Tag Archives: nonprofit management

Three things to consider before applying for a big grant

Three things to considerBig money attracts big dreams. Imagine what your organization could do with a large sum of money. Large could be $25,000 or it could be $25 million. It all depends on your operating budget. Whether you say “yes” to big money, or turn down an opportunity can impact your organization – and community – for years to come. Learn three questions to ask before making a decision.

When you are approached to apply for a large grant it can feel as if your nonprofit has won the lottery. Maybe you’re a grassroots program, a national advocacy organization, or a college or university. In most cases the response is the same: you are excited and begin to evaluate how your programs fit into the grant guidelines. If the proposed grant could cover multiple years your team may feel the heavens have opened. Maybe, and maybe not.

The first pivotal question to ask when considering a major grant is whether or not it is in line with your mission, goals and strategic plan. You can contort your nonprofit and change your direction to secure the funding. But what will that do to your organization? If the grant funding is for services outside of your focus why are you changing your priorities? There are legitimate reasons to change, but make sure yours is a conscious decision. Our general recommendation: don’t chase money that takes you off course.

If you accept funds that are not line with the core work of your nonprofit you can put your organization at risk. You may find that the time and money required for grant management, reporting, and evaluation are not covered in grant funding. Paying for these can become an additional – unfunded – expense.

Second, have you planned for the end of the grant – even as you prepare to apply for funds? For example, have you considered how you will replace the funds once a grant ends? Will the new grant-funded program/ service/advocacy become part of your long-range planning or business plan? If not, what will happen to those you serve?

Third, do you have the information you need to carefully construct a budget for the proposed work? Will grant funds cover current programs, or will you need to expand programming or launch a new program? Will you need to hire additional people? If yes, where will you find the talent you need? How will you retain current and new hires during the life of the grant? What will happen if staff leave your organization? How will you replace them?

Take time to make wise decisions for your organization’s sustainability.

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Copyright 2015– Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw position nonprofits, colleges and universities for fundraising success. For help with your fundraising visit www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.


The important role of an RFP

RFPNonprofit organizations often secure the services of fundraising related consultants and contractors to support operations and growth. Services may be needed to supplement the expertise of current staff, to add specific skill set for a limited amount of time, or because it is more cost effective to contract for services than to hire full-time employees.

Services that could be put out to bid include direct mail, special event design and management, proposal writing, feasibility studies, campaign counsel, online giving, marketing and advertising, prospect research, executive and employee search services, technology, training services and staff development, premiums and promotional materials, and phonathons.

In all cases a written request for proposals (RFP) helps facilitate a successful engagement.

While it takes time to craft an RFP there are many benefits to be achieved. First, the process will force you and your team to think through what you want to achieve from engaging an outside firm. It serves as a basis for the scope of work that will guide the firm’s work and your evaluation of it. You will have a better idea of the amount of time and resources required by your organization to support the work of the contractor or consultant. You will have created a “fair playing field” for those who are competing for your business, and a basis from which your team can evaluate proposals.

Getting started. Convene a team to create the RFP and establish a method of evaluation. Most RFPs include a brief organizational overview and history; a project description, budget, and timeframe; requirements related to experience, capacity, and technology; and submission deadlines and dates by which decisions will be made. Evaluation includes determining, for example, the importance of methodology, experience, and price. Are they equally weighted, or are methodology and experience more important than price? How will “points” be assigned? On a scale of 100, would each receive 33.3 points, or would 40 points be assigned to methodology, 50 to experience and 10 to price? Scoring RFPs reduces subjectivity, provides management with a rationale for contracting, and provides vendors with the opportunity to learn how their proposal rated and why.

Regardless the size of your organization, the RFP process provides an opportunity to evaluate proposals on an “apples-to-apples” basis. If you are not required to issue an RFP and have already decided which vendor you want to work with, think long and hard before issuing one. Staff, board members, volunteers and vendors all invest time and resources in the RFP process: a common complaint is that the process is a “sham,” as a decision had been made in advance. Finally, the RFP process can diminish conflicts of interest and contribute to transparency and accountability. It is another way to strengthen the health of your nonprofit.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Are You Ready to Retire?

Retirement, plan for retirement, nonprofit management, retirement, recruitment, nonprofit boards With an estimated ten percent of the workforce employed in the nonprofit sector, retirement benefits can be a factor that impacts individual employees as well as the nonprofits they work for. For example, do older employees delay retirement because they don’t have enough money to fund their retirement? Does this impact the ability of a nonprofit to promote talent from within, or to attract new talent from outside the organization? Do younger and mid-career employees evaluate employment opportunities based on retirement benefits?

