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Grants feed World Hunger Relief budget

Former AAI client World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) of Elm Mott, TX is “a Christian organization committed to the alleviation of hunger around the world.” To that end, WHRI operates a 40-acre farm, manages an urban gardening program, and educates school children, community groups and churches in sustainable farming techniques and conservation.

After nearly 20 years as a volunteer with the organization, Dale Barron was approached by WHRI’s executive director about increasing his involvement there. He asked for more details and, as the director began listing several immediate needs, Barron recognized that he was describing a development position.

A clinical social worker at the time, Barron makes it clear that he had no interest in fundraising. “The image I had of fundraisers was one of a mercenary salesperson who could switch ‘causes’ seamlessly and often with little integrity.” But his passion for WHRI’s work led him to accept the offer; he has since found his own style of fundraising that has proven successful while counteracting his preconception. That style has allowed him to blend important fundraising principles with WHRI’s mission and his own personality in approaching prospective donors. During his tenure as development director, WHRI’s income has increased by nearly 500%, approximately one third of which is grant money.

WHRI sets goals for grant income based on both one- and five-year strategic plans. Barron explains, “Because our income stream is three-fold (donations, grants, and farm production), the balance is intentional in order to be able to respond to fluctuations in economy, agriculture, and markets.” To the extent that it can, WHRI strives to maintain this three-way balance from year to year.

By now Barron has developed a fine-tuned system of grantseeking. For example, this year he picked out 50 potential funders, four to six of whom he plans to contact each month. Some of these are regular funders, some have denied funding in the past but have invited WHRI back when it has met certain conditions and some represent completely new contacts. He tries to balance his proposals between personnel, programmatic and general operating expenses, and endowment.

But he also notes the need to look at other funding streams, recognizing that grants are both unpredictable—especially considering current economy—and time consuming. And he qualifies his impressive track record in a couple of ways. First, because he invests considerable time and energy in developing relationships with funders (more on this later), he ends up actually applying only for funds that WHRI is almost certain to receive. Second, he says, “Anytime I start thinking we’re really good at this, I remind myself that we are the beneficiary of having programs and services that meet fundamental human needs—food, clothing, shelter. Those seem like very essential products in these leaner times.”

That notwithstanding, Barron’s success in securing grant funds is notable. Some of this, he says, was instinctual, “a bit was diligent research, lots was consistent with my training as a clinical social worker, and much was working in concert with [current Executive Director Neil Rowe Miller], board of directors, trusted colleagues, spiritual guidance, and sound advice from a professional advancement consultant.” His experience has brought with it a wealth of knowledge and practical tips that he graciously shares.

1. Use technology. According to Barron, there are too many opportunities out there for one not to have access to a lot of information. He cites The Foundation Center and Guidestar as valuable online resources that allow him to view the 990s of various nonprofits and the giving history of foundations.

2. Get help from people that know your organization. While grantseekers will admittedly have to “kiss a lot of frogs” to unearth some opportunities, Barron suggests starting with the personal connections already present between members of your organizational circle and foundation representatives. He frequently puts out feelers to board members, major donors and other loyal constituents to see who might know whom. “Sometimes you have to look really hard for those connections,” he says, “but our main grants have come about that way. Those connections are often much more important than how well you write or how big your budget is.”

3. Start local. Grantmakers, says Barron, are quite jealous. That is, they want to be a part of successful organizations. Before going after the biggest, most competitive grants, you will do well to secure several local grants. The more extensive your record of local support, the stronger your case with larger (i.e. regional, national and international) grantmakers will be.

4. Ask lots of questions. Much of Barron’s knowledge has come from asking questions. At first, they were quite basic: “I don’t know what a grant looks like. Would you send me a copy?” Today, he might ask past grant recipients about their experiences working with certain foundations. When approaching new fund officers he frequently asks how each prefers to be communicated with and whether they’re open to him sending an annual report from WHRI. When a proposal is rejected he is not afraid to ask why or who else the foundation thinks may be interested. “I’ve learned that grantmakers are very appreciative of being asked these things. There are so many agencies that they never hear from again.” And when considering prospective funders, there is one question Barron always keeps in front of himself: Is there really a connection here? “Sometimes I have to conclude that, while we’re both good organizations, there’s just really not much overlap in our missions.”

5. Developing relationships is critical. Grants, according to Barron, are “absolutely a matter of partnership. I’ve been comfortable approaching new foundations because my focus is not just getting money, but finding people whose interest truly overlaps with our mission. One big revelation that I couldn’t have gotten any way but through direct contact and personal relationships [with grantmakers] is that they can feel as lonely as grantseekers. They are just as eager and passionate about being good stewards of the money they have to give as we are about using it. I’m not looking at it as a competition with other agencies; as a faith-based organization, I consider it somewhat of a spiritual task to find people who are very willing to work with WHRI as a partner versus just a financial resource.”

