Help us meet our goal of raising $50,000

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Updates on our activity and purpose behind this blog

I started this blog with the idea that I would record absolutely everything our nonprofit has done from day one to get going. I haven't completely succeeded in this effort primarily because of a lack of time. However, there is a pretty good record of what we've been up to. I'll try to fill in some of the blanks over the next month. For now I'll start with a complete update of what we've been up to this autumn.

Our board--which still consists of Elizabeth O'Neill, Justin Voorhees, Heidi Wirtz, and myself--decided that we needed to pay someone to do some of the work that we needed to get done, but haven't been able to get done for lack of time. At a meeting we had about six weeks ago we decided to pay me to write a grant--for a very low cost of $15 per hour (the low average is $40 per hour, but can upwards of a few hundred)--and to pay Heidi and myself to put together a donor database and send off year-end giving letters--for the same $15 per hour. We established that amount of money because we currently have (or will soon have) about $10,000 in the bank from our fundraising efforts and from the Inspiring Soles grant (which we don't actually have in hand yet...) We're working a total of 110 hours on these projects, which equals about $1650. We will have to pay an additional $350 or so to get quickbooks to manage our accounting and also to pay for supplies for the year-end giving letter. After speaking with numerous people and doing research, we reasoned that spending 20% on overhead at this point would be well worth it, especially if our giving letter campaign is successful. We will make every effort to never exceed paying 20% for overhead costs.

In regards to the grant: We understand that because we are such a new organization, it will be difficult to get substantial grants. However, we believe it is important to have a template of information that we can modify for any grant opportunities that come our way in the future as we make more contacts. We will also be applying for grants, despite the odds. We think that because we have some strong NGO partners in other countries that have been operating for years that we might have a reasonable chance at receiving some grants regardless of our newness. We are applying for a Ford Foundation grant in December, and last month we applied for a grant/fundraising relationship with BoldeReach, an organization out of Boulder, Colo.

Writing the grant has provided valuable information in regards to how Heidi and I need to plan the future of GEI. Basically, in researching and writing the grant I discovered that we have many gaps to fill before we can be fully operational and successful. We have put plans in place to have all these gaps filled by January 2009.

I'll break down the process of writing the grant and what I discovered in the following outline and narrative:

First, I read extensively on how to shape grants, who to approach, and the things GEI needs to have in place before any foundation will consider giving us money; I read "Grant Writing for Dummies," which proved to be incredibly valuable and was open next to me on the table the entire time I was writing the grant; and I spent 20 to 30 hours reading materials I found on GrantCraft, a comprehensive Web site of grant writing information created by the Ford Foundation. I also spoke with various people from the nonprofit Engineers Without Borders, including their founder, the director and assistant director of fundraising, and the grant writer (I will go ahead an include those notes at the end of this blog so that anyone interested in details on what I am about to expound on can read more). Because I had the opportunity to pick their brains, I also got a lot of great tips and advice for other important things we need to think about.

The most important things I discovered were that nonprofits have a difficult time getting grants unless:

1. They have actually been around for at least five years (and have shown they can start, implement, and follow through with projects, including managing the money;
2. They have their accounting practices accredited by an outside source;
3. They have some paid employees (which reassures grantors that there money won't disappear when volunteers inevitably burn out or end up with not enough time to see projects through)
4. They have complete transparency with finances;
5. They have some concrete, long-term fundraising plans in place;
6. And they are accredited by the various organizations that monitor nonprofit activities.

I also discovered:

1. Year-end giving letters that target people we know, previous donors, associates, etc, are what bring in the most money. All the EWB people stressed the need to establish personal ties with people that can be developed over the long term. Those relationships will sustain the organization, especially considering it is very difficult to get operational grants. Grantors typically designate grants to go to specific projects. However, in order to implement our projects, Heidi and I have finally realized that we have to be paid something. If we want to expand the programs we currently have and expand our operations to different countries, we have to be able to sustain ourselves as well as our programs. Thus, we decided to go ahead and implement a comprehensive year-end giving letter campaign that includes the mailing out of 500 letters with follow up emails, which we are mailing out Saturday, December 6th (after our letter-stuffing party, which is being sponsored by Oskar Blues--Thanks Dale and Chad!). We are currently using Filemaker Pro to organize the list of 400 or so donors that Heidi and I have so far put together, and The Mountain Fund is generously allowing us to use their license with Constant Contact to send out follow-up email newsletters later in December. We hope to bring in sufficient funds to pay for Heidi and I to get specific projects done, to manage our projects, and, of course, to pay for our projects.
2. Developing a donor database from the get-go is key. Basically we need to figure out a way to manage our donors including: keeping track of who has given us what in terms of money or in-kind donations; thanking people who have donated with personal calls and/or letters; knowing where the donors came from; finding out who is most likely to donate again; and the list goes on. Heidi and I have been developing this. We are still not sure which management system we are going to go with, but for now I'm using Filemaker Pro because it makes sense, and I have a free one-month trial period to use it.
3. We need a comprehensive fundraising plan that we will use in conjunction with a comprehensive marketing plan. We have a new marketing person on board--Jancy Quinn--who will be helping us develop this. We plan to have both outlined by the beginning of January. We have already made a good start. We feel that if we figure these two plans out, we can combine them with our already existing strategic plan to come up with a viable business plan.

