Monthly Archives: December 2011

Last minute grant writing

Let’s say you come across a new grant opportunity. The funder’s interests fit your mission, the guidelines match your program activities, and the grant size and timeline meet your needs.

Also, the proposal deadline is two days away.

Most of us have found last-minute grant opportunities and asked ourselves if we can pull off a proposal in time.  Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it’s a flop, a waste of resources, a futile exercise in exhaustion. We pull staff from other work, scramble to find current data, make too-quick program decisions, dash off messy, unclear prose.

Of course the best way to avoid eleventh hour grant writing is to conduct regular funding research and have a grant writing plan in place.  But when a new opportunity with a quick turnaround appears, what should we do?

1. Confirm the deadline and the form of submission. (Many foundations still require hard copies of proposals sent through the mail.)
2. Determine whether a letter of inquiry (LOI) or short pre-proposal is requested instead of a full-length proposal. A LOI is not only shorter, but also requires less narrative and budget detail.
3. Carefully read and think through the questions or guidelines you’ll need to answer or address, and what it will take to do this.
4. Ask if major decisions need to be made about a program or service for this submission. Consider what you need to know to make the decisions, who should be involved, and how much time is needed.
5. Determine how much of what you need to write is already written. Can you draw most of the content from another proposal?
6. Estimate how much time is needed to write a strong proposal or LOI, determine who would write it, and consider it in the context of this person’s other work. Is this proposal worth prioritizing? Don’t forget to allocate staff time for proofreading and submission.

One way to be prepared for last-minute deadlines is to establish and maintain a grants file to house and organize your grant writing information. Keep the contents of this file updated and you’ll have a solid foundation on which to draft proposals, even with little time to spare. Having your ducks in a row can help you decide whether an unexpected deadline is worth the investment, and can take some of the pain out of the process if you do apply. You should include:

1. A copy of each LOI and proposal you’ve written in the last year or two.
2. A copy of each grant report from the last year or two.
3. A list of funders and grants awarded over the last three to five years.
4. Your latest Annual Report.
5. Your current strategic plan.
6. A summary of current, accurate, targeted needs data, e.g., unemployment levels in your county, disease prevalence, college attrition rates. Don’t forget sources!
7. A summary of impact data, gleaned from evaluations and assessments of your programs and services.
8. Short descriptions and bios for all key staff, including responsibilities and qualifications. Also keep your org chart current.
9. Current Board list.
10. Annual operating budget and income/expenses for most recent fiscal year and for current year-to-date.
11. Itemized program/project budgets with current sources of committed and pending revenue.
12. A copy of your 501(c)(3) confirmation.
13. Your most recent audited financial statement or Form 990, depending on budget size.
14. Letters of agreement from collaborating organizations.
15. Press clippings, notice of awards, or Web links to information on your work.

Happy New Year, from all of us at the Alliance!

Alliance publishes new report on nonprofits and the economy

Almost three-quarters of local nonprofits saw demand for their services climb in FY 2011 and almost half cannot meet their current level of demand. Among safety net organizations—those that provide food, shelter, health care and other lifeline services—96 percent experienced higher levels of demand this year and 63 percent cannot meet their demand.

According to the Alliance’s new report on Mid-South nonprofits and the economy, local organizations have yet to see any of the upswing that financial analysts say is underway. Charitable giving is still depressed, poverty and unemployment are high, and the public finance crisis has cut millions of dollars from nonprofit programs.

Downstream and In Demand III is based on a survey of 116 local nonprofit leaders about how their organizations and operating environment were affected by the recession in FY 2011. As in past years, rising poverty and another wave of funding cuts have strapped nonprofit budgets. More than one-third of respondents told us they reduced or eliminated services this year, and thirty percent ended the year with an operating deficit.

Our research shows that Mid-South nonprofits are tenacious and innovative in dealing with tough times. Their leaders have taken bold steps to analyze program costs and make strategic budget decisions. They’ve invested in staff and technology, honed their marketing and fundraising functions, and sought out partnerships and collaborations that cut costs and increase impact. Nonetheless, most are worried about how they’ll continue to serve their clients under current conditions, and how the Mid-South community will contend with persistent poverty and a frayed safety net.

Key findings from Downstream III include:

  • 60% of respondents lost a major funding source this year.
  • 50% of participants experienced reduced funding from a long-time funding source this year.
  • Most funding cuts in FY 2011 were from Federal grants and contracts and United Way.
  • 66% of participants have less than six months of cash reserves available, and almost one-third of these have less than one month of reserves.
  • More nonprofits are turning to earned income to compensate for shrinking funding. 35% of participants reported that earned income  increased as a proportion of total revenues in FY 2011.
  • Only 24% of respondents developed a contingency plan in FY 2011, suggesting that many others have not prepared for an uncertain future.
  • Government contracts pose an increasing challenge for organizations that rely on them. More than 80% of participants with government contracts were not fully reimbursed for the cost of services they provide, and many others say late reimbursement and mid-stream cuts significantly affected their operations.
  • Staff raises and benefits were reported as a crucial means of maintaining service quality, but the ability to invest in these is strongly correlated with size. Small organizations were much less likely to have given raises or hired new positions, and significantly more likely to have reduced or frozen salaries.

