Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why Common Core Will Fail

You've likely heard or read about Common Core by now. The latest in educational "fixes," promoted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Governors Association, and the Obama administration, the Common Core initiative was developed "to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce." And it will fail to improve our failing schools, wasting time, resources, and money in the process.

There are lots of critics around who can explain the problems with Common Core and how the standards were developed. But I have a different issue with Common Core: it attacks the wrong problem.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but it was brought to the fore for me last week when I attended Social Innovation Summit 2013 at Stanford University. Among two days of presentations, ranging from a panel on "Unleashing Green Chemistry," to a speech from Robert Swan, OBE, Arctic Explorer, there were several that touched on innovation in education with examples that work.

Beth Schmidt was a new 10th grade English teacher who was frustrated when only 5% of her inner-city students turned in their writing assignment. The problem, she soon realized, was that the research assignment she gave them had no relevance to their lives. When she tied the assignment to their desires and interests - to their passions - 85% turned it in.

The problem wasn't that she or her students didn't have access to uniform, national curriculum standards. The problem was that the "achievement gap" between her school and successful ones in her region was a direct result the hope and opportunity gap that low-income kids face when thinking about their future.

Today, Ms. Schmidt is the founder of Wishbone, a crowdfunding site that helps low-income high school students to pursue their passions through attending extra-curricular camps and other programs, redefining their future, and opening up new opportunities.

At Roosevelt High School, in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Grammy winning recording artist's foundation has partnered with College Track to give kids not only the tools to go to college, but to finish college. After-school programs combine the students' passions with practical advice and strategies to pay for school and stick with it.

According to Enrique Legaspi, Chief of Staff of the Foundation, Roosevelt has 2,600 kids, a 50% dropout rate, and only one college counselor. Contrast that to Taft High School in Woodland Hills, where I graduated from many years ago. Taft currently has 2,700 kids and a 12% dropout rate. Both schools are within the LA Unified School District. Both are in California, which already had high standards before the Common Core.

The difference was that, at least when I attended Taft, there was an expectation that we all could and would graduate, and that most of us would go on to college and have reasonably successful careers. The middle-class was the lowest rung we were expected to shoot for. Not so in Boyle Heights.

Ask the kids dropping out from either school if the lack of unified national curriculum standards was at fault. I doubt that's the reason they'll give. Lack of relevancy or hope for opportunity is far more likely. Kids in failing schools need more than a new textbook; they need someone to show them a realistic path to a good life. As said to us (via satellite), "Athletics shouldn't be the only thing that gets kids out of the ghetto."

Microsoft's TEALS program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) puts engineer volunteers (not just from Microsoft, but other tech companies as well) into classrooms in districts that could not otherwise afford technology programs. Sometimes this is in person, but frequently they teach virtually, and so can reach places mostly forgotten by the rest of America.

At the Social Innovation Summit we saw a short video focusing on the effect the program is having in a small, rural community in Kentucky, where the TEALS volunteers are giving hope where there was none before, showing the children of coal miners the possibility of a rewarding career that does not carry the risk of black lung disease, and giving them a reason to pursue a college education. (Computer programing is not part of the Common Core, in case you were wondering.)

The examples above are from a single two-day conference. One came from a frustrated teacher starting a nonprofit organization, another from an entertainer/philanthropist giving back to his old neighborhood, and the third from a corporation concerned about training their next generation workforce.

Each very different players, with different approaches and resources, but all focusing on the individual passions of the children and creating opportunities for them to succeed. Each takes local circumstances into consideration. None of them are top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches. These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of successful programs out there.

For schools that are already succeeding in sending kids on to higher education and professional careers, Common Core is an annoyance at best, and at worst a distraction that will keep them from giving needed attention to the few students who are failing. For them, transitioning from one set of curriculum standards to another is just so much fixing what ain't broke to begin with.