OK, that's all for now. I've got a load of work to do, including putting together the rest of the donor database and writing the second draft of the year-end giving letter (which I will post when I am finished with it).

Notes with Founder of Engineers Without Borders:
Summary of meeting notes with Bruce Grant of Engineers Without Borders:

1. We need to create an auditable database from day one. All the “big charity watchdogs” (online sites) that evaluate nonprofits will only start evaluating us from the time we start auditing ourselves. We have to pay an accountant to do this. We have to be licensed or approved by these watchdog groups in order to get foundations to pay any attention to us at all. We also have to be recommended by these groups if we’re going to have any chance of getting a grant.
a. Also, foundations will find us if we are on these charity watchdog sites.
b. Charity groups:,, etc
2. We need to plan out a five-year plan now. Question: what do we want to look like in five years.
3. There is nothing wrong with paying ourselves to get going, but we have to be careful to not spend more than 20% of our income on overhead. We never want overhead to go over 20% of our income.
4. We need to do extensive networking as soon as possible.
a. We need to hit every female business owner on the Front Range. I have a list of the top 100 female-owned firms on the FR.
b. We need to get out and start talking with people in person, including legislators & politicians, businesswomen and men, and anyone else who might be able to help us.
c. We need to find an Angel donor.
d. Boulder Reach. We need to speak to these women.
e. We need to find out how to access charity lists and rolls.
f. Schedule a meeting with Heidi, the main fundraiser for EWB.
g. We need to get on Linked in and link to as many people as possible.
h. We need to find Top Tier people who can influence our success and tie us into other people.
i. We need to get in contact with as many other nonprofits as possible and learn from them.
j. Avoid faith-based orgs and government grants. The moment we take US government money, our Muslim students are at risk.
5. We need a marketing plan:
a. We need to write a quarterly email newsletter that we send out via constant contact
b. We need to figure out how to better market our nonprofit with Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.
c. Annual Giving Challenge. Parade Magazine. 700 nonprofits registered last year. Through viral marketing they wanted to find out how many people could give how many people 10 dollars.

10. We need to start a “Year-End Giving” letter writing campaign now, so that we get letters out to 500 people before December. 80% of individual donors give money around holidays.
a. These letters should be from each of our board members and should be personalized.
b. These letters should include a powerful story about one of the girls we have helped.
c. These letters should also include the founders’ story
11. We should not focus on grants until we make more contacts because we will not likely get grants unless we know people in high places.
12. We must emphasize transparency on our Web site as much as possible. Everyone wants to know that we’re honest. We need to report every dime on our site or blog.
13. We need to find more board members, and we need to make sure that every board member brings at least two of these three things to the board: Time, Talent and Treasure (or Work, Wealth and Wisdom).
14. We need to have a “prudent reserve.” Which means we should always make sure to have a certain amount of money in the bank. In this case, since we have just $10K, we should make sure to keep $2K always in the bank. We can increase this number once we raise more money. Money has to come in all the time if it’s going out.
15. We need to build a donor list asap.
16. We should never write a grant unless we have a high expectation of winning that money. You have to know people in high places to even be considered.
17. We need to refine our Bylaws

Notes from meeting with Assistant Director and Director of Fundraising at EWB:
1. They said the most important thing that we need to do right now is: 1) compile a database of donors and; 2) get out a year-end giving letter.
a. There is free software online (Opensource and Sales Force are two)
b. Get lists of contacts from our board members
c. Contact stores, sponsors, etc, to see if we can get lists of potential donors from them.
d. Network more on Facebook and Web sites like that.
e. We need to recognize people who donate to us, especially people who donate a lot of money. Apparently 80% of nonprofits’ funds come from donors and a huge percentage (they said somewhere around 3/4s won’t donate unless they get some sort of recognition of that donation).
f. All board members should be involved in the year-end giving letter to some degree.
2. They reiterated that we should not focus on grant writing, especially now because we are much more likely to get money from people who have donated already and from our personal contacts.
3. They said writing a grant as a template is a good idea, but they warned that:
a. Really great grant writers have a 5-10% return
b. We’re not likely to get any big grants until we have been established for at least 5 years.
c. We have a chance to get smaller grants
4. They suggested networking as much as possible with:
a. Schools. Start a sister school program, have letter and photo exchanges, and encourage the kids at local schools to raise money for our scholarships and other programs. Bring some stuff back from Liberia or Nepal and give it to the kids at the sister schools to sell/auction
b. Find wealthy people and get them to serve on our board; find angel donor
5. They said we need to get people on the board who either have money or who can focus on making money, and that should be the main job of board members.
6. Fundraising events. They said the key element of fundraising events should be the collection of information. That until we get more efficient and effective at fundraising events, we aren’t going to make much money, but we do have the opportunity to really build up our donor database.
7. They said it’s not a bad idea to get someone who wants to work for free and tell them to earn their own salary, but they also said that most of the time the people who “stick” are people who are passionate about the cause already (i.e. me and Heidi).

I haven't summarized the meeting notes with the grant writer yet, and so I shall leave those out.

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