Want to know more about how the recession has affected local nonprofits? Check out Downstream and In Demand III to learn more about funding trends in the Mid-South and their implications for our community. Find out how nonprofits are working to secure their missions, preserve critical programs, and serve more people, and what’s needed from funders, public officials, and others to sustain their work. We welcome your thoughts and questions on the report and we’d love to hear about your own experiences with recession-era challenges and strategies.

Wishing you and your loved ones very happy holidays,  from the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence.

It could be a while: nonprofits and state funding crises

Nonprofits should expect a long wait for state governments to boost spending for social programs, according to a new report.

With continued high unemployment and the end of Federal stimulus programs, states will have cut a total of $38.5 billion from only three programs—social services, Medicaid, and education—in FY 2011 and 2012.

Even when employment rebounds, it will take several years for state budgets to recover, say the authors of The Public Finance Crisis: Can Philanthropy Shoulder the Burden? It will take at least a year for the benefits to translate to more taxes for state budgets, and another year or more for them to be reflected in state expenditures.

The report, developed by international fundraising and philanthropy consulting firm Changing Our World, Inc., analyzes the dramatic changes in public funding affecting the nonprofit sector in the recent years of the recession.

In the Mid-South, Tennessee had a total budget gap of $1 billion and Mississippi had a $716 million budget gap in FY 2011. Arkansas is one of only a handful of states in the country not experiencing budget shortfalls.

To make up for the economic loss from state budgets, private giving to nonprofits would have had to increase by 30 percent in 2011 and by 60 percent in 2012. Clearly private grants and donations haven’t compensated for state budget crises. Between 2008 and 2010, annual private giving fell by $13 billion. Foundations, whose assets and revenues are largely tied to investment portfolios, lost $150 billion in assets and reduced giving by 13 percent during the recession.

The report provides an excellent timeline of the recession’s impact on nonprofits and an in-depth analysis of the various government effects on nonprofit revenue flows and strategies. It discusses the drying up of the Federal financial stimulus, how budget cutbacks affect various nonprofit sectors, and what it would take to relieve the shortages through private giving.

We’d like to think this research could raise awareness among government leaders about the nonprofit effects of state budget problems, given that nonprofits comprise eight to ten percent of the workforce in most states. The effects of the downturn on the sector are unprecedented, and the authors make a convincing case that major shifts in nonprofit funding are unavoidable.

Unfortunately they only offer the same old advice to nonprofit managers to diversify funding sources, measure impact, and hire volunteers. It’d be nice to see an overlay of state and Federal tax structure revision strategies on the state-nonprofit finance matrix, especially since so much nonprofit advocacy is now focused on maintaining tax breaks for the wealthy to preserve charitable deductions.

The Alliance has just released Downstream and In Demand III, our updated report on how the recession has affected Mid-South nonprofits. We’d love to hear your comments on The Public Finance Crisis: Can Philanthropy Shoulder the Burden? and your own experiences with government funding.

New neighborhood public safety program funded

Will the nation’s neighborhood public safety efforts improve under the new Federal budget?

The “minibus” budget bill signed into law a couple weeks ago designates $15 billion for the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Program, the key community revitalization initiative to be supported by the Department of Justice (DOJ). BCJI grants will fund demonstration projects to fight crime and improve public safety in neighborhoods across the country.

The program replaces the Weed and Seed program, which was closed down this year. The replacement is intended to promote and improve collaboration with other Federal agencies, increase program flexibility, and encourage greater emphasis on evidence-based and data supported approaches. DOJ officials also say the changes will promote long-term sustainability through strategic planning, training, and technical assistance.

In the past, Weed and Seed was criticized for not being well-integrated with complementary programs administered by the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Creators of the BCJI program say it will be closely coordinated with the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Program, aimed at improving educational outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods; and HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Program, focused on transforming distressed housing and creating sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods.

BCJI grants will support collaborative, competitive grants for partnerships of law enforcement and various other organizations involved in community policing, prevention, intervention, treatment, and neighborhood restoration efforts.

Funding for the BCJI program is $5 million lower than the Weed and Seed appropriation. Like Weed and Seed, BCJI will focus on reducing violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in target areas, and then “reseeding” the neighborhood through social and economic revitalization. An important component of Weed and Seed that will be carried over to BCJI is the mobilization of community residents to assist law enforcement in identifying and removing violent offenders and drug traffickers from the community and help human service agencies identify and respond to needs for services.

Regionally, Weed and Seed funded projects in Jackson, Dyersburg, Chattanooga, and several other sites in Tennessee; two sites in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and Jackson and East Biloxi in Mississippi.

The new DOJ bill includes a total of $2.2 billion for various state and local law enforcement grant programs, which is $570 million below last year’s level and $856 million below the President’s request. DOJ as a whole is funded at $27.1 billion, an increase of $18 million above last year’s level. The FBI gets an increase of $192 million for national security, investigation of computer attacks, Weapons of Mass Destruction programs, and other priorities. The DEA received an increase of $20 million, especially for combating prescription drug abuse, helping states with cleaning up meth lab sites, and staffing counternarcotics intelligence at the Southern Border. The Federal Prison System gets an extra $260 million to activate recently constructed prisons.

We will continue to bring you news about Federal appropriations in the coming weeks. DOJ has not yet released a detailed explanation of the BCJI program, but in the meantime, an interview with Thomas Apt on the UNCA site provides some background on the agency’s view of the role for public safety in neighborhood programs.