Tag Archives: Grants

Slack for Non-Profits – EMail is Obsolete!

Back in February I wrote about using Slack for our non-profit organization.  I’ve since introduced this to another organization that I’m a board member for, and it appears to have really taken off for this other group. One thing I hadn’t mentioned last time was the Slack for Non-Profits program, which provides all of the benefits of a paid Slack account to a qualifying non-profit for free. These include:

  • A fully searchable archive with unlimited messages
  • Unlimited external integrations
  • Simple usage statistics
  • Custom message retention policies
  • Guest access
  • Premium support
The first point I should emphasize is that even if you don’t qualify for the non-profit program, Slack is still highly useful. In particular, we were looking for the ability to invite users to our Slack board, without having those users be able to see the entire list of channels. For example,  here is our channel list.

You’ll note that this full list includes the standard default channels, “general”, and “random”.  All of the other channels are related either to committees, or for planning of upcoming events.  The committees include:

  • board
  • fundraising
  • publicity
The planning channels include
  • 2015_fall_concert
  • 50th_anniversary 
  • auditions_2015fall 
You may have gathered that our group is a music group.  We’re actually a semi-professional choral group of 36 acapella singers that sing five centuries of choral music.  
The calendar channel is a special channel. This is an integration which displays calendar events that are entered into our organization’s Google Calendar. You’ll note that the non-profit plan includes “unlimited integrations”. (The free plans include 10 integrations). Integrations are a whole separate discussion, but briefly, they allow events and information from other applications to appear (be copied to) a Slack channel and vice-versa. I’ve used this especially for integrating Trello project management boards with Slack channels. So, for example, I may have a Trello board for a particular grant application, and have additions and changes in the Trello board appear within the fundraising channel. 
Ok.  Back to the other enhancements. An advantage of the non-profit plan is that we’ll be able to create a channel for, say the Concert Committee, and invite all the members of that committee to the channel. Those members can be restricted so that they can’t see the board channel, or indeed any other committees that they aren’t a member of. This is great for us…as we’ll probably end up having channels for each committee, as well as an AllMembers channel for everyone who sings with us.  
The other major advantage of non-profit status is that you can use the enhancements for no cost. I was interested to see that the Slack crew said if we had an actual paid account, we’d be spending US$640.00 per year, and that is just for our current subset of our full membership, (basically the board of directors). By the time we add our committee channels and the rest of our members, we’ll be getting the equivalent of at least double that amount. Not bad for a few minutes of filling out the application.  
What are you waiting for?  Apply for a Non-Profit Slack account now.  You’ll need a 501c(3) letter, testifying that you are granted non-profit status.

And I’d love to hear how you are using Slack in your non-profit; send a note or leave comments. 

Better than eMail: Slack for Workgroup Communication

We’re slacking off here at our non-profit organization, having discovered Slack, a cloud-based communication application that combines the functions of eMail, chat, a bit of artificial intelligence (called the Slackbot), and the ability to exchange transactions with a growing number of third-party applications including the Trello project manager. Slack solves the problem of team communication for specific topics or projects.

Let’s say you are launching an e-Shop. You have the web developer, the graphic designer, the photographer, the shop manager, the back-end developer and the testers working on the project. You have calendar schedules, product photos, text copy, html and .css files all in half-a-dozen sites and places; Google Drive, Trello, your calendar, the file server, the production web site, and the sandbox web site. All this is glued together using eMails with copies to the team… each person has their own copy of the email (you hope), and relevant attachments or links to files on Google Drive, Dropbox,  your web server, or your file server. Its all a bit diffuse, and if anyone wanted to come up to speed on the whole project, then it would probably be pretty tough, because everything about the project isn’t in one place.

Nine years ago, I was using Basecamp for several projects including grant applications. I have used Basecamp for many years, and sung its praises for writing grants, which is by nature a collaborative process with multiple players. About 2012, Basecamp got a major upgrade which seemed to break my workflow and processes. So, I started looking around at the alternatives, and there are a bunch.

The basic unit of Slack is the team.

Teams can create channels. Channels can be for a single department, or a single project. So, for our team we created a channel for each department:

  • creative
  • development
  • admin
  • it
  • programs
Departments store their ongoing conversations within their channels. These are things that might have been communicated via eMails and attachments.  Slack can store text in a couple of structured ways; you can have a message, a snippet, or a post. A message is a simple unformatted text message similar to a chat message. (You can include emoticons). A snippet can be formatted for programming code. Finally, a post is similar to a blog post, it includes a title, and allows formatting
with fonts and bullets.