For schools that have high dropout rates and low hopes for their students, Common Core may provide a temporary lift, as new grants, materials, and teacher training become available. But in the long run, this too will peter out, as it will do nothing to address the lack of economic opportunity available to low-income kids, and nothing to change either their expectations, or the expectations of those around them.

You say you want to close the achievement gap in education? Then work to close the opportunity gap in the economy. Hope requires more personal attention than just a modified curriculum.

(Note: this is cross-posted on both, my personal and work blogs, as it is relevant to the general voting public as well as nonprofit professionals.)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Multichannel Communications - Management & Tips

A point I've been harping on for some time whenever I speak to groups of nonprofits is the importance of communicating to your supporters the way they want, not the ways you're used to. In other words, while some of your supporters may still be looking for that annual holiday letter in the mail, others want to hear from you on Facebook, or by email, at an event, or even by the old telephone. This is what we mean by multichannel communications.

This guest post is from Madeleine Hammond. Maddie is a marketing executive at Skeleton Productions - One of the UK's leading video production companies. Here’s what She has to say about managing multichannel communications...

Multichannel marketing is not a trend likely to end soon - and for good reason. With the constant evolution of new technologies, new social platforms, and new ways to communicate with your audience, nonprofits are currently able to enjoy a whole plethora of potential communication options. Managing these various outlets however is where things can get a little... messy, especially if you’re a charity doing this on the cheap.

To successfully manage all your data, you really need to understand the information you are receiving. So with that in mind, here are some tips that can hopefully help you in the management of your various channels…

1) (Social) Network, Network, Network!: Now, this one is a biggy. According to studies, email open rates are on the decline with more people of all ages switching to social media as their primary form of communication. This means organizations have to think about not only growing their presence in relevant social networks, but they also have to think about growing their “lists” in these environments—much like you think about growing your email list. The great thing about social media is that - mostly - it is free, and you can reach a ha-uge potential audience with some persistent marketing. Make sure to have Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin profiles for your nonprofit. Managing them is simple, especially if you make use of their mobile features - just don’t forget about them!

2) Don’t Forget About Emails!: Yes bringing emails into the equation after talking about social media’s superiority may seem like a contradiction, but just because it’s not 1999 anymore doesn't mean email appeals are no longer relevant. It does mean you have to get more creative however. An email blast to your entire list with the same plea won’t work - in fact, you’ll be lucky if it gets read at all & not marked as spam. Segment your database & create specific templates for those segments, matching the profiles of your supporters. Always test these groups with various content & measure the response. You can even create filters within your inbox so you can monitor responses more successfully. By creating filters & recipient segments, it is easy for you to keep on top of your email campaigns.

3) Keep Track: Tracking is a crucial factor in understanding how your channels are working for you - If you are not measuring what is working via unique tracking links for your petitions and fundraising pages or using Google analytics, you are not listening to what is working for you and what is working against you. As the ol’ social media saying goes; ‘measure, listen and adapt’. Remember its important to connect and communicate with your supporters based on what you know about them, so track and measure what is working and adapt and adopt appeals to suit your audience needs accordingly.  It needn’t cost you much either, as tools like Google Analytics are free.

4) Have a Strong Profile: Creating a strong profile for your nonprofit is essential in targeting donors and audiences. Creating supporter profiles will also help target your audiences in different channels more effectively. Each customer profile has different needs, and your channel of communication should adapt to that. Different channels should be used to translate different communications to different audiences. This may take time (and some saint-like patience!) but it could make a huge difference to your campaign.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Irregularity of Regular Giving

We love our regular donors. As nonprofit professionals, we just love to look over our donor rolls and know that there's a good percentage of those listed who will give again and again, year after year, and all we have to do is send them a nice annual letter. Maybe there's even a few of those donors who have trusted us enough to let us charge a small amount to their credit card every month without even asking. Man, do we love them! But don't get too complacent.

