Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Should We Expect Our Grant Writers to be Certified?

A friend of mine recently called, all excited. She had just received national certification as a professional grant writer (GPC). While she has been doing grant writing full-time for years, she wanted to make this investment in her career. She said the process challenged her and taught her a lot. She compared it to going back for another master’s degree.

Coincidently, I had just gotten a question on choosing grant writers for a Q & A column I write on issues of importance to the nonprofit sector. It made me consider whether certification should be a criterion for selection. I happened to ran across an article by Vanessa O’Neal, entitled “The Truth about Grant Writing Certification,” that argues against it. Among other things, she concludes that the only valid test is whether someone’s proposals get funded. She suggests most grant writers feel the same, stating that 93% of grant writers she polled a few years back were not in favor of certification.

I agree with O’Neal that consistently getting grants funded is ultimately more important – at least to a client – than being able to claim a number of qualifications that include a passing grade on a test. And, I have NO doubt that 93% of grant writers do not want to have to go through a certification process. It’s expensive, time-consuming, takes one away from paid work and could show that the emperor has no clothes. Besides, for those who have been doing the work successfully for years and have a sufficient number of loyal clients, going through the certification process appears unnecessary.

Still, I do think it’s about time that such a program is available and that more people are encouraged to pursue certification. Anyone can hang out a shingle. There should be some way of assuring clients that their grant writers can demonstrate a given level of expertise. This is especially true today, when money is tight and the needs so great. Organizations should feel comfortable that they are investing in a known quantity.

For years, those in the nonprofit sector have complained that they are not valued by the general society to the same degree as those working in the for-profit sector. One example of this that is frequently cited is that they are not paid on an equivalent basis. Well, maybe part of the reason is that there are few educational requirements for working in the nonprofit sector and even fewer requirements for demonstrating competence, let alone excellence. The GPC program – like its older sibling the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) – stands up to this reality, raising the professional level of the field and making the pursuit of this certification one way that people can set themselves apart, demonstrate broad-based knowledge and justify remuneration at a higher level.

The certification program, offered through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, requires a combination of post secondary education, grants training, several years experience in the grants field, the ability to show a record of success in obtaining grants, community service and successful completion of a two-part written examination that includes a four-hour multiple choice section and a 90 minute writing portion. For more information, go to http://grantcredential.org.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Delusion Free Thinking

Amongst the over 60 articles on my website, there is a one page article that I’ve referred people to repeatedly. It offers seven qualifying criteria to help nonprofit organizations determine if they are ready to seek grant funding (Is Your Organization Ready to Apply For a Grant?)

After a conversation with Laura Mikuska last week, another author on this blog, I’ve added another criterion. During the conversation, Laura made me laugh when she referred to a meeting with a would-be-client, wondering if they were still delusional. Here is the addition:

8. You understand that raising significant amounts of money, even for the best organization in the world, will require significant amounts of effort, time and creativity. That is, you have realistic expectations about the amount, kind and timing of grants and other funding you will initially receive.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Appointment Making

A development director seeks to make an appointment.

What she did right:

  1. Professional, self-assured
  2. Determined in advance that a meeting was the next step
  3. Established reasons for the meeting; in this case to share work load and provide updates
  4. During the call, established the need to be brief. She had an appointment arriving shortly.
  5. Created urgency. She established a deadline—meet by the end of the month in order to bring the information to another group
  6. When the appointment was not made, it was because the contact lacked time, not that the contact lacked interest in her cause.

What needed work:

  1. The Development Director was unable to hear information presented during the call that made one of her key objectives impossible.
  2. Refusal to flex. When she was presented with the idea of moving a meeting to a later timeframe, she refused.

Two Leanings:
  • Excellent plans need to give way to contingencies that result from being in the moment
  • Sometimes you can meet your objectives--but the route is different than your ideal

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are most nonprofits paralyzed in fear?

Marketing expert Seth Godin has a wonderful post today, specifically discussing non profits, "The problem with non".

Here are some excerpts:

"Non as in non-profit.
"The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?
"Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It's because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn't right or good enough for you... there's an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.
"These organizations exist solely to make change. That's why you joined, isn't it?
"The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

"...If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.
"The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second...."

There's a lively discussion about the post in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy "Give and Take", mostly defending non-profit use of social media. I posted the following comment:

The focus on social media is mistaken; that is one example Seth uses to make his larger point: “If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.”
This is why the concepts of social entrepreneurship and social innovation are eclipsing the non profit sector, in terms of attractiveness to highly creative, risk-taking folk; the former appear to put equal emphasis on both “mission” and “driven”.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How They Want to be Loved by You

“I don’t like spiders and snakes and that ain’t what it takes to love me… like I want to be loved by you.”