For current projects that cross individual departments, we created specific channels.

  • eStore-Launch
  • XYZ Grant Application
  • 2015 Audit
Team members can be part of any channel, and you can invite guests who are external to the team to participate in an individual channel.  
This would all be pretty spectacular on its own, but one of the strengths of Slack is the ability to integrate with other third-party applications. We are using Slack with Trello, so that any changes made on a Trello project, get reflected in the appropriate Slack project. The integration results in what amounts to a major enhancement of both applications. 
Slack is free for basic functionality, and maybe all you ever need. Worth a look! 

Kim Klein on Attitudes Toward Money

Among the many treasures I found at our local Foundation Center Collection, was Fundraising for Social Change by Kim Klein. Now in a sixth edition, it is a 500 page book describing a full spectrum of fund-raising strategies as well as discussions of board selection, mission statements, and all of the peripheral tasks related to successful fundraising. She takes a chapter to talk about attitudes toward fundraising generally, and money in particular. 

The idea of asking for money raises another set of hindering attitudes, which are largely the inheritance of a predominantly Protestant culture infused with a Puritan ethic that affects most Americans, including those who are not Protestants. This set of values conveys a number of messages that influence our feelings and actions. For example, a Puritan ethic implies that if you are a good person and you work hard you will get what you deserve. It further implies that if you have to ask for something you are a weak person because strong people are self-sufficient. Further, most likely you have not worked hard enough and you probably don’t deserve whatever you are asking for. Rounding out this series of beliefs is our deep distrust in the ability of government to solve social problems and a general convictions that the government wastes our money in unnecessary and inefficient bureaucratic red tape.

All of these beliefs can be found among people on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum as well as across age and race lines and different religious orientations. Where these beliefs will not be found is in two places:

  • Other countries. Although many countries have various taboos related to money, none have as many contradictory ones as the United States. Our taboos about talking and learning about money are not universal.
  • Children. Children have no trouble asking for money. They do not subscribe to the idea that self-sufficiency means not asking or that polite people don’t ask. They ask, and the ask again and again. Our taboos about money are not natural–we are not born with them. 

Our beliefs about money are learned, and therefore they can be unlearned. The wonderful writer Ursula Le Guin once said in a lecture, “I never learned much from my teachers, but I learned a great deal from my un-teachers; the people who said to me, ‘You shouldn’t have learned that and you don’t need to think it anymore.'”

Fundraising for social change is in part about raising the money we need, but over a longer period of time it is also about creating healthy attitudes toward money, and many people find that aspect of fundraising to be most fascinating. 

I’d love to quote the entire chapter, but that wouldn’t be a blog post, it would be plagiarism! Instead, I suggest you check out the book yourself, her other books, and resources.

A Database for Grant Research

I put together a grants database screen (click to view full size) to consolidate information for funding sources, and to track dates and interactions.

It is definitely an evolving project, but contains the basic information need to contact the funder, the deadline dates involved, the funder’s areas of interest, and the typical range of a grant award.

So far, I’ve been concentrating on foundation funding. Many foundations typically ask for a letter of interest before you put together a full proposal. So, I’ve included multiple date fields, a deadline for a letter of interest, a deadline for a full proposal, and a date when they announce their award.

Originally I thought that this database would be mostly for research, but after working with the online grants database, Grantstation, I think I will reserve this database for funders that I really expect to submit to. Some ideas for future enhancements include:

  • Links to standard “boilerplate” paragraphs that are used in an application. 
  • Links to edit the proposal or letter directly in Word. 
  • Links to the PDFs of the proposal. 
  • Reports that create a grants calendar. 
Before anyone comments that “you should really use X software” for this purpose, I just want to say that I’ve used several in the past, including DonorPerfect and Blackbaud, and evaluated many others. Right now, I’m in the process of rethinking my entire workflow automation from the ground up, and this very lightweight approach is just what I’m looking for. Plus its in FileMaker, so I can run it on my Windows machines at work, or my Macs at home.     

Odds and Sods: Grantstation Membership and Training Opportunities

Grantwriting

Grantstation is a subscription-based database of grant opportunities. You can purchase a l year Grantstation Membership for $99.00 per year if you are a member of TechSoup, on September 23 and 24.

The free Grantstation 1-hour orientation webinar is well worth the time. I learned, for example that their federal grants database is a front-end using data from Grants.gov.    

