog post by Lauren Steiner appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland” It is her fifth for the organization.

When people hear I do grant writing for a living, I often get this: “I want to start a nonprofit organization that does ________ (fill-in-the-blank-mission). Can you get me a grant for that?” I also get frequent calls from people who have taken next steps and are building boards and applying for 501(c)3 status. But, whether the nonprofit is in the idea phase or in its infancy, the reality is that getting that first foundation grant can be next to impossible. Here’s why.

Most foundations are not set up to make grants to start-ups. Many require attachments that include service statistics, a certified audit, or list of other funders. By and large, foundations are looking for a grantee partner that has a positive track record, history of sound financial management and stability, and a broad base and range of support.

In general, foundations do not want to be the only funder of an entire organization, or the first funding in the door. Think of a potential foundation funder like a potential investor in your business. They want to make sure they are investing in a sound organization with a plan for impact and longevity. Look to the individuals who are closest to your organization to be your first funders.

Foundation leaders and people familiar with the nonprofit sector are aware there are already many nonprofit organizations in existence, indicating likely duplication of services. Latest figures indicate there are over $1.5 million in the U.S. As a fellow consultant offered in a recent blog post, “To put that into perspective, that’s one charity for every 300 people.” Sometimes nonprofit organizations are created to provide a service that should really be the program of a larger organization. Nine times out of ten, we can accomplish more when we work together.

Understanding the reality of the grantseeking environment for a new nonprofit is the first step. Below I offer some guidance on what you can do with this information to move toward a successful grantseeking program.

Make sure you have adequately identified and can articulate the community need for your program and organization. Gather data on the subject that can help show that a need exists for the services you provide. Talk to other nonprofit organizations that operate similar programs to determine overlaps, differentiators, and possible collaborations.

Seek out smaller grant opportunities from sources with informal application processes and that have a history of supporting new, unproven organizations. Look for community-based and civic organizations in your location that have giving programs, individual giving circles, youth-directed funding programs, etc. These can sometimes fly below the radar and be tricky to find. If you use Foundation Directory Online, try searching “giving circle” in your keyword or Power Search field. Also look at larger community funders like your city’s community foundation, churches or religious associations, civic clubs, or the local United Way.

One of your first tasks in a new organization should be creating a business/strategic plan that includes an outline of annual expenses and what revenue generating or fundraising activities you will undertake throughout the year to generate enough income to cover those planned expenses. Once the plan is created, work the plan.

Every year the largest percentage of charitable gifts to all nonprofit organizations comes from individuals. Officially this number has hovered around 75% of all charitable giving, but when you include individuals who give through family funds and charitable bequests, it is well over 80%. The power of individual donors to your organization cannot be understated. Make sure you are cultivating and ASKING individual donors to support your organization at least once a year, starting with your board of directors.  

If you can accomplish the above tasks, you can start to build some small successes and begin the track record that larger funders are looking for. If you can secure a small grant from a grassroots funder or several individual gifts, use those to kick start your program and treat it like a pilot project. Make sure you have a plan for measuring your success against some pre-determined goals for the program. Tracking data from the beginning to the end of the project that will help you articulate the impact it has made on the community it exists to serve. This will become the start of your track record of success on which you can build in coming years.

Grantseeking for new start up organizations can be a significant challenge. If you follow some of the advice above, it may be a little bit easier. With patience and perseverance, if your organization is truly filling a community need and has developed a sound approach, you may be able to secure more grant funding for your work.

Best of luck!

This blog post was inspired in part by “Fundraising 101 for Community Programs,” a workshop offered by Neighborhood Connections and The Cleveland Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio on March 13, 2012. This was the first in a series of workshops called Strengthening Services 2012, which are aimed at building the capacity of grassroots and faith-based organizations. Thanks to Janus Small and Tom O’Brien for assistance with this article.

—Lauren Steiner

Contact Lauren Steiner of Grants Plus at:


Are You Ready for the Year-End Fundraising Rush?

This blog post by Lauren Steiner appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland” It is her fourth for the organization.

Fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint. Because our jobs as development professionals are never really finished (there is always more to do,) it is critical that we pace ourselves. Whether your organization follows a calendar or fiscal year, autumn can be a very busy time that requires juggling many balls simultaneously—foundation deadlines, individuals’ year-end giving, holiday events, etc.

Following is a suggested list of things to do to help maximize your overall results and position your organization for an even more prosperous new year. We know that the vast majority of individual donors wait until the end of the year to make their charitable gifts, so December is often the busiest month for nonprofit fundraisers who find themselves scrambling to get out the final “asks”, process gifts, and thank their last minute donors. Are you adequately prepared for this rush? Consider adding these things to your calendar for the last three months of the year:

1. Take a half-day to review and edit your gift acknowledgment letter.

It will never get more use than in December, so why not take some time in the months leading up to it to make sure your letter is as effective as it can be. Compare it to those in The Great Acknowledgement Letter Swap, a very cool online database of hundreds of sample letters. Some of the best advice? Be direct and brief and consider a more creative closing than Sincerely, like my favorite, Ever Forward,.

