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June 2011 (4 posts)

Building Better Online Grant Applications
June 20, 2011

Tracy Kaufman, library assistant at the Foundation Center's New York library/learning center, blogs on Philanthropy Front and Center this week about the growing trend in online grant applications, the difficulties of transitioning from traditional proposals to online applications, and recommendations for grantmakers on how to make their online applications better.

Onlineapplications With every passing year, online grant proposals become a growing trend for funders looking to streamline their application process and cut down on paperwork. While online applications are likely to continue in their rising popularity, some nonprofits have found it difficult to transition out of the traditional proposal format.

To offer some advice for struggling development staff, last summer we held a special event at the Foundation Center on how to shift proposal development techniques toward an online format with minimal trouble. Our blog post based on last year's event provides a general rundown on how to avoid the pitfalls of electronic applications (including the accidental loss of data and the confusion over unclear instructions) and make your online proposal more effective.

The Ford Foundation and the Tinker Foundation are two of the many grantmakers transitioning toward electronic grant applications. On June 7, we were fortunate enough to bring representatives from each of these funders – John Colborn, the Ford Foundation's vice president of Operations; and Karen Nassi, the Tinker Foundation's Grants and Technology associate – to the Foundation Center to speak directly with grantseekers on how and why foundations choose to switch to an online application format, and how nonprofits can avoid difficulty in adapting to this switch.

The presentation, which also featured the Foundation Center's own vice president for Development, Nancy Albilal, was titled Meet the Grantmakers: Online Grant Applications and Reporting. Our funders were exceptionally helpful in explaining the ways in which online proposals help to streamline the application process, improve data collection about grantees, and reduce administrative paperwork for foundations. They were also tremendously receptive to the questions and concerns of grantseekers in the audience, who have faced a number of challenges in working with proposals in electronic format.

For those who are struggling to put together online proposals for funding, note that using online applications is a relatively new, evolving process for grantmakers, and many are interested in your feedback. Our presenters and audience members discussed many issues relevant to building more effective applications in the future. For organizations considering sharing their concerns about online applications with their own funders, here are some of the recommendations for grantmakers discussed during our program:

    Clearer terminology and instructions. Avoid using too much confusing jargon and make the language of the application equally appropriate for special project funding requests and for general operating support. Your instructions should be thorough and easy to understand, but it will also be helpful to post contact information for anyone with more detailed questions on the application procedure.

    Enhanced flexibility. Some nonprofits find it difficult to explain their organization's mission and needs within the tight constraints of an online application. Consider expanding any character/word limits in your application's text boxes to accommodate more information from the applicant, and think about offering an option for applicants to include extra attachments if they are unable to fit all of the necessary information into the boxes provided.

    Reduce the risk of data loss for applicants. If your web design team can do it, offering a "save and continue later" option will allow grantseekers to build their applications over time rather than all at once. This will lessen the chance of losing any information that they have entered so far. If this is not feasible, it may help if applicants have a clearer idea of what their risks are. If closing a browser tab or clicking the "back" button will cause any data to be lost, a simple pop-up warning that reads, "Clicking the 'back' button may cause your data to be lost. Are you sure you want to proceed?" may help eliminate these problems as well.

    Acknowledge that the application has been received. Many nonprofits have expressed concern that after submitting applications, some funders do not send confirmations of receipt. To include a confirmation will offer applicants greater peace of mind, and reduce the likelihood that they will have to call the funder for confirmation.

    Consider standardization. Standardizing online applications would obviously entail a collaborative effort by the grantmaker community, but if a set of standard application and reporting requirements could be adopted by funders, nonprofits could implement timelier, more streamlined application processes without having to tailor each application quite so specifically to each grantmaker's requests.

Online grant applications are likely to become increasingly common in the future, and a substantial number of funders have already embraced the electronic approach. [Note: You can search Foundation Directory Online using the keywords "online application" (in quotes) to find foundations that are working with this type of format.]

To keep on top of all the current information on online proposals, Project Streamline features an enormous number of helpful resources for grantmakers and grantseekers alike on the subject. To start, have a look at some of its online videos for more information, and browse the report, Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose. In addition, for funders looking to research their options for developing online applications, the 2010 Idealware report, Streamlining Online Grant Applications: A Review of Vendors, may be a useful read.

How to Contact Grantmakers and Get Results
June 17, 2011

Whenever possible, grantseekers are advised to contact a grantmaker before sending a proposal. Preparing for that initial contact and determining what to say is all part of building a relationship with a prospective funder. Poor preparation—or lack of it—can undermine your efforts and even your organization.

Marilyn HoytLearn what to do (and not to do) in order to make a memorable and positive first impression at our free live Q&A online chat Monday, June 20, 1-2pm ET. Marilyn Hoyt, nonprofit executive, consultant, and trainer, will answer questions about the right and wrong ways to approach grantmakers during all stages of the funding request process. Tap her expertise and share your own experiences. We devote most of the hour to your questions and comments!

Register for the live event at GrantSpace.


Finding the Elusive Major Donor
June 15, 2011

From Philanthropy Front and Center - Atlanta

Major gifts are an essential component of any successful nonprofit fundraising plan. Compared to other methods of fundraising, major gifts bring in more money at a lower cost. That doesn't mean, however, that cultivating major donors won't require an investment in staff, time, and resources. The organization needs to have appropriate gift policies and recognition programs in place, staff and board members need to be trained and ready to solicit contributions, and time should be spend diligently 
researching prospective donors. Some tips on identifying potential donors from our Prospect Research Basics class:

Start in your own backyard. 
The first place to look for potential major gifts is with your current donors. Those with a past history of giving to your organization are the ones most likely to give again and in higher amounts if asked. Board members, if they don't contribute themselves, should be trained to assist in making the ask from potential donors (see our Your Board and Fundraising class for more). Volunteers may be another source, as a commitment of time and energy to the organization can sometimes lead to a financial investment as well. Lastly, don't forget about past users of your services or alumni. Those who have benefitted from your programs often have the deepest connection to its work and the strongest interest in seeing the organization succeed. 

Look at who's giving to similar organizations.
Individuals who have contributed to other nonprofits in the same field or geographic area may be potential donors to your own organization. Look for common threads in the causes they support and seek the connection to your own programs and services. Many organizations will post annual donors lists 
on their web sites or in event programs or annual reports. News media often include short items or press releases when a major donation is made to an area nonprofit. And then there are subscription databases like WealthEngine or DonorSearch that can also provide you with details on an individual's giving history.

Follow the money. 
This group will have the least connection with your organization and the lowest conversion rate, but wealthy individuals in the community have the capacity to give beyond others. Lists like the Rich Register, Marquis Who's Who, and the Forbes Celebrity 100 can provide you with names and addresses 
of key individuals at the state, regional, or national level. Just because they have the money, though, doesn't mean that these individuals will also have the interest in donating to your organization. Look again for indications of philanthropic interests or any connections between each individual's business and personal interests and your organization's activities and approach only those that are viable prospects.

As with foundations and corporations, it's important to look for the right fit between a potential donor and your organization. A quality prospect will have the capacity, interest, and willingness to give. Once you've identified prospects, it's time to coordinate the ask. 

Important Information on an IRS Processing Error
June 03, 2011

We have an important announcement about an IRS processing error affecting electronically filed Forms 990s from filing years 2007-2009, resulting in inaccurate data appearing on the scanned images of these 990s. This does not affect Forms 990-PF or 990-EZ.

Please read the the full announcement (PDF) for more information.

A link to this announcment has also been posted on all FDO grantmaker and grant records by the 990 links, as well as on the 990 search screen.