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Yeah, I can’t think of one reason why you should

22 Nov

I could say I’m lazy, but the truth is–I could not finish my thought, I wanted to end the “should I start my own nonprofit” series with a clever “Take arms against a sea of troubles” post that was meant to give you reasons why and tips on how to do it right, but…

Just don’t do it.

I probably shouldn’t say that. There have to be good, legitimate reasons why you’d need to do that, but I haven’t been able to think of any since June. June, people. Since I last blogged, I’ve had a birthday, a friend has gotten a new car, I’ve started a new side business ( that has nothing to do with grant writing and the seasons have changed–on paper. It’s still mostly summer in Texas.

If you don’t agree with me, here is your proof. See, even The Chronicle of Philanthropy thinks it’s a bad idea.

But if you press me, I guess I can come up with a few exceptions. Like…if you have an existing program that outgrows the parent organization. Mission drift may be a good reason to split into a new organization. But let me stress, in this case the project in question has been in operation for some time, has a track record, has been successful.

One example is AIDS Services of Austin, which few people remember started out as Austin AIDS Project, just a little tiny program of Waterloo Counseling Center. This was 1984, when everyone thought we’d have this AIDS thing over and done with soon enough. I wish this had been the case, but seeing the need only growing and seeing that the services needed for people living with HIV/AIDS included, but was well beyond, counseling, some good people created ASA to be able to respond to those needs as they changed and not create mission drift for Waterloo. That transition happened in 1987, and I think ASA has proven its relevance over and over in the past 24 years.

Another example is Con Mi MADRE, which had a fantastic 17-year run as a project of The Junior League of Austin. Back then, it was the Hispanic-Mother Daughter Project, which went from serving 30 girls and their mothers in 1991 to over 700 mother-daughter teams (that’s 1,400 people) last year. Again, the neccesary response was so large that it was not able to be fulfilled by the League, and in fact, association with the League held it back as much as it helped. Many people and funders assume that the Junior League has unlimited resources and couldn’t see why they should support one of their projects. The truth is that the Junior League does not have infinite resources, has irons in many important fires and is full of a bunch of shrewd, money-minded women who can make a dime screech. Me being one of them. We watch our pennies carefully. So spinning off Con Mi MADRE in 2007 was the only way to grow the project, meet community need and create a pool of independent donors and volunteers dedicated to Con Mi MADRE, not just the League.

Another good reason is that perhaps you live in an isolated community and residents lack access to proven models of social services and attempt to access them in other communities, but fail due to barriers like cost or transportation. If you live in the Valley and the nearest domestic violence shelter is in San Antonio, you need to start a shelter. But you have to document that need. You have to follow a proven model, you have to set outcomes and plan how you will track data. You have to have an accounting system. Even if no one requires that of you yet. Because without voluntary accountability, you’re just runing a hobby.


Try a little tenderness

25 Mar

Why can't we be friends?

I’m not a mean person. But sometimes I can be a little…impatient. It’s been a trying week and I can feel myself ramping up some low grade, all-purpose annoyance. So I’m making a concerted effort to be nice. I came to this decision after I kind of let loose on the City of Austin 311 operator over some parking issues I thought were ludicrous. It’s not her fault I had to move my car, but I did ask to speak directly to the Transportation Department, so it was her choice not to connect me and take my call instead.

I think we all get like this, and whether you are trapped in an office with other folk or interacting with clients, there comes a time when you have to just put it aside and get along with people. When I’m feeling like this and need to dial back the sarcasm, I take a tip from the FLK (Funny Looking Kitty), my Receptionist and Director of Fun Times. The FLK is an eternal opimist. Remember in “Rocky” how Mickey told Rock he was going to eat lightening and crap thunder? Well, I think the FLK eats sunshine and craps rainbows. All this while living with the New Mean Kitty, who does indeed take after Rocky.

When I need to turn myself around, I start small and be a little extra nice to people who are easy to be nice to. This week I had a surplus of bruisy bananas and so I made a ton of muffins–and took a few extras to a client. That felt okay, so I gave some to another client. Feeling more passably human, I did a favor for a friend. And I just agreed to take on a rather large volunteer job over the weekend that is going to be stressful, but I know the outcome will make me feel good.

So the next time you wrangle with your inner 13-year old girl and want to roll your eyes and slam the door to your room, supress that urge and do one nice thing. It will make you feel better, and by the end of the day you might just be crapping some rainbows.

Involving boards in grant seeking–what works

23 Mar

So now that we know what boards should not be doing with your grant writing–just what is it they should be doing? A great guide is to remember the basic functions of a board–to set policy and direction, serve as ambassadors and hold fiscal responsibility and oversight.

I enjoyed this article from GrantStation about involving board members. Some of which I agree with, and some not so much. For example, enlisting board members in “hosting” site visits from funders–I’m not sure what that means. Site visits, ideally, should always be at your site–hence the name. Funders want to see where and how you operate, they want to see what clients see.

If for some reason, that’s not feasible, meeting at a board member’s swank office might seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t communicate anything at all about your agency. If by “host” GrantStation means being at the visit and serving as a representative to welcome the funder at your site, then I would agree. Though you can’t make assumptions about what your board member knows about the funder, grant or project. It’s worth the time to brief them on all of the above and even create a little fact sheet for them to use and refer to.