6. “No” isn’t necessarily the end. Finally, Barron acknowledges that grant cultivation is not for the thin-skinned or weak of heart, as some of his best leads come from executive directors and fund officers who ultimately turn him down. “The real work often begins at the time of denial. Grantmakers have their own network—they talk about who’s turning in proposals, who didn’t do their homework, etc. I spend just as much energy on the grants that we don’t get.” For Barron it’s just another step in an ongoing process of seeking, getting to know a grantmaker and developing a partnership that proves rewarding for both parties.

To learn more about WHRI visit

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Growing benevolent funds becomes primary concern for CCRCs

The Samaritan Fund. The Sharing Fund. The Promise Partners Fund. The Future Care Fund. The Golden Cross Fund. The Home Endowment Fund. The Care Assurance Fund.

These are some of the names continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are using to describe their benevolent care funds. Whatever the name, finding a way to enlarge these funds has become high priority for virtually every retirement organization.

Through their benevolent care programs, retirement communities support residents who have exhausted their financial resources and, through no fault of their own, are unable to pay the full cost of required services. Doing everything possible to provide for such residents directly reflects the missions of many CCRCs, particularly those that are faith-based.

A number of CCRCs established benevolent funds a number of years ago, often with large unsolicited and unanticipated charitable gifts. However, rapidly growing needs of residents have exhausted available resources in many instances. Multiple factors have created this difficult circumstance, including increased life expectancy, fixed or limited incomes, increasing healthcare costs, and inadequate Medicaid funding.

Although one can never precisely predict with certainty, it’s clear that CCRC leaders assume even more need for benevolent care resources in the near future. For example, a recent survey of CCRC financial officers produced these startling facts:

• Eighty-four percent of the retirement communities that participated in a survey had already created a benevolent fund.

• Eighty-seven percent indicated that growing their benevolent funds was a priority.

• Most significantly, 42 percent of the financial officers noted that their benevolent funds must at least double from current values in order to meet financial needs of residents in the anticipated future.

Source: Ziegler financial services, May 2009

CCRCs often establish endowments to provide benevolent care resources for qualified residents. In such arrangements, only the annual interest earned from invested principal is used for recipients of benevolent care monies, thereby preserving the fund for the future. Other types of special funds designated for benevolent care permit use of both principal and interest. This approach offers more flexibility in meeting current needs, but without careful management may soon be depleted.

A variety of income sources underwrite benevolent funds. If available, operational revenue is often tapped. A portion of residents’ entrance fee refunds may be designated. Life insurance benefits of residents qualifying for assistance are sometimes assigned to the benevolent fund. The bulk of the necessary money, however, must come from charitable gifts.

A quick on-line review suggests how CCRCs solicit charitable support for their benevolent funds. One approach is special fundraising events, such as golf outings and benefit dinners. Memorial gifts are often designated. Churches affiliated with nearby retirement communities may collect an annual offering. One CCRC places ornaments on a special, visible Christmas tree to symbolize benevolent fund gifts received during the holiday season.

Eclipsing all of these fundraising activities are gifts from individuals who understand the importance of benevolent care funds and are moved to support them with substantial contributions. For many CCRCs, successfully soliciting more such gifts is the key to building benevolent fund programs for the anticipated future. Advancement Associates, Inc. has helped continuing care retirement communities address this priority and shares these beginning ideas for success.

1. Review previous large gifts made for your benevolent fund. What were the circumstances of such gifts? What motivated donors to support the fund? What do these stories suggest for fundraising strategies?

2. Make a list of the key stakeholder groups most likely to be interested in your benevolent care fund. Among those that come to mind are current residents, families of current and former residents, board and staff members, and members of supporting churches. How are you informing these groups of your benevolent fund and future needs?

3. Create a “case for support” for your benevolent fund. Such a statement presents the purpose for the fund; notes how it reflects the organization’s mission and values; and suggests three or four reasons why constituents should offer their support. These reasons should be repeated in all fundraising activities for the fund.

4. Along with other types of contributions, invite planned gifts and estate gifts for your benevolent fund. Because they reflect financial resources produced over a lifetime, such gifts are particularly appropriate for supporting an endowment. Create criteria for identifying prospects for planned gifts; cultivate positive relationships with them; and invite their support at the right time with personal, individual approaches.