Tech Soup is also sponsoring a free webinar by the CEO of Grantstation Cynthia Adams on September 18th.

Funding Rural America :
When has it ever been easy to secure funding for nonprofits and libraries in rural communities? Is there a way to level the playing field so organizations in small towns, counties, or boroughs without large metropolitan areas can compete for both government and private sector grants? What are the other options for financially supporting a rural project? Are collaborative efforts worth the effort? And, of course the biggest question: who is funding rural America?

These, and other relevant questions, along with current trends affecting rural funding will be addressed in this free, two-hour webinar presented by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation.

Finally, it is rare that we find a Grantmsanship Seminar in our neck of the woods (northern New England). But  there will be a five-day Grantmanship training seminar located in Barre VT. December 8-12, 2014

Hardware and Software

Interconnection.org is  another possible source for refurbished computers, (or a place to donate your old gear). They are one of the refurbishers for the Techsoup Refurbished Computer Initiative.

Techsoup has wonderful deals for software. A one-year subscription to FileMaker server is $209, and a subscription for FileMaker Pro (the desktop version that runs on a Mac or PC desktop) is $65.00. Visio Professional is available for $29.00.

Miscellaneous

Here is an interesting academic discussion of luck, and how to have more of it. Thanks to Jeff Duntemann for the link.

Ten Hints for the Grant Writing Process 1-4

1. Plan the application process. Work backwards a month or more from the final deadline, so that there is time to circulate the final version of the application among friends and critics. Don’t try to submit the application to Grants.Gov on the due date. If there are any technical problems and you are delayed, you could miss the deadline. They will not show mercy in this situation.

Grant Application Folders

2. The SBIR application process requires the assembly of several dozen separate documents. Have a plan and a place for how these are going to be stored, and how you will handle revisions, i.e. you need to establish a folder structure. You don’t want to be choosing between conflicting versions as you are assembling things, or finding out later that you submitted the wrong version in the final application. You want confidently identify the most current version of any component document. 

3. Have your .PDF software and hardware up and running, and be confident that it works. The classic products are from Adobe, but there are other alternatives. PaperPort 12 Professional (Windows only) includes a virtual PDF printer “driver” which allows you to “print to PDF”.

4. Gather all the bits and pieces that you may need and have them handy. I use Evernote for this kind of thing or, on Windows,  Microsoft OneNote. Examples of things I want on hand (and have wasted time searching for in the past, because I was simply being sloppy…)

  • Login Names and Passwords for Grants.Gov and the NIH Commons (for NIH applications) There may be multiples of these for different “roles”, i.e. grant applicant, signing official, etc.
  • Central Contract Registry login name and password
  • Your state congressional district code. Mine is VT-001. It has changed three times in the past couple of years, and it took me an hour to find out what it was in its latest form acceptable to the on-line system.
  • Federal-Wide-Approval number, and IRB number if you are involved with research with human subjects. 
  • Names and contact information of all collaborators. 
  • Your Dunn and Bradstreet number (DUNS). Also, the DUNS for any collaborator who is getting a piece of your awarded grant. 

4. Figure out how you are going to share documents as they are developed. GoogleDocs, Dropbox, and BaseCamp are examples of applications which allow you to share documents over the internet, and access those documents from several computers. Some kind of threaded conversation software may be helpful, provided by a wiki, SharePoint, or BaseCamp.

More at: Grantwriters Toolbox. More about letters of support.

Grantwriting: Letters of Support

Letters of Support


Who Contributes Letters of Support?

Letters of support are used to strengthen a grant application. These typically come from three kinds of supporters; collaborators, constituents, or outside endorsers. Collaborators add credibility to a grant application, and most, if not all funders prefer to see evidence of collaboration, and saving of duplication and overlap.


Collaborators

Collaborators are those who are participating in the project with you. Their letters of support should include sufficient information so that the funder will be aware of the collaborator’s participation and allow the funder to evaluate the collaborator’s contribution to the project. Letters from collaborators should include the following:


Description of the nature of the collaboration


Non-financial contributions to project if applicable. Such contributions could include:

• Expertise

• Deliverables, i.e. products, reports, evaluation services, etc.

• Personnel

• Resources


Financial Contributions if applicable. These may include

• Cash

• In-kind contributions (non- monetary services, to which a cost may be attached.)

• Matching funds


Financial Arrangements

If the collaborator is receiving a piece of the grant funding, then this should also be spelled out in the letter.

Include expected outcomes, results, and value resulting from the collaboration.