The article goes on to talk about using your board to make decisions about what kind of funders are and are not appropriate for your agency. All money is green, but you really have to think about the source and what your clients, other funders and the community would think of say, a battered women’s center taking money from Hooters. Getting your board in on that conversation makes sense. It’s called a gift acceptance policy, the operative word being policy. This is definitely something your development and finance committees and staff should work on together. And it should be done before a problem arises and not driven by an impending deadline to a controversial funder.

Again, fiscal oversight is a function of the board. New programs or program changes that could increase your overall agency budget or have an impact on cash flow are definitely your board’s beeswax. So new grants that are not paid in advance of activities being undertaken (and thus, expenses being incurred) fall under this category. Government grants may be tempting, but most are paid on a reimbursement basis–and not always on time. Share this information with your finance committee as well as how cash flow will be affected before you submit.

If you built it, why don’t they come?

11 Mar

Just %*&@ing click "Like" already!

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Truth be told, I actually hate it more than I love it. I wouldn’t even be on it if I didn’t “have to” for work. And by work, I mean professional networking as well as managing a page for Waterloo Counseling Center.

Reading this blog entry about Facebook got me thinking. Why do I hate Facebook so much? Well, I guess it’s the high expectations that people have of their agency’s Facebook Page–people think that the first thing someone will do after “liking” their Page is to donate money. Not only is that NOT the first think they do, it’s often next to impossible to get them to react in some other way that doesn’t cost them anything but  30 seconds of their time. Come on people, click “like” on a post, comment on something, share a link–help a sister out! But people really do not do what you want or intend them to do.

So what is the point of Facebook? Well, it really depends, but one thing I think we all need to consider is who is on the other end of that screen, viewing your Page. People who are mildly interested in your organization, but who have never donated or volunteered for you may read your posts when they pop up in their feed, but they won’t take any action. It’s the folks who are already engaged with you in some way or other who will extend their real-world actions to include virtual actions.

So while I feel that Facebook is a necessity, it can’t exist on its own. It has to be just one more way you reach people you’re already reaching in other ways. It has to be a single spoke in your total engagement strategy. Otherwise all you’ll get is harmless voyeurs who may check in with you once a month, but not “join the conversation” as they say in social media. You can convert the voyeurs and guide your more active and vocal supporters to your Page, but it takes time and patience–as well as some kind of strategy. When I figure that one out, I’ll let you know.

New Census goodies!

8 Mar

Oooooh! Just when I thought the Census had done all it could for me with my dear friend American Fact Finder, I discover a whole new layer. There is this lucious thing called the Statistical Abstract of the United States that brings a

So many flavors of data! Yum, yum!

whole new dimension to being a Data Wonk.

Sadly, just because I just discovered this gem, doesn’t mean it’s new. Nay, nay, the Statistical Abstract, the “authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political and economic organization of the United States” has been published since 1878.

So what’s in this thing? A lot. And like the sales rack at SteinMart, some of it is relevant, some not. But take a look at the blue navigation bar on the left of the screen. Click on “Health and Nutrition” and then “Health Care Utilization.”  Now Select the first PDF, “Percent Distribution of Number of Visits to Health Care Professionals, by Selected Characteristics.”

Okay, so if I am writing a grant about health care and need some data on who does or does not see a doctor regularly, TA DA! there I have it! Take a look at which population had the highest percentage of people who had no visits to the doctor. Even over time, I can see that Latinos of Mexican origin are the most medically underserved population in the US. Not good for those folks, clearly, but useful information for me.

Also, please note the last data set, “Use of Mammography For Women 40 Years Old and Over by Patient Characteristics.” I have written breast health grants in the past, and now I know where to go for general characteristics about who typically does or does not access a mammogram. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Keep in mind, most of this information will be national data, and you should always strive to use local data when possible. However, this data is still incredibly useful when generally describing a population, and if you do have comparable local data, you can use this national information as a benchmark to show how much more dire things are in your community. I did notice that some of the data sets have information by region or county, so it’s just a matter of browsing.

Happy hunting!

Kung Hei Fat Choi–Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit

4 Feb

 After a wild ride in 2010, I’m a little glad to be out of the Year of the Tiger and starting the Year of the Rabbit. We’re now in the second day of the New Year, so…exactly what does it mean to be a rabbit?

Well, it’s sure to be a quieter year than last. A year for comfort and longevity, which can mean great things for those of us who raise money. We’re compelled by the hare to listen, observe and act quickly when necessary. Which makes a lot of sense to me as we’re still in the throes of a recession–I don’t care how much we want to cast off that word, people are still unemployed or underemployed.

This year your donors need you to listen. You need to observe their actions as well as their inactions. This is the year for sensitivity and empathy.

Because the major element guiding this year is Metal, that puts a more dynamic spin on the situation. Which brings into play the ability to act quickly, make decisions and move forward when opportunity presents itself. In feng shui, anything related to glass, including mirrors is considered to be part of the element of Metal. So Metal will help us see more clearly this year. Metal can also be honed and sharpened, giving us the ability to just let things go–to cut off or sever things we don’t need anymore.

So. This year, how can you listen better, take advantage of more opportunities, see clearer and let go of that which does not work?

For more about the Year of the Rabbit, I invite you to read more from the Western School of Feng Shui, which is what I practice.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Download a Grant Proposal Template Just Fill-in the Blanks & Print!

9 Dec

Uh, yeah! Seriously. While doing some unrelated searching on Yahoo!, I ran across this little number with a link.

Oh, my. I don’t even know how to comment on this. I sincerely wish it were that easy.

I’ve been pulling a lot of late nights due to a big City of Austin RFP, not to mention the United Way. Silly me, I could just buy some software and fill in the blanks!