History and Future Expectations
I have been writing grants for over 300 organizations for more than 25 years. In the last decade, I have noticed a stark change in behavior patterns that are concerning.
Expectations for grant approval have always been high. This was expected in the field and nonprofits knew this before. They knew they were held accountable, and they knew they had to constantly improve their game to qualify to get funding, support, and adhere to regulations and reporting standards.
In the past decade, there seem to be many trends that are deeply concerning to me, and it will have long-term consequences on the nonprofit field for decades to come. What concerns me is that the behavior I’m witnessing now is going to make regulators increase expectations the way that foundations are now having to increase expectations to curb the irresponsibility constantly knocking at their doors. It makes their jobs harder. The IRS certainly isn’t going to lay over and say do what you please. I’ve witnessed nonprofits who think they are above the law. I’ve worked with some who think that they should pay themselves six figures while stealing work from qualified professionals to try to have their free interns replicate (you can’t replace experience and education with a warm body. Sure, they can learn, but I find it irresponsible to put your livelihood in the hands of an intern). I know how interns don’t mind not having a place to live or money to buy food either.
I’m seeing patterns of refusal to learn. Refusal to spend the time to get educated on what is expected. Refusal to listen to advice. Refusal to do what is required. Then they turn around and point fingers at everyone else, and even attempt to ruin the reputations of those who do know what they are doing. They do this because they didn’t get the coveted prize because they weren’t willing to listen to advice and implement what was required to qualify, let alone spend any time getting educated. Grant writers are not at-will punching bags for any nonprofit’s need to blame someone for their own irresponsible choices or greed.
Other patterns I am seeing are the free-for-all sky-high promises of free money from the money fairies waiting for anyone to get them if they just sign up with the predator making such promises to those who are desperate for money. The desperation factor is its own issue. If you are desperate, you clearly need to improve many things in your efforts overall. No one is going to throw piles of cash at you if you are desperate. In fact, if you write any grant with desperation in it, you may as well have submitted your own denial stamp.
I have had people call me wanting me to write grants for their want of a house, to buy a truck so they can become a truck driver, and the list goes on. Some will even try to tell me that they will turn their house into a nonprofit so they can get a house. Look, I have student loans to the tune of $250,000 and I can’t buy a house simply because I got educated. I’m certainly not expecting the laws of the land to change to grant me a free house so I can lie and say I’m a nonprofit in order to swindle cash from theoretically ignorant foundations — who will never give you money, so you are wasting everyone’s time here.
I’m also tired of cleaning up the messes of swindling grant writers who aren’t grant writers. I’ve had former clients who (I had to clean up their messes with foundations, they don’t listen to anything I advise them to do to support their nonprofit and be grant qualified) I see later marketing themselves as a grant writer. Grant writing isn’t a scam where you pull money from anyone who is desperate enough to believe there is free money awaiting you if you just believe enough. Those of us who did get deeply educated, who managed nonprofits ourselves, and have been in this field since before some of you were born are not keen to take on the abuse that is caused by these swindlers. It makes this job so unappealing; it isn’t even funny.
The only time grant writers are treated with any respect is when the awards come. Since foundations receive on average 18,000 applications and can only approve 700, that means many grant writers are taking abuse for things that they have no control over — that is if they were qualified to be writing grants in the first place. Qualified grant writers are not a guarantee of funding. NO ONE can guarantee funding. People who tell you they can are lying to you and are scam artists. Take heed.
What To Do
If you choose to pursue grants, you need to be accountable not only to those you serve, but also to the foundation/corporation/government entity that gave you those funds. They are often very stringent and demanding. If you can’t get your organization to even step up its game to be appealing to a foundation (level your ability to demonstrate significant responsibility, accountability, and impact on your community — let’s also include community support, numerous successful fundraisers, and a large donor base), then you will not be able to handle the reporting required, and those foundations know it. That is often why you are denied. You can also be denied because it was the very first time that foundation ever saw your organization’s name. You are not familiar enough to them. So, they start a file and start watching you. Keep submitting and keep improving your game. Denial once does not mean denial all the time.
I try to step in and offer the sound advice that is missing when needed. If you think grants are your salvation, you will not receive grants. Grants are only for supplementation of already funded programs, for expansion of programs, or to enhance efforts of an organization. Not one foundation is going to fund your entire organization. Period. Never. They don’t like being the first source of funds either. They don’t like being the start of a fundraising effort (say for a capital project), they like giving you the last half after you’ve raised the first half. Some require matching for a reason. They don’t want to give you money if the program/project can’t be finished if they aren’t giving you the entire sum. They don’t like wasting the money that could have been guaranteed to be successfully and responsibly spent and make the largest impact. They are interested in the size of impact far more than your desperation. Your desperation will make them run away from you.
On that note, Nonprofit Basics is a book founded on over 25 years of experience in the nonprofit, education, research, and arts worlds. The purpose in writing this book is to better prepare nonprofits to improve their structure and functionality so that they can be more grant ready and attractive to potential funders. Without funders, many would not be able to do the work that they do.
In the many years of doing this work, I have witnessed a multitude of misunderstandings, lack of awareness, and misguided decisions that ultimately harm the very organization that is trying to seek funding. It is with this in mind that I present this work as a means to help any nonprofit (new or not) to make more constructive strategic decisions that will make a foundation or large donor feel comfortable with contributing to your cause.
This book will not go over the way in which you should manage your day-to-day operations. What it will cover are the basics for starting a nonprofit, the critical factors that involve governance, how to approach fundraising, and lastly the grant funding process. This book consists of a Start-Up Guide, and four parts: Governance, Fundraising, Planning a Fundraising Event, and Grants. This will help you to find the sections that you need to focus on so that you can strengthen and improve your efforts. Ultimately resulting in increased funding for your organization.