With each successive generation, giving is changing. New technologies play a roll in that, but so do overall trends in society and culture. Changing economic realities affect not only the amounts given, but the level of scrutiny and revue a donor puts an ask through. The loss of trust in institutions along with increased access to a world of information are changing the types of asks donors respond to.

There is a growing body of research into these generational differences. The Next Generation of American Giving by Convio, Edge Research, and Sea Change Strategies (2010 - download here) breaks donor groups down by the Matures (born before 1945), Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), and Gen Y (1981-1991). One of the problems that becomes evident in this study is that most of our accepted knowledge and best practices around fundraising were designed to appeal to the Matures, who now account for only 21% of donors. Gen X outnumbers them at 25% of donors, with Gen Y (19%) coming up right behind (and growing). Boomers are the largest cohort at 35%, but are outnumbered when you consider Gens X and Y together.

Among the differences in donor attitude between these groups are the way in which donors give. 77% of Matures send checks through the mail, while only 26% of Gen Y donors have. Meanwhile, 14% of Gen Y donors and 13% of Gen X have donated by text, while only 2% of Matures have done so.

As to the type of requests younger donors respond to, the 2010 Millennial Impact Report by Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle, and Associates (download here) found that more than half of respondents were likely to respond to a specific request, while less than 8% were likely to respond to a general request (such as an annual appeal). This feeling was repeated in their 2012 survey which identified "not knowing how my gift will make a difference" as Millennial's biggest pet peeve.

Younger donors are also less likely to take your word for it that your organization is doing great work. They need to be able to know who the end beneficiaries are, and what impact their donation will make. They do, however, trust their peers: 74.6% said they would give if asked by a family member and 62.8% would give if asked by a friend.

Younger donors are not just more responsive to appeals from friends and family; they are also more willing to take part and help spread the word about your organization once they are on board. 19% of Gen Y and 14% of Gen X donors are willing to promote their chosen charities online compared to only 9% of Boomers and 5% of Matures.

So, what does all this have to do with regular, annual giving?

The bad news is that donor engagement is going to require more work going forward. The good news is that this engagement will be more meaningful and keep you focused on your mission.

In a world where you cannot rely on your annual holiday letter (delivered via USPS) to generate a flow of checks, your organization will need to engage across multiple channels, and communicate consistently throughout the year.

Your focus also has to shift to be more future oriented. Rather than looking back at the good work you've done, asks will need to be forward looking and explain how the next donation will be used. These asks will need to demonstrate impact and explain exactly who will benefit. You will need to experiment with new tools and trust your current supporters to make the pitch to new potential donors.

In a sense, the traditional annual campaign ("Remember us? We do great things, and you always support us: Time to send your check.") is dead. And, frankly, it's about time.

In this new world, every ask is a first ask. Yes, it will take more work than just updating last year's letter. But it will be relevant, it will be inspiring, and it will be empowering. In the end, it will make us better fundraisers and advocates for our causes.

And, if we do it right, it will keep donors coming back to us, year after year.


NOTE: The day after I posted this blog, the Millennial Impact Project released their 2013 report. Among the findings, the respondents said, "they were turned off when a nonprofit's Web site had not been updated recently." 60% wanted information and success stories about the people served by their donation. While 52% would be interested in making monthly gifts, 70% said they would be willing to raise money for an organization they cared about, and 64% have raised money in a fundraising walk or race. The full report can be downloaded here.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Charity Apps Love 'em and Hate 'em

As nonprofit professionals, we're always interested in ways to increase giving and reach new donors. Several new websites and mobile apps also seek to do just that. Some for better, some for... well, let's just say that sometimes even the folks who want to help us don't quite get it.

Let's start with what I find to be the best of this set, CharitySub. The premise is simple, and just an updated spin on giving circles. Rather than a small group of friends pooling their resources to make a sizable donation to a local cause, it's potentially thousands of like-minded strangers pooling their resources online to create an impact.

CharitySub is short for Charity Subscription, and the subscription fee is $5 per month. At the start of each month, all subscribers are presented with background information on three different nonprofits working on a particular cause. Subscribers then select where they want their $5 to go to. The next month, three more nonprofits are presented.

