Category Archives: Grants and Fundraising

Grants and Fundraising Portfolio

Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the party! I have listed my grants and funding portfolio, which is available here. What isn’t immediately from the listing is how much grant funding is a team sport…and that often the suggestions for funding come from others, as well as contributions for the application.

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Nonprofit CRM Overview

NonProfitCRMIn designing our non-profit CRM, we have been looking at all of the functions that we’d like to track.  At a minimum, we think each of the entities above will use one database table. In practice each entity will have an associated “interaction” table and “look-up” tables that feed picklists of options.

A little background. Our organization makes grants to schools and community groups. Many of these grants are funded through commercial sponsors, or through philanthropic individuals or organizations. Thus we have both Grant Prospecting and Grant Application Management functions.

Grant Prospecting — This is us prospecting and managing the workflow involved in applying for a grant. Recently when it gets  down to the application process itself  we have we have worked in Slack.

Grant Application Management — As we receive grant applications we have to process them and eventually evaluate them. We currently use LimeSurvey for our online grant application.

Sponsor Prospecting — If we don’t have an individual or foundation donor, we may fund a program through a sponsor; a company that wants to promote their community engagement or charitable contributions.

Contact Management — The contact table part of our design includes all the usual information about contacting a person In our database design, this may actually turn out to be  a hidden many to many table. One of the objectives that I want to address is the ability to look at a single person’s contact information and determine what our relationship(s) are with that person. A person could be a donor, a member, a volunteer, a member of our board, member of our advisory board. and our lawyer. This is really what CRM is all about, as well as the ability to track the relationship steps with the person at any stage of the relationship.

Membership (Donor) Management. We used to do this in Little Green Light. We’re not sure our business model going forward lends itself to membership.. but if it does, this is where we’d like to track members.

Media / Outreach Lists — We have 3782 media contacts to which we send press releases etc.

Admin — Could we provide forms for our usual HR functions like time sheets, vacation accrual, expense reimbursement, travel schedules, etc?

Note that this design exercise is independent of any particular kind of software. We have bits of data scattered in spreadsheets, word-processing files, online applications such as LimeSurvey and Little Green Light, FileMaker databases and of course eMail.

Update: I’ve added two additional tables; one for “contacts” (which will feed its contact and address data to the other tables), and  “projects” table which contains data about each project.




Ten Ways to Improve A Grant Application

Slack for Grant Applications

We have just put Slack through its paces as a collaboration platform for applying for a couple of grants. We had a distributed team of three core team members:

  • The brain (BR) (who wrote most of the narrative parts of the application)
  • The numbers guy (NG) (who vetted the budget documents and provided updated balance sheet and income statements)
  • The grant slave. (GS)  (who managed the online submission process)

Like all grant applications these days, the application is online. The grantor uses Foundant as their online platform, which provides  a pretty good interface for the applicant.

The Toolbox

PDF Wranglers

Text-based attachments are usually PDF files, so you need some way to create these and combine them. Native Macintosh apps like Numbers can create PDFs. It also turns out that you can combine PDFs using the Mac Preview program. You can’t do this with the free Adobe Reader which I found out to my chagrin, loosing an hour or so in the process of trying.


Since we were working from home and from the office,  with both Windows and Macs, we needed a common place to store source files that we were adding to the online application.

Text Editor

OmmWriter on Windows and is now available for the Mac and iPad.  (I used the Mac text utility.) OmmWriter can export directly to PDF if needed, but usually I’d copy and paste directly into the online application. OmmWrite provides a critical function…it counts both words and characters so that you can stay within those restrictions if they exist. In our applications they did…and I spent considerable time editing the Other People’s stuff. Death to adverbs!

Spreadsheet Program

Numbers on the Mac,  Excel on Mac or Windows. Both create PDFs.

How we set up Slack

Each contributor is set up as a member of our Slack Team, so it is possible to send direct messages between each other.

We have a single Slack channel called #fundraising where we place all of the items that we have under discussion. If I had to do this again, with simultaneous applications, I might consider creating one channel for each grant application, however we shared a lot of data between the two applications as they were from the same funder.

The core team members are members of #fundraising. The rest of our non-profit board are also members but weren’t active during the creation process.  Obviously,  anything published in #fundraising is “public” or open for inspection to the team and the members.

The Work Flow

Grant Slave (GS) establishes account with the funder’s system, and downloads a PDF of the blank application.

GS posts the blank application to Slack in #fundraising.

Discussion within #fundraising, about who takes what for the writing.

As BR and NG prepare their text files,  GS starts filling in the online application with the routine stuff; name and address of the our organization, our mission,  etc. .

As the application becomes filled in, it gets printed to PDF and the PDF is posted in the #fundraising channel.

Team members view the PDF from within Slack and make suggestions for changes. They also post their new text in the channel. This is easiest if it is posted as a simple Slack message, as opposed to a Slack snippet or Slack post.

GS enters updated text in the online application,  usually by copying and pasting text that the others have provided in #fundraising.

Iterate.  As each new version of the application PDF  is generated, it gets posted to #fundraising and the earlier versions are deleted.  The idea here is that people are always looking at the most recent version of the application PDF.


Note a couple things:

  • Only one person touches the online application.
  • Everyone works with and edits the most recent version of the application. This is effectively a version-control system.
  • This system allows creative people (BR and NG) to be creative, without having to worry too much about the mechanics.




Grantwriting on Commission. Ethical?

I was recently Debbie Downer during a discussion of grantwriting on commission.  My position was that it is considered unethical by foundations, grantwriters, funders etc. for several reasons:

  1. A funder is not going to be happy if they find that 5% or 10% of an award is going to go to the grantwriter, and not toward program-related expenses.
  2. A flat percentage of a larger award would be considered “excessive” by any reasonable measure. For example, if the grantwriter receives 5% of  a $1.5 million award, that’s $75,000 that isn’t going to go back to the support the program that the grant is funding.
  3. The work to write the application take’s place whether the award is made or not.
  4. Commissions place the burden of risk entirely on the grantwriter.  Other professionals do not work “on spec”…such as the organization’s accountant or lawyer.
  5. Actual grantwriting is a small percentage of time required to create  the whole package that encompasses a successful project. If the organization doesn’t have the money to pay their grantwriter, they won’t be able to convince a funder that they have their act together to pull off a successful project.

For further background, The NonProfit Times did a very nice article articulating these arguments.