Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less then the one you are capable of living.” I have embraced this sentiment my entire life—not only in my personal living and adventures but also in my day-to-day work.
The search for new income for almost any organization, as you all know, is constant. It’s rather unending. And often we simply get paralyzed by indecision trying to figure out how to move forward and how to bring in the money we need to do the work that needs to be done. And that’s when thinking in terms of the larger picture—not playing small, as Mandela said, is so important.
Step back for a moment and think about your own organization. Growth means different things to different organizations, and managing that growth is essential—regardless of the shape, the size, or the flavor of your nonprofit. Too little growth can cause an organization to stagnate; too much can overwhelm you and cause a negative backlash. And then you throw into that mix the need to raise funds to simply maintain your organization, and indeed to keep growing it, and it all becomes rather overwhelming.
At the End of the Tunnel, There Is Light
About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in a very Zen-like garden designed and built for Pablo Neruda in Santiago, Chile. Neruda started to build this home in the early 1950s—and the gardens, which are tucked into the landscape, thrive today long after his death in 1973. It was while sitting in this garden that I had the idea for a webinar that I have since developed and offered that I simply called The Zen of Grantseeking. This webinar focuses on the importance of developing a sustainable grants program for any organization.
The concept for the webinar was to help those of you struggling to determine how grantseeking fits into your organization's fundraising plan. Of course, the webinar goes into some detail, but” I thought I would share with you some of the “takeaways” that may (or may not!) help you as you launch or bolster your own grantseeking efforts.
First, keep in mind that grantseeking is actually a defined program. Just as Membership Development is a program that clearly articulates how you will recruit new members and how you will retain your existing memberships. There is an action plan tied to this program and that plan is reflected in your operating budget. The same holds true for any grantseeking program.
Your grantseeking efforts have to mirror a strategic approach to securing grant support. You must give considered thought to how this program integrates with your other fundraising efforts, and then of course which organizational programs or projects require grant support. Once you’ve determined what you need the money for, then you can begin the process of identifying potential funders and weaving together your approach.
For this approach to be strategic, you have to set a few measurable objectives, determine the actions to achieve those objectives, and of course mobilize the resources to make all of it happen. The key here is finding the dots and then connecting those dots. Think of your strategy as simply a detailed plan of action that takes advantage of existing relationships, or develops new relationships that can be used to leverage support.
Let’s say you’re developing a low-income housing project and the county has donated the land. Your strategy might be to use the value of that land to leverage the funds needed to do the design. Knowing that the county works with a number of contractors, you might approach those specific businesses and ask for cash support to hire an architect. Once you have a commitment from one contractor, it becomes fairly easy to solicit (and hopefully secure) cash commitments from the other contractors.
Strategies evolve and change over time, hence the need to take small steps. With the right strategic approach, each step you take gains more clarity, allowing you to tweak your approach to each funder by building on who has agreed to support your project thus far.
A New Revenue Vision
Now may be the time to create or revise a revenue vision for your organization, adopting or growing your grantseeking efforts.
In today’s ever-changing environment, between the uncertainty of government funding and the major influx of private support that we’re seeing in almost any newsletter your read these days, you want to focus your board and staff on making the right financial decisions for your organization. It is important to get everyone on the same page about how you can increase revenue by adopting or expanding a grants program.
The keytake away here is that you need to stop being comfortable with your existing development work. Embrace the concept of adopting a truly strategic approach to your grantseeking efforts for the rest of 2017 and into 2018.
Neruda, Chile's most famous poet, said: “We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. ... we are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we are granted in our very short lives. In the end we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.”
So you are free to choose. And I encourage you to choose to develop a powerful grantseeking program for your organization, opening the door to growing your efforts to solve that social or environmental problem that is always knocking on your door.
Cynthia Adams is founder and CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.