I Dare You to Write THAT Grant

There’s an old expression…be careful what you wish for….

During my days as Executive Director at Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley, I often hoped that we might be eligible for a “Capacity Building” grant from Habitat International. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, capacity building refers to an investment in the effectiveness and future sustainability of a nonprofit. The process of applying for this grant always felt scary to me and I constantly worried about whether the timing was right. Moreover, what would we do if we actually received funding to do things other than build houses? Change is scary.

It is easy for me to identify the number one concern of the nonprofits with which I work…”we don’t have enough staff and we just can’t effectively fulfill our mission until we have more people on the team.” Another common complaint that I hear is that there is just no money for staff development or succession planning, leaving many of my clients feeling very exposed to the “hit by the bus” scenario. What would happen if a key member of the team passed away, or quit, or if there was some other type of emergency situation? As nonprofit leaders, we face these challenges on a daily basis, yet find it almost impossible to find funding for these most vital concerns.

When I relaunched Think Good last year, I did so specifically to help nonprofit organizations build their LEADERSHIP capacity. My premise has always been that funders should be as concerned or even more concerned about the effectiveness of a CEO and the senior leadership team of an agency as they are about 990’s. Leadership is about creating organizations that stand the test of time.

We are responsible for educating stakeholders about the importance of capacity building dollars. There are great tools available to discriminating potential donors around evaluating our financial stability., Major donors utilize such tools as GuideStar and Charity Navigator to ensure that their gifts go to fiscally sound entities. But, we need to translate, to donors, what we require in the nature of capacity building dollars and why.

Some funders already get it. This year, I have been a part of an exciting initiative with United Way of Berks County. This funder realizes the importance of targeted leadership development for organizations struggling to meet United Way outcomes. I serve in a coaching capacity for certain nonprofit leaders in Berks County who need to build their leadership muscles. Using the LPI360 assessment, I have partnered with the United Way and other agencies in identifying leadership challenges and creating action plans around building leadership capacity. This type of forward thinking funding is exactly what I hope will reach my colleagues in my local nonprofit community.

Recently, the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation launched an exciting new pilot program around nonprofit effectiveness. The goal is to “provide targeted support to help strengthen nonprofit effectiveness, enabling them to do their work better and enhance their impact.” The Foundation recognizes that many nonprofits face organizational challenges, from major staff transitions to capacity gaps. Funding will be available to organizations to meet these challenges in new ways.

When I attended the information session about this initiative, I was reminded of what it felt like to sit in the chair of an Executive Director, overwhelmed with the day to day concerns that come with running a nonprofit. How can a nonprofit leadership team begin to consider where they need support and assistance in the journey to become more effective? Further, what do we need to do to fully educate more funders of this type of need?

Starting with an organizational assessment is a critical first step. Once an organization can honestly evaluate its performance in the areas of organizational health and resilience, they can develop a strategy for sustainability and growth. Think about it like starting a new fitness plan. You probably find yourself making yearly resolutions about tweaks in your behavior, but it is only after an honest assessment (ugghhh…scales, body fat, etc.….) that you can come up with a targeted strategy for getting healthy. It’s very stressful to even think about this process.

How can we objectively measure our nonprofit’s effectiveness? Mission Capital has mapped out a framework that makes sense as we look at evaluating our work. It includes the following components:

1)     Clarity of Purpose

2)     Sustainable Business Model

3)     The Right Leadership

4)     Smart Operations

5)     Implementation and Improvement

6)     Strategic Collaboration

Once the self assessment step is completed, you’re ready to entice donors. It may be stressful to think about writing this kind of capacity building grant. It is so far out of the comfort zone of what we are used to doing with our funding requests. However; these types of funding opportunities are rare at the present time. They are the kind of opportunities that we wish were more plentiful, so I challenge you as leaders not to walk away from seeking such a grant just because the application process feels like a daunting task. As a CE0, this is a chance to truly take your organization from good to great.

Think Good Leadership can help you and your organization with just this kind of task. We conduct organizational assessments for nonprofits focusing on various components like organizational effectiveness. For more information, contact us at thinkgoodleadership@gmail.com.