Earlier this year the TIAA-CREF Institute and Independent Sector issued a report on a joint study they conducted on retirement and the nonprofit sector, a topic of interest to both. The TIAA-CREF Institute helps advance the ways individuals and institutions plan for financial security and organizational effectiveness, and Independent Sector is a nonprofit, nonpartisan network of approximately 600 nonprofits, foundations and corporate philanthropy programs.

Key findings of the study included the following:  45% of nonprofit employees are not confident about their ability to retire from their employment; almost one-half of nonprofit employees are not satisfied with their ability to prepare financially for retirement; and more than 40% do not feel that they are accumulating sufficient financial resources to ensure their long-term financial security. Over three-quarters reported access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or plans; almost one-third have access to a defined benefit pension plan, and more than two-thirds to a defined contribution plan, such as a 403(b) plan. While 76% are currently saving for retirement, less than 20% of these savers are extremely or very confident that they are saving the right amount.

What is hidden within these numbers is the difference – if there is one – between those who work for large nonprofits such as hospitals, colleges and universities, and those who work for small to mid-sized nonprofits. Could it be that these employees may find that they won’t have enough to fund their retirement, and may in time have to depend on nonprofits for assistance?

Related to this, here are a few more findings: one third of sector employees have received retirement planning advice within the past three years; two-thirds have not tried to determine how much money they will need to accumulate so that they can live comfortably in retirement; and among savers who are confident that they are saving the right amount, one-third have not attempted such a calculation.

These issues are by no means the sole concern of nonprofits. But, given that many nonprofits are mission-driven, it is important to consider how this sector can address issues that face their employees. This is something for board members to consider and discuss. For example, when reviewing and approving budgets, is there a discussion about employee benefits including retirement?

What actions can your nonprofit take to help employees prepare for retirement?

Picture credit: The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.


Are you headed for a fundraising crisis?

Government Shutdown Saad & ShawThe first 16 days of October were a demonstration of “governing by crisis.” The federal government was shut down, hundreds of thousands of government employees were furloughed; small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals were impacted in ways big and small; and the business of governing was brought to a standstill because Congress could not pass a budget.

Here is our question to nonprofit leaders: are you addressing the critical fundraising and fund development issues that support long-term nonprofit financial, or are you headed for a fundraising crisis?

Refusing to address fundraising fundamentals is a recipe for disaster. Here are a few examples of what we mean.

Is your nonprofit operating from a fundraising plan? Do you have a development committee of the board that sets fundraising policy, recruits volunteers, recommends fundraising budgets, and ensures meaningful giving and involvement by all board members? Do you have market-based feedback that informs management decisions regarding revenue (fundraising)? Have you created fundraising projections that you measure progress against on a monthly basis? What are your long-term projections for operations and what are you doing today to create a diverse revenue base – and volunteer base! – that will support your institution now and in the future?

If your institution is supported with government grants, can you accurately assess the likelihood of grant renewal? Do you have your finger on the public policy pulse, your competition, and the extent to which your program exemplifies best practices? Is your plan to eliminate services if your grant is not renewed? Will you cross that bridge when you come to it, or do you have a “Plan B?”

If your organization receives multi-year foundation grants are you prepared for a phase-out of funding? Have you identified replacement funding? Are you seeking to raise capital funds for construction or renovation of facilities without a fundraising budget? Do you expect current staff and volunteers to raise new funds without additional resources? Likewise, are you seeking to expand programs, or build a reserve or endowment without knowing the activities and costs associated with such fundraising? How are you budgeting (and staffing) for increased revenue?

If your college or university is impacted by changes in the Parent Plus loan program and the resulting decrease in enrollment, can you focus on these issues while sustaining and growing your annual and major gifts fundraising? Do you have the leadership and structures in place to pursue multiple critical issues at one time, or is fundraising on the backburner?

Here’s what we know: fundraising always needs to be front and center. You need to know where your money will come from. Failure to plan is planning to fail. Don’t put your nonprofit at financial risk. Crisis fundraising is not a plan: there is a long list of nonprofits who found this out the hard way.