For the new (younger?) donor, who would like to learn more about nonprofits and various causes, and be reminded to try to give a little each month, CharitySub could be a great door-opener.

The folks at Johnson & Johnson have entered the mobile photo market with their new Donate A Photo app. Rather than encouraging direct philanthropy, as CharitySub does, Donate A Photo seeks to harness the power of "slacktivism" to fuel Johnson & Johnson's corporate giving.

Users install the app and use it to share their photos to twiiter or facebook, just as they would with most any other photo app, but with the added graphics promoting Donate A Photo and Johnson & Johnson. In exchange, J&J will donate $1 for each photo you post (one photo a day limit per user) to your chosen cause.

Finally, we come to Budge. What can I say about Budge other than, with friends like this, who needs detractors. Yes, if people use this app, it will result in donations to charities. But it hardly encourages philanthropy. Quite the opposite. In their own words, "charity can be a bit of a drag" and "drain the bank account." But they also believe people are "fundamentally good" so they devised the Budge.

With the Budge app, users challenge their friends to contests and games. The loser of the contest "has to" make a micro-donation to a charity (no explanation of how small a donation "micro" is given). That "winners" don't give to charity - charity's only for losers - is simply not the message I think any of us want to promulgate. Thanks, but no thanks.

By the way, the apps reviewed above all came to me through a technology newsletter I get each day called Netted. Each day they send new sites and apps; yesterday's just happened to focus on charity apps.

On another note, I will be teaching a free lunchtime workshop, "Can Crowdfunding Help Your Nonprofit Raise $ and Supporters?" at the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County on Thursday, August 1st. I've got some great research into the preferences of young donors, and how to reach them through crowdfunding. Yes, I'll be talking some about, but that's only part of the story.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crowdfunding Roundup for Nonprofits

It seems that with the rise of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, crowdfunding is on everybody's minds these days, but what's a nonprofit to do?

First, let's clear up what we mean by crowdfunding, and how it differs from traditional online fundraising. Crowdfunding generally refers to grassroots efforts to raise money for a project or product that is in development, directly from the eventual purchasers.

An example would be a musician who raises money from fans to produce his next CD (bypassing the traditional record company investment relationship). Rather than wait for the CD to come out, and then buying it, a fan will contribute $10 or $20 toward its production in exchange for a copy of the eventual product at some later date. In this way, crowdfunding is just an internet spin on the old subscription business model.

For nonprofits, it is distinguished from traditional online fundraising in that it is focused on distinct, separate campaigns for specific purposes. Whereas traditional online fundraising is continuous (the "donate now" button that's always on your website) and for more general usage, you would use crowdfunding for a time-limited, specific dollar goal, for a particular project or special use.

Before you begin crowdfunding, consider what projects or needs you will be raising money for, and think about which story you want to tell.

The Organization's Story: This is the most like traditional fundraising. The story is about your organization itself, your mission, and all the people you serve. A typical crowdfunded story might be, "By helping us purchase a new van you enable us to feed more hungry, home-bound seniors by doubling the number of meals we can deliver each day."

The Donor's Story: The real power of the internet comes from the ability of individuals to connect directly with each other. In crowdfunding, this is usually seen in the form of turning donors into fundraisers and helping them tell their social networks why they support your nonprofit. A typical story might be, "I'm going on a 50 mile bike ride to raise funds and awareness of this cause that affects my family." (Here's my fundraising page for the Alzheimer's Association Walk.)

The Client's Story: Even more powerful than the donor's story is the story of the end beneficiary: the clients you serve, and the person directly helped by the donation. Surprisingly, of all the crowdfunding sites I've found, only focuses on telling these stories. A typical story might be, "I am graduating from a job training program, but need to purchase tools and a uniform before I can accept a job; your donation helps me reach my goal of providing for my family."