Since we are on the topic of snakes… perhaps you remember these Jim Stafford’s lyrics about a young romance. They came to me the other day when I heard about a nonprofit that developed an elaborate and expensive (and very clever) marketing plan to contact foundations and other potential donors.

Marketing and pr are great to get the word out. And, woe be the nonprofit who hides its good work in a closet but if foundations and donors had lyrics they would be something like this . . .

“I like relationships and programs that change lives. I like knowing how I can and do help. I like knowing what needs doing next so we can continue to make an impact . . .

Not very lyrical perhaps, but its how they want to be loved by you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stories are a Vital Source of Knowledge

My essay on stories and knowledge sharing for nonprofits and foundations is posted today on PhilanTopic, the Philanthropic News Digest Opinion and Commentary blog. Here's a summary:
“The value of stories extends far beyond marketing and fundraising. ...There is much to be gained by creating a true culture of story sharing within our organizations, especially those that function as hubs of entrepreneurship and innovation, and especially at this uncertain moment. ... Nonprofit leaders and managers can both seek out and share crucial knowledge by regularly eliciting and sharing stories. ... Stories are more than a commodity. ...They are, instead, a vital means for organizations to nurture understanding, make sense of complexity, and embrace change.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nonprofit What If: The Snake in the Water

For reasons unknown, we have a lot of snakes near our house. Over the years, we managed to pull three out of the house. So it came as no surprise the other day that when I climbed into the swimming pool that a skinny but three-foot long snake was already enjoying the water. I exited the pool more rapidly than I entered it.

Before going to get my family members to help with “Remove the Snake Adventure Number 4.” I walked along the edge of the pool toward the deep end to study him and rolled my eyes. It wasn’t a snake at all, but a bent green tomato stake from our grow box, gently undulating in the slightly turbid water.

I returned to the pool and stepped over to remove the stake. But as I swam closer, and the water moved, my eyes told me it was indeed a snake. With trepidation, and feeling a bit like Moses, I reached out and forced myself to grab the creature by its head, only to have it transform as I lifted it out of the water--from snake to bent stick.

In the last blog, I introduced the “game” of Nonprofit What If. You will remember the simple rules. Take a concept from elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement. Consider the benefits. If you are inspired, find others who are using the model to learn more.

To execute this round of Nonprofit What If, take out a piece of paper and jot down fear areas. Everyone has some snakes in or around their organization. What form do yours take? Have you been avoiding entering the water because of a fear of what MIGHT be there? Is it possible that by taking a look at them, you will find that the water is not filled with venomous creatures --but harmless ones that only appear dangerous? Take a moment to look at your fears. For instance, why haven’t you pursued getting a role on the board nominating committee? Or, asking a donor why they no longer fund your organization? Or, the gruff board member what he or she would really like to accomplish with their leadership?

To continue Nonprofit What If, next to the fear listed, jot down the benefits of removing it from your life. If the benefits outweigh the fear, schedule a time to learn how to remove the snakes or stakes. Start with some research about how others have solved the challenge.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nonprofit What If: The Lunch Truck, Stimulating Possibilities

During the economic downturn, to help offset their below par dinner revenues, several outstanding high-end chefs purchased lunch carts and serve a limited menu of their specialty dishes. The Wall Street Journal reported one chief grossed $400,000 his first year of operations. While you might add a lunch truck to boost your revenues, another successful way to use this concept is to play Nonprofit What If.

The rules of Nonprofit What If are simple. Take a concept being used successfully elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement. Consider the benefits. And, if you are inspired, find others who are using the model to learn more. Ready to begin?

Round #1: What if you provided some of your services via a truck instead of a fixed facility? Depending on your needs, your “lunch truck” might range in size from a van to a semi.

• You bring services to customers
• Because they are in their neighborhoods, your staff regularly learns about the community issues that face your customers
• You can schedule services in five outlying areas one time per week, instead of creating permanent 40 hours a week sites with too little demand
• Immunity from rent increases and utility bills
• Your vehicle becomes a moving billboard to help spread your brand and increase community recognition
• You can tap into funding sources in new geographic areas.
• Its green. Even in a truck, if you drive 15 miles to a site, it will be less energy expensive than 30 or 300 customers driving to your existing site.
• You can respond to changing needs and begin, end and expand services as needed.

Intrigued? Want to explore the concept further? The Animal Rescue Coalition of Sarasota provides a mobile spay/neuter clinic. The Suncoast Workforce Board developed a portable computer classroom called the Mobile Career Opportunity Center. Google these organizations to check out their “bring the services to the customer” models.

If this is not the perfect concept for you, keep watching this blog. We’ll continue to explore other “hot concepts” and help you apply them to your organization.