Photo credit: Marina Noordegraaf http://goo.gl/upR3dp.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Shine a light on your fundraising

Team building – a secret to fundraisings success

Part two of a two-part series

TeamworkIt’s all about leadership and team building. You’ve heard the refrain, but what does it mean? In terms of nonprofit fundraising there can be no greater mandate than leadership and teamwork. Scarce funding for staff positions, stiff competition for the philanthropic dollar, and an abundance of wishful thinking leaves nonprofits at risk of not meeting their fundraising goals. Building and supporting a volunteer-led fundraising team is one way out of the vicious cycle imperiling too many organizations.

Your fundraising team should be comprised of leaders who are committed to ensuring your nonprofit has the money and resources it needs to deliver on its mission. It should include your volunteers, staff, executive leadership and board members. All members should work from a fundraising plan. You can have a simple plan or a complex plan. The most important thing is to work from a plan with agreed upon financial goals, timeframes, and defined roles and responsibilities. For a team to function, everyone has to know their role, and be qualified to fill it. Invite people to join your leadership team based on their understanding of what you are trying to achieve and how well they can help implement your plan.

Your team will set the tone, policy, and direction of your fundraising and monitor its progress. The committee should be led by a fundraising chair or co-chairs. These volunteers should be supported by the institution’s chief development officer and executive director. If you don’t have a fundraising chair, you need one. Take the time to review your fundraising plan, identify who could best help you meet your goals, and then find the right person to talk with your potential chair, inviting him to provide leadership. Be sure to show him your fundraising plan: people are more likely to say yes when they see you have a plan in place to meet your goal.

Other potential members for this committee include board members, current major donors, community and business leaders, key stakeholders, your finance director, executive director, development director and program staff.

Your fundraising chairs should convene and lead your monthly meetings. Team members should report on specific actions they have taken, solicitations, proposal submissions, and new potential donors and funders who have been identified. Staff should provide reports showing progress against goal, number of gifts received, average size of gift, largest gift, and specific information that allows the team to make proactive fundraising management decisions.

Team meetings shine a light on what people are doing and not doing. It holds board members, staff and volunteers accountable to each other. It takes away excuses and when things are going well it creates an excitement and momentum that is contagious.

Raising money is too important to go alone. Build and nurture your team.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Who will solve your fundraising problems?

Team building – a secret to fundraisings success

Part one of a two-part series

A group of Individual Placement members enjoy ...

Will hiring a fundraising professional solve your fundraising challenges? Is it your secret wish that someone will take care of fundraising so you can focus on the “more important” work of your nonprofit? Perhaps you seek a million dollar bequest from an unknown admirer.

Here’s the real secret to sustained fundraising success: create and support a fundraising team that meets regularly and “owns” your fundraising. That’s it. You can’t do it on your own. No one person can solve all your challenges. You have to build and grow a team that includes your volunteers, staff, executive leadership and board members. Your team should be comprised of leaders who are committed to ensuring your nonprofit has the money and resources it needs to deliver on its mission.

Here are the benefits. A fundraising leadership team helps create accountability and transparency. Members are accountable to each other. Each member knows the commitments, roles, and responsibilities of all other members. There are no secrets. If there is a lull in gifts received, the full team knows about it. When new gifts are received, members know about it. When fundraising management reports are shared at each meeting, team members can monitor the progress of fundraising activities, ask pertinent questions, and work with each other to create new strategies and work-arounds.

Your team should meet on a regular basis to report progress and challenges. Members should work collaboratively to help your organization reach its fundraising goal. They should be empowered to make decisions, and the decisions made by this team should be respected and implemented by fundraising volunteers and employees.

With a strong fundraising leadership team, the actions of staff, board members, and volunteers are open to review by team members. Financial progress and expenses are reported regularly at these meetings. Members have the opportunity to share information and coordinate their activities.

When you have engaged qualified volunteers to assist with fundraising, you will be amazed at the solutions they come up with. The key to an effective fundraising leadership team is for it to be volunteer-led with support from staff. That means the fundraising chair leads the team meetings, not the executive director or chief development officer. It means that staff support the work of the fundraising chair by producing and distributing fundraising reports and taking and quickly distributing minutes that accurately capture action items and next steps. If you have selected a qualified fundraising chair and clearly defined his responsibilities, you will be amazed how he can assist you in meeting your goals. He can do this because he has made them his goals. He is no longer helping your organization; he is now orchestrating and attracting people and resources for something he believes in.