2. Perform a weekly comparison of last year’s largest donors to this year’s to make sure your key donors have made their gifts this year.

If they have not, make personal calls or enlist a board member or two to help you do so. You might want to do this several times a week or daily the last few weeks of December.

3. Spend an hour each week for personal thank you calls to the largest donors as the donations are received.

This a great way to engage a board member who is resistant to do fundraising because it is easy to do and tremendously rewarding for both the “thanker” and the “thanked.” If you have clients who are able to do this or other volunteers, that works great too! Be sure to make permanent notes in the donor’s database record about any contact that is made or anything your "thanker" learns about the donor that might help inform how you interact with him or her in the future.

4. Spend one hour every two weeks to reach out to the masses.

The end of the year, especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, is considered a light week for news. This means that news outlets, including papers and local news stations, will be looking for stories, particularly “feel good” stories about your clients who made it despite the odds, and donors who have made a difference in their communities in unique ways. Think about distinctive angles on all of the heartwarming stories you encounter this fall; write a press release about them and call on your press contacts. Good press coverage can generate more last-minute donations as everyone is feeling the holiday spirit.

5. Take a day to prepare and send a special holiday message to your top foundation donors. Write a holiday note, share a program update or another tidbit of interest.

In addition to plain old good stewardship, this practice is an effective way to place your organization at the top of their minds. Because many foundations operate on a calendar year, your top foundation donors might even be inclined to direct any last minute discretionary funds to your organization as their year comes to a close. The bottom line? Don’t leave your foundation donors in the dust in December. If you put these things on your calendar now, you will ensure you have the time to do these important activities when the crunch is really on.

Happy fall!

—Lauren Steiner

Contact Lauren Steiner of Grants Plus at:

order to grant house

grant house

This blog post by Lauren Steiner appeared in the Foundation Center’s website blog, “Philanthropy Front and Center—Cleveland” It is her third for the organization.

Imagine for a moment that your organization is a house and you are getting ready to put it on the market for sale. Think of funders as the potential buyers of your house. What's rule number one for readying a property for sale and positioning it for maximum revenue potential? Getting your house in order, of course.

Using this analogy, a grant proposal could be compared to interior decorating, or what is known in real estate as “staging.” Staging a house might mean adding a fresh coat of paint, de-cluttering a room, or rearranging the furniture—all aimed at making an impeccable first impression on a buyer. Just like staging, your grant proposal allows you to put your organization’s best foot forward. You can organize it to flow logically, use clear and concise language and proper grammar, and describe your organization in the most positive light possible.

While potential home buyers appreciate these staging efforts, truly savvy buyers will look beyond this to what truly matters. They may bring in a specialist to check things like the foundation, the roof, and whether the basement has ever flooded. Applying the analogy to your organization, it is vital that before you even start a grant proposal, you make sure your “grant house is in order.” Consider the following:

A solid foundation: Does your board of directors function well as the governing body of the organization? Does it have sound policies and procedures in place? Does it support the organization financially and participate in fundraising? Does the organization have a current strategic plan on which all key decisions are based?

Adequate and up-to-date plumbing and electrical wiring: How well is your organization embedded in the community? Does it function at capacity or are programs/services going unused? How does the organization stay aware of and meet the needs of the community it serves?

A stable roof: How financially sound is the organization? Does it consistently cover its operating expenses or has it run at a deficit for a number of years? Does it have an endowment? Does it conduct and independent financial audit each year? Does it have diverse funding streams?

A basement free from water damage: Has the organization endured a crisis of some form in the recent past and how was it handled? Is that crisis completely resolved? What, if any, perceptions still exist in the community with respect to that event?

Many times, no matter how pretty and organized your proposal is, funders are looking much deeper and basing their decisions on other factors, including the structural issues of your organization listed above. If your organization is lacking in one of the above key structural issues, addressing it should become your first priority before you attempt to seek a grant.

Because a house is one of the biggest investments people will make in their lives, it makes sense that buyers do their homework before making that investment. Funders, like home buyers, are also making an investment when they make a grant to your organization. If your organization has spent time caring for and maintaining important organizational issues, it will be more likely to succeed in grantseeking than an organization that has neglected these critical facets.

What steps have you taken to get your grants house in order?

—Lauren Steiner

Contact Lauren Steiner of Grants Plus at:

grant questions

More from our blog:

Yo-Pro Mojo: Retaining Young Leaders

Great Advice From Public Funders

Four Ways to Re-Engage Past Supporters

Successful Grantseeking for New, Startup Nonprofit Organizations

Are You Ready for the Year-End Fundraising Rush?

Getting Your Grant House in Order

View Five Fundraising Resolutions


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