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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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Development officers…they’re nowhere, they’re everywhere

A recent special report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (March 18, 2004) confirms what many CEOs and board members of nonprofit, church-related organizations already know: Development officers are in hot demand these days, and attracting an experienced fundraiser to your organization is no easy task.

We can identify many of the factors causing this dilemma. As income from government and other external sources lags, many nonprofits must turn to increased charitable support. Relatively few people aspire to be fundraisers. Even fewer have formally trained for the task. Turnover and burnout plague the development profession; the average fundraiser lasts only 2-3 years in the same position. Two particular obstacles often faced by many church-related organizations are their rural locations and the modest salaries they offer. And even if these organizations are fortunate enough to find productive and experienced fundraisers, such professionals are often quickly lured away by appealing offers made by larger organizations who enjoy higher profiles and greater resources. What to do?

While we don’t argue that previous experience is unimportant in the development profession, Advancement Associates believes there is another way small, church-related organizations can find—and keep—fundraisers who are effective in their tasks and committed to the missions of the organizations they serve. This alternate approach requires three key understandings:

1. A focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience in seeking candidates for your development position.
2. Active identification of those who have development potential and effective means of encouraging their interest.
3. Realistic expectations and adequate support, training and resources for your new development officer.

Let’s explore these understandings in more depth.

Essential qualities

What are the qualities most important for the successful development officer? To supplement my own reading and learning from many years in the profession, I conducted an informal survey of the fundraisers with whom I currently work. Fourteen attributes emerged in the following order of frequency. Note that some of these qualities are inherent, while others can be learned.

1. A person who knows the organization and believes in its mission.
2. A relationship builder, who enjoys, respects and understands people, can motivate others, and has a good sense of humor.
3. A communicator, who has verbal, written and listening skills.
4. An organizer, who keeps accurate records, makes timely calls, and does thorough follow up.
5. A motivated self-starter, who works with persistence, optimism and creativity.
6. One who can maintain good working relationships with CEO, board and staff.
7. A generous donor to the organization.
8. A person who understands the “principles” of fundraising and adheres to high ethical standards.
9. One who is comfortable asking for money.
10. Someone who is open to learning and applying marketing concepts and strategies.
11. One who can use technology tools in support of the development program.
12. A flexible worker who is willing to travel and maintain irregular hours.
13. One who is committed to continuing education and willing to ask others for guidance and ideas.
14. A well-balanced person who has a life outside work and a means to maintain health and energy.

I invite you to consider the above qualities as “cake” and previous development experience as “frosting” when seeking an effective fundraiser for your organization. You’ll have many more candidates to consider—and enjoy the likelihood that they will stay a long time because they are committed to your mission.

Searching, finding, attracting

As you focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience, you’ll discover that potential candidates for your position aren’t actively looking for a fundraising job and may even have a dim view of the development profession. Beyond preparing a job description and placing a position announcement in the right publications, how can you effectively search, find and attract such persons?

I suggest that you first actively involve your organization’s leaders and key stakeholders—board members, staff, major donors, and others—in the search process. Introduce them to the list of essential qualities and have them identify potential candidates that come to mind, including comments about the specific strengths these persons would offer. Be intentional about this process and work with a timetable and deadline.

As the referrals arrive, look for the names mentioned most often. How might these potential candidates be best approached and invited to consider your development opportunity?

The goal of your search is three strong candidates—each of whom could do the job.

Supporting a new development officer

If you have followed the steps outlined above, you will have hired a new development officer who has all of the ingredients necessary to become an outstanding fundraiser—but no experience. You owe this person the support and resources needed to “get good.” How is this done? Some ideas:

1. Create a “learning plan” for your new development officer that includes a detailed orientation to the organization; adequate budget and staff help; opportunities to “network” with other professionals; provision for attending helpful workshops and seminars; and access to an outside consultant.
2. Have the development officer report to the CEO.
3. Expect and encourage board and staff interest in fundraising, and acquaint them with the roles they play in creating a strong development program.
4. Be sure the CEO is directly involved with development, especially building personal relationships with major donors.
5. Ask for a comprehensive, formal development plan each year that includes measurable goals, objectives and activities.
6. Set realistic contribution goals that reflect both budget needs and fundraising potential.
7. Conduct an annual evaluation of your development officer that includes reasonable measures of accountability.

So, depending on what you look for, how you look, and how you provide support, development officers are nowhere . . . or they’re everywhere! Best wishes for a good search and a great outcome!

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Uncertain economic times

How should my organization and I relate with our major donors during uncertain economic times?

The key word in this question is “relate.” Creating and maintaining close relationships with major donors is a key activity for CEOs and development directors. And that priority shouldn’t change with the economy.

Think of major donors as your best friends. Yes, they are your largest financial contributors. But they also can support you with their ideas, questions, counsel and prayers.

During tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to know your major donors. As you continue to share the ongoing needs and achievements of your organization, listen with empathy to their concerns as well. They will be honest about their capacity to give, and will welcome your expressions of genuine concern and interest in their difficult, challenging circumstances.