State what the benefits will be from the collaboration. Use numbers and examples.

Outside Endorsers

Outside Endorsers are people who no direct participation in execution of the project, but who do have a stake the project’s outcome . Outside Endorsers add credibility and weight your application.

Typical Outside Endorsers

• Colleagues in the field

• Others who have funded your work

• Politicians, Government Agencies familiar with your work


Letters need to make clear:

• Relationship between your agency and endorser

• Value and results obtained or demonstrated


Examples:

• A youth services agency endorses a project run by a trade association designed to create apprenticeships in a particular technical field. The youth agency might not be directly involved in the project, but it might make the point that the youth agencyʼs clients would benefit from an apprenticeship program, The youth agencyʼs letter might also contribute background statistics on demographics and need for opportunities for out-of-school youth not planning to go to college.


• A local development corporation endorses the same project, citing statistics about the loss of jobs in the local county, and the need for positioning the local work force to take advantage of newly emerging business opportunities in renewable energy.



Constituents

Letters from constituents and beneficiaries benefit from concrete facts and figures for the current grant

application. Individual stories are very powerful. Any letter with specific outcomes will be more powerful

than one citing generalities.


For example, a student in an adult learning program might include statements such as:


Before coming to The Learning Center, I was reading at a third-grade level. I worked with teachers and volunteers at TLC for two years, and was able to raise my reading level to sixth grade”. After working as a laborer for seven years, I have entered a two year apprenticeship program for electricians, and expect to graduate as a licensed journeyman electrician in May of this year.

Since such testimonials may be used across several applications, be sure that they up-to-date A fresh

copy of a letter with a current date and signature will be evidence of current support and relevance.


Constituent Letter Components:

Constituent letters should include:

• Background of the constituent

• Relationship with your agency

• How the constituent benefited.


Example Benefits

Constituent letters provide third-party evidence of your efficacy as an agency, any statistics cited will

provide additional credibility. Numbers rule! For example:


• Home-healthcare: Number of home-health care patients served, compared with last year. How many

home healthcare nurses and aids participated? What is the ratio of nurses to patients? Are total costs

and cost per patient going up or down? How many patients were served at home as opposed to nursing

homes?


• Number of jobs created. Number of new companies created. Number companies declaring bankruptcy

or moving out of the area. Net gain or loss of jobs? Type and quality of jobs; Average salary

and benefits. Number of jobs upgraded or saved.


• Land Conservation: Acres of land conserved. Numbers of conservation easements,


General Guidelines for Letters of Support

Introduce yourself. Include a description and qualifications of the letter writer.

Addressee should be either the funder or your agency

Include a sentence about the experience or history with your agency, if available

Specifically cite the solicitation number and solicitation title if these exist. Many funders are fielding applications

for multiple programs.

One or two paragraphs of text in the body of the letter

Use specifics; numbers, timelines, outcomes.

Specify expected outcomes (with numbers) of your relationship with the funder.


Format

• No more than one page in length

• Letter should be on the contributorʼs own letterhead

• Include a written signature and title of an official of the contributorʼs agency or company

• Submit as a .PDF file and and/or hard copy


Regarding the last point; most grant applications these days are submitted electronically. At least some of the narrative components will include longer discussions created within a word-processor (Microsoft Word for example) and then exported to an Adobe .PDF file. The .PDF files are then either uploaded individually to the grantmakerʼs web site, or the files may be combined into a single long .PDF which is uploaded or sent as an eMail attachment. Because of the logistics involved, it makes sense to try to get letters of support early on, and if you canʼt get .PDF files from letter providers, you need to be able to either convert the files they send you to .PDF yourself, or use a scanner to create a .PDF from a hard copy. Donʼt beat up your letter providers if they canʼt give you a .PDF. Make sure you have the tools in place to do the conversions if needed.


Timing


Outside Endorsers

Outside endorsers can be solicited early in the grant application process; as soon as you have a solid program abstract available to enclose in your request for the letter. You’ll need the abstract so that they know what they are endorsing. The abstract also may prompt them to contribute additional ideas for developing a strong application. “You really should go and talk to …. “


Collaborators

Collaborators should include a general description of the financial arrangements and commitments in their letters of support. Solicit letters from collaborators after the budget and program plan have been defined and you have a working agreement in place.


Constituents

Constituent letters are usually less time sensitive, because the background material in these deals with things that have already happened. However it is wise not to wait until the last minute, especially if you think you might have .PDF formatting and conversion issues.