Of the hundreds of crowdfunding websites that have launched over the last few years, here are the 20 I have found that are either specifically for nonprofits, or most adaptable to nonprofit use:
  1. - nonprofits create low-dollar campaigns (up to $700) tied to client needs and stories
  2. - primarily for petitions, but can people/orgs can fundraise as well, Facebook widgets
  3. - organizations create custom fundraising sites
  4. - organizations or individuals can set up fundraising campaigns of any size
  5. - teachers set up campaigns for classroom needs
  6. - users create campaigns for nonprofits or "projects" 
  7. - fundraising for "individuals, non-profits, schools and political organizations"
  8. - organizations get supporters to set up personal fundraising pages
  9. - create social media fundraising campaigns, payments through PayPal 
  10. - individuals create campaigns for their own projects or favorite charity
  11. - "dedicated to launching early-stage innovations in health care"
  12. - basic furniture needs for those leaving homelessness (Silicon Valley only)
  13. - raise funds for projects of all types, not primarily for nonprofits, but could be
  14. - raise funds for projects of all types, mostly creative (art, music, publishing)
  15. - raises money for micro-loans, mostly in developing countries
  16. - users volunteer to do small tasks for buyers in exchange for donations to charity
  17. - organizations or individuals can set up campaigns; good widgets for web & Facebook
  18. - raise funds for any use (business, social, arts)
  19. - "ventures" (not all nonprofit) fundraise for social change
  20. - organizations set up campaigns for specific projects

When choosing a platform, remember that each of these sites has to cover their own overhead costs, from credit card fees to web-servers to programmers and staff. Read the fine print carefully to understand their fee structure.

Also, if the site itself is not run by a nonprofit, and if the funds do not go directly to your organization, there may be a question of tax-deductibility of the donation. Again, make sure you read all the FAQs.

Finally, you do not need to limit yourself to using just one platform, but be careful not to over-extend yourself and set up on so many that you have lots of half-funded campaigns that never complete.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Giving With Impact - The Benevolent Way

I've blogged endlessly about the importance of storytelling in fundraising. Last month I wrote specifically about the human need to feel and show empathy for others, and its relationship to fundraising.

Yesterday the connection between empathy and giving was demonstrated again in an article on Bloomberg Businessweek about the online donations going directly to the victims and families impacted by the Boston Marathon bombing (Bombing Victims Get Millions as Internet Redefines Giving).

I'd like to point out one quote from that article from Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell, a research director for Crowdsourcing Inc., that really got to what I've been thinking and writing about:
"It is easier for you to understand the impact of your dollar if you give it directly... With traditional sources, your money goes into a pot with a lot of other people's money. You're impact is larger when you go directly to the people in need."
That concept - direct giving, from person to person - is the idea behind a new fundraising site, Previously, only major donors ever really got to know the full impact of their gifts. Now, with the growth of crowd sourcing and micro-philanthropy, even a $10 or $20 donor can see and feel the value of their gift in very meaningful ways.

Benevolent connects small dollar donors directly to low-income individuals with one-time needs that can help set them on the path to self-sufficiency. Each need is verified (and posted by) a local nonprofit that knows the individual in need, and is responsible for ensuring that donations are used as directed.

The needs can be anything from uniforms or tools for someone to start a new career, to computers or books for a returning student, or even dentures or eye glasses that are needed to turn a life around. The dollar amounts range from a couple of hundred dollars up to a $700 maximum.

The real power of Benevolent lies in the stories. Needs are presented in the first person by the individuals themselves. There is great dignity in the way they explain their current situation, and great pride in explaining the steps they are taking to correct it. Once somebody gives to a need, they are sent updates as the need is fully funded and again when it is fulfilled.