Next week: team membership and meetings

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Fundraising Starting Point: Commitment


Commitment is at the heart of all successful nonprofit fundraising. It needs to be developed and sustained. It starts with the organization’s leadership – the executive director or CEO, board members, as well as leadership level employees and volunteers. The purpose and vision for proposed fundraising needs to be carefully discussed by these parties, ideally through one-on-one conversations with time for challenging questions and clear answers.

After individual conversations have occurred, dedicate time during board meetings for group discussion. Invite grappling with the proposed fundraising initiative, the asking of questions, and the raising of doubts. Encourage new ideas along with expressions of enthusiasm or caution. Allocate enough time for a full discussion. As appropriate, schedule a retreat focused on fundraising. Many organizations host such retreats annually. Others will host a retreat when planning for a capital campaign or other fundraising initiative of special significance. Always leave enough time for all parties to fully understand and commit to a proposed fundraising goal. This is the most important fundraising prerequisite — without full commitment, there is greater potential for fundraising challenges.

We also suggest the executive director set aside time for similar discussions with senior staff. Employees often have insights and suggestions that can positively transform fundraising – ideas that may not be accessible to the organization if they are not invited into the fundraising conversation. A staff retreat may be a good investment of time and resources.

You will also want to gain the support of your organization’s informal leadership — those stakeholders who have supported your organization over the years with their time, money, and talent. Ideally you will talk with major donors, your most consistent donors, and volunteers, consultants, and staff as you develop a fundraising initiative. Remember, fundraising requires more than money. Talking with your extended leadership will help engage the best thinking, involvement, creativity, and networks of those closest to your organization. These individuals can provide ideas and resources that extend beyond those you thought of originally.

Another thing to remember is that prospective donors and funders always ask about the involvement of key stakeholders, particularly board members. In fact, many will shy away from initiatives that do not have demonstrated internal commitment and engagement. For example, many foundations explicitly ask about board giving. They want to know the percentage of board members who give, total dollars contributed, and funds raised through the efforts of board members. The feeling is, “If those closest to you don’t support the project, why should we?” For educational institutions, there is a focus on the rate of alumni giving, the retention of alumni donors, and total funds contributed by alumni.

Are you engaging the leadership within your nonprofit before approaching people outside the organization? How will you ask your fellow leaders for financial gifts and in-kind resources? Do you have a goal for board participation? Let us know.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow then @saadshaw.

No Subsitute for Commitment


Successful fundraising for a nonprofit requires the full commitment of board members, the executive director, staff, and volunteer leadership. Without this commitment, it is very difficult to meet fundraising goals. People may say they are committed and that is good. What is more important is the extent to which people embody that commitment.

Consider the following. Do all leaders understand how much money the organization wants to raise, and what the funds will be used for? Can each articulate the impact the organization makes, and how it is unique? What about the strategic plan – do leaders understand the plan and how proposed fundraising ties to it? Does each believe the fundraising goal is achievable? Do leaders understand where the projected revenue will come from, and what plans are in place if initial solicitations are not successful?

What about their actions? Do your leaders embody integrity? Are they accountable? Do they encourage transparency? Do they come prepared to meetings and remain in contact with other members of the organization’s leadership between meetings? In the area of fundraising, do they make their own financial gift and ask others to do so? Do they generate enthusiasm for fundraising? Do they help secure in-kind resources that can offset organizational or fundraising costs? Do they share their creativity, resources, and problem solving skills to help advance fundraising? Most importantly, do they follow through on agreements?

While it takes time to cultivate and secure full commitment, this step cannot be pushed aside. If a fundraising initiative is executive director’s vision she should take time to meet individually with board members and share her vision and commitment. She will need to let board members know what it will take to make the vision a reality and ask for their support. She should be prepared to answer questions and overcome objections.

Likewise, if a project is the vision of the board of directors, the board chair should take the time to meet personally with the executive director to share the board’s vision and explain how the project will advance the organization’s mission and strategic plan. The board should be prepared to answer the executive director’s questions, and to provide her with the resources, support, and leadership that the proposed fundraising initiative will require.

The questions and objections raised by board members or the executive director may not be different from those that will need to be overcome when talking with prospective donors and partners. These comments, questions, and/or objectives can be most helpful in developing a strong case for support.

Regardless of where it originates, all leaders need to be engaged in the process of defining a fundraising project and its financial goals. What are you doing to engage the leadership at your nonprofit? What actions will you take to inspire commitment and engagement that will help secure funds, involvement, partnerships, and in-kind resources? Let us know.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow then @saadshaw.