The future of money (for non-profits)…

Last Friday I spent the day at the 2013 Central Texas Funder’s Forum put on by the Grant Professionals Association, and it was such a valuable day that I decided to share some of my top ‘takeaways’ from the event.



In the room were some heavy hitters, including Coleith Molstad of the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, Anne Smith from Bank of America’s Charitable Foundation, Cathy McHorse (Junior League of Austin), Christina Collier (from RGK), Russell Bridges (3M Community Affairs), the outspoken and down to earth Michele Glaze from Dell (and I appreciate her so much…she’s the kind you may not always like what she says, but you always know exactly where you stand!), Melanie Moore from KDK, and more!

Getting to talk to them and listen to them gave an incredible insight on what funders are looking for and where the future of foundation giving is headed. Here’s the recap:


1. The Basics

  • Please don’t attack us (the funders) at family picnics, friend’s weddings, or when we’re trying to reach the last bottle of Topo Chico in the market.  We are human beings. We have a life outside of giving you money. Remember, there’s more than one ‘radar’ of ours to get on, and they’re not all good.
  • Do your homework. A lot of information is online. If you can’t be bothered researching the organization you’re asking for a gazillion dollars, don’t waste your time filling out the application.
  • Oh, and when it comes to the application, please follow directions. Some (was it 30 or 40%) of applications come in missing parts, incorrectly submitted, yada yada. Basic skills ladies and gentlemen. We may or may not give you a second chance.
  • The paper only tells us about 30% of the story (of the organization) so you better figure out a way to convey the other 70%.
  • We read mission statements. If you’re trying to snow us, force your project into alignment with our mission, WE KNOW. Don’t try to work around the system.
  • SPEAK MY LANGUAGE – I don’t what your acronyms mean. I’m not an expert on your industry terms. I may not understand some wanky scientific mumble jumble. Don’t talk over my head.

2. Don’t sweat the financials. 

Yes, they are looking at the financials. They want to see that you exist, that costs (as real as possible) are represented, that expenses are aligned to outcomes, and that the project you are trying to fund is reasonable, but funders aren’t looking at our financials as a way to exclude us.  Budgets are a tool, we should use them as such. Program costs vs. administrative costs should reflect the mission of a non-profit (to do good work) and will raise eyebrows if they hover above 75/25. They understand (or most of them do) that we may not (if we’re a smaller nonprofit) be able to afford an audit (thank God!) and that debt (acquired under meaningful and thought out circumstances) may not be a bad thing.

Most interesting:

  • “We look at how much you rely on government funding.”
  •  “We want to see an allocation to fundraising.”
  • “We don’t want to give you too big of a grant that may tip your public charity status.”

3.  The handwriting is on the wall.

As far as government money goes, the handwriting is on the wall.  Funders (just like nonprofits) are having to more with less, and in the funding world that means showing more impact with less dollars.  In the words of 3M’s Russell Bridges, “We’re taking a long hard look at what we’re doing.” Expect changes from 3M soon.  Many funders have streamlined their areas of focus, and it’s a good idea to check in and make sure your mission still aligns with theirs.  Don’t get lazy; be creative. Collaborations are the future of powerful organizations. Why? Two words: Collective Impact.  When we collaborate (and MAP knows firsthand how powerful this is because our collaborations feature us a media making expert which many organizations just don’t have the resources to keep on staff) we reduce waste, we reduce redundancy, we increase our pool of talent and thought at less expense, we focus our unique strengths on a particular topic. In short, we’re stronger.

Most interesting: One of the biggest challenges to collaboration seems to be that everyone wants the credit (financially) and that funders can only write one check, which just means we need to play nicely on the playground 🙂

3.  Biggest Mistake EVER

Failure to communicate the dream.

A lot of applications are well written. Many many applications have all the details down. But it’s rare to find an application that communicates the dream and tells the story.  We don’t know what $20,000 will do for you.  You have to TELL us.

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