And now for a little announcement: I believe in the Benevolent model so much that I have joined the team. I am now a Community Engagement Manager for, and will be working to help Silicon Valley and Bay Area nonprofits take advantage of the website, using social media and crowd sourcing, to meet the one-time needs of their low-income clients

While Benevolent will be taking up the lion's share of my time and efforts, I will also still continue some of my consulting on the side, such as grantwriting workshops at Santa Cruz County Community Foundation, and other "done in a day or two" projects, such as board retreat facilitation.

I'm excited to be a part of this important turning point in fundraising, and to be working with such a great team. Please check out and let me know what you think!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Empathy for Sale

I've written about the power of storytelling in fundraising many times over. I've also written about the ethical question of organizations sharing their client's stories (see Who's Story is it Anyway?).  Well, here we go again...

Last weekend, walking along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, I spotted a gentleman behind a card table set up on the side walk. He appeared to be in him mid-50s, neatly groomed long gray hair, comfortably dressed, ready to be of service. The sign on the front of his table read, "Free Empathy."

Certainly empathy is something that frequently seems to be in short supply in these stressful times, but, I would argue, so are opportunities to show empathy. People are hungry, not just to find somebody to listen to their troubles without judgement, but to reach out and comfort somebody else as well.

By now you've likely heard the story of Karen Klein, the school bus monitor from upstate New York, who was videotaped by a group of young boys who were bullying her to tears. One empathetic person who came across the video on YouTube decided to send Klein on "the vacation of a lifetime" and created an online campaign to raise $5,000 for that purpose. That amount was raised in a few hours. By the time the campaign ended, 32,000 people had given over $700,000.

Each donor could see the total already raised, and knew that the target amount had been reached hundreds of times over. And yet they still gave. The campaign was bigger than simply reaching out to Karen Klein with a virtual hug. The donors wanted to make a statement. They wanted to be part of a movement.

Yes, there are official nonprofit organizations who work on bullying issues that they could have donated to - some of you probably think that would have been a better investment, and you might be right - but the campaign for Klein's benefit offered something more tangible. A story. A story and the chance for direct philanthropic empathy.

Many people I've met over a couple of decades in the nonprofit sector believe that they are highly empathetic, and I believe that's often true. Thinking about which nonprofit staff I've known to be highly motivated and effective workers, versus those who simply go through the motions as burned out bureaucrats, the difference is often empathy. The best workers are those who connect to their client's stories, who feel their pain, and share their joys. Indeed, this is why we are in this sector. The stories are why we do what we do.

So, let me ask you this... Why do some of us expect our donors to be any more connected to our organizations and motivated to support our causes without knowing our client's stories? Why do some of us believe we can raise the funds necessary to do our jobs while hiding every detail of the lives of those we serve?

Yes, protect people's privacy, get permission to use testimonials, etc., etc. You know the drill. But most donors want something beyond a tax deduction. They want a connection. They want a human face. They want a chance to empathize. Just like you do.

Speaking of storytelling... Video is a great way for your organization to share your stories, and the DoGooder Video Awards each year recognize great achievement in nonprofit video storytelling. If your organization has a video you're proud of, you have until March 22 to enter for this year's awards. Head to the DoGooder webpage to learn more.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Waiting is NOT the Hardest Part

...  A Proposal for Uniform Feedback of Grant Application Denials

From Guest Blogger: Brian Leitten. Mr. Leitten is an experienced non-profit leader and consultant, chief executive and attorney. He provides consulting services nationally to non-profit and healthcare leaders from his office in Port Orange, Florida. He can be reached at Leitten Consulting -

Every year I assist clients in preparing grant applications that are submitted to 30-50 different private, community and corporate foundations and government agencies. The grant applications could be as simple as a letter of intent or a letter introducing the non-profit and explaining the grant request; or it could require a multi-page write-up with a significant number of supporting documents. Often, the foundation or agency has a very particular format that the application and supporting documents and it is generally the case that no two grant applications require exactly the same information presented in exactly the same format. In short, uniformity has not yet come to the grant application process.

