While there are legal requirements for nonprofit organizations around transparency and disclosure of financial information, there can also be some grey areas where ethical decisions aren’t as clear. For instance, it can be tempting to apply for and accept funding anywhere you can get it. But what if you serve clients who are struggling with substance use, and a potential funder is known for contributing to the opioid crisis? If accepting money means you are straying from your mission, or if you have any doubt about the morality of doing business with a certain corporation, it may not be worth the financial benefit. Your goal should be to build funder relationships that you can stand behind and feel good about. Here, we are going to explore a few other ethical dilemmas you may run across when building relationships with funders.

Do you remember the first time you wrote a report for a funder and had to explain away an undesirable outcome (or more)? Picture it: coffee on drip. Report questions pulled, outcomes and program-related questions sent to program staff. Me, a rookie grant professional at the time, ready to tackle the report…or so I thought. And then I got the email: one of the program’s stated outcomes fell significantly short of the goal. As in, the targeted outcome was 80%, but the actual outcome was 40%. *Insert appropriate amounts