Once the hours or days of preparation have been invested, the grant application is thrown into a virtual 'black hole'. After submitting the application, applicants wait to receive a decision. Most foundations are excellent at acknowledging receipt of a grant proposal, but from there communication falls off a steep ledge. Some grantmakers do provide a target date for making decisions on submitted grants; many do not. Non-profits can do nothing but wait. Many times they never hear back from a grantmaker on the outcome of the consideration of their application. I know of one application that was approved, a check was mailed (to the wrong address) and eventually canceled because the grantmaker (without bothering to inquire) assumed that the money wasn't wanted.

I find myself disagreeing with song writer and rock musician Tom Petty when I hear him sing 'The Waiting is the hardest part'. For me and the clients I serve, the waiting is the 2nd hardest part. The hardest part is receiving a denial letter with no explanation or feedback about why your proposal was not funded. Unfortunately, the typical denial communication goes something like 'Thank you for your application. We receive many more applications for support than we are able to accommodate and we will not be able to provide funding for your request'. This type of response is nothing more than a forced nicety and provides no help or feedback to the grant applicant. Without feedback, non-profits are unable to improve their grant submission process. This means that they could continue to submit grant applications containing flawed elements with no awareness of the problem and that grantmakers could continue to receive and waste time reviewing grant applications that have no chance of success.

It struck me that adding one rather simple step could greatly improve the feedback loop and eliminate the costly waste that continues to hamper the grant making system. I propose adoption of a uniform, one -page feedback sheet that would accompany all denial letters and emails. The feedback sheet would contain a list of common reasons for denial that could easily be checked off without adding any significant time burden to the denial communication process. It's likely that one or two issues led to a decision not to fund, and the checklist would be an easy and convenient way to deliver that message. This would provide extremely valuable information to the applicants that can help them improve future applications and not waste time seeking grants for which they have no chance of receiving. For the grantmakers, it would provide a wonderful opportunity to improve the quality and relevancy of future applications and avoid significant amounts of future time spent reviewing applications that they will end up turning down.

I submit the following one-page feedback sheet as a starting point for creating a uniform communication tool for grant application denials:
(click here to see full-size image)

This kind of uniform feedback would be a major step forward in enhancing the grant application process for non-profits and the foundations and agencies that support them. It would eliminate or reduce a significant flaw in the current process and return "The Waiting' to the top of the 'Hardest Part' list.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Three R's of Grant Writing

We had a great turnout at yesterday's Basic Grant Proposal Writing workshop at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. The group asked a lot of great questions, and we covered a lot of material. Exhausting, but in a good way!

At the end of the day, Community Foundation Communications Officer, Luis Chabolla, asked me to stick around and make a quick video for the Foundation's YouTube channel. Luis asked me for three quick grant writing tips in under two minutes. Here's the result:

The Three R's of Grant Writing:

Research - Stop sending proposals scatter-shot to every foundation in the book. Target your proposals to those foundations who are interested in your work. No matter what work your organization does, there's a foundation that is interested in it.

Relate - Yes, you need good strong data to make a case, and to report on your outcomes, but don't forget the story. Putting a face on those numbers is what makes your proposal relatable and memorable and puts signatures on checks.

Revise - Edit for clarity and brevity. Proofread and then do it again.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nonprofit Rescue: The Pitch

We all have dreams for the nonprofit sector: increased individual giving, more effective boards, simplified government grant applications, better trained staff... Well, one of my dreams for the sector is greater public understanding of the nuts and bolts of how nonprofits operate, and I've got an idea for implementing it: a reality TV show.

So far the only time real, community, grass-roots nonprofits have been seen on reality TV is on shows like the Secret Millionaire. Each week a different successful business person gets in touch with the broader community by masquerading as a "regular person." They wander the streets, find struggling community programs, and get involved. The programs are typically run on a shoe-string by a founder who never collects a salary, but keeps things going against all odds. At the end of the show, the millionaire reveals his or her true identity and writes a large check, saving the day.

This perpetuates many myths that harm the sector. First, that organizations do not need professional, paid management to be effective. Secondly, that all they need to continue operating is for a single major donor to magically show up on their doorstep. Third, and perhaps most detrimental, that an organization which has never had a budget greater than $25,000/year can suddenly accept a $50,000 donation without any capacity building assistance and maintain that level of service once that cash is spent.

My idea is a bit different. Picture Secret Millionaire meets Restaurant Impossible. Restaurant Impossible (like Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey) features chef Robert Irvine traveling the country and fixing our restaurants one at a time. In each episode he enters a new restaurant and assesses the food, the cleanliness, the business practices, the decor, and the owner/manager's personal problems and has 48 hours to fix them all with the help of his small team. By the end of the show, the food is delicious, the service is excellent, the walls are painted, the feuding owners are in love again, and the rats have been vanquished from the kitchen.

So, now, I give you the pitch for my new series, Nonprofit Rescue! Here's how a typical episode will run:

In the opening scene I enter the office of a small, neighborhood family resource center. The program offerings are strong - brochures for parenting classes, rental assistance, health care referrals, senior meals, etc., are strewn around the lobby - but there is no receptionist to greet me as I enter, leaving me free to wander around. I find client files open on unattended desks, and finally stumble into the conference room where the board chair and the executive director are fiercely arguing about the budget and why donations are lagging. It's several minutes before they notice me.

Over the next few scenes I meet privately with staff and clients. Clients tell me this used to be a great resource for the community. Now they only come to get a bus pass (when available) so they can go to a different agency downtown where there is better case management and follow-up. Staff are demoralized by the constant fighting and several rounds of lay-offs.

I get to work on the issues with my team of expert consultants. The next scenes are hectic as we cut back and forth between a strategic planning session, a community town hall to find out what services are needed, one-on-one meetings with funders and local elected officials, and the removal (and smashing) of any donated PCs powered by an Intel 286 processor. Between these clips, the board chair and ED each privately complain about each other to the camera. I meet with them each to discuss their proper roles and expectations.

After the final break comes the big reveal of the "new" agency. It starts with board, staff, and community members standing on the street. Our designer pulls a rope that drops the tarp covering their new sign. A new logo is revealed that is warmer and more welcoming than the old one that people said reminded them of the signage at a Soviet prison. We enter and see a well-organized and staffed reception area. Once in the conference room, we give binders to all board and staff with the new Strategic Plan (including a strong, realistic Fund Development Plan), graphics guidelines, privacy policies, Board handbook with member agreements and expectations, and an updated Employee Handbook with clear personnel policies.

The ED and Board Chair are given a template for their monthly board meeting agenda and a simple format for a one-page dashboard report that includes all the pertinent data they need to watch to not fall behind on their goals. The ED and Board Chair embrace; there are tears in everybody's eyes. Consulting has saved another community nonprofit. I wish them well and move on to the next week's challenge.

So, what do you think? Do any of you have any connections at the A&E network to help me set up a meeting? Or, maybe, it's just a dream...

Monday, January 07, 2013

Basic Grant Proposal Writing Workshops

For several years now I have been honored to teach nonprofit workshops through the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County. This year, I will be teaching three sessions of "Basic Grant Proposal Writing" on:
We pack a lot of information into these sessions, but they're always lots of fun, with about 12-15 people attending per session.

We start with a quick review of the charitable giving landscape, then move on to:
  • Building your case for funding:
    • Understanding your organization's assets
    • Clarifying your Mission
    • Knowing what story you're telling
  • Writing a successful grant proposal:
    • Types of proposals/submissions
    • The standard components, section by section
      • Focus on Outcomes!
    • Putting the proposal together and submitting
  • After the Proposal - Next Steps
The workshops are held at the Community Foundation's building on Soquel Drive in Aptos, right off Highway 1. If you're in the Monterey Bay area, or even Silicon Valley and want a day near the ocean, click on the dates above to register, or click here to see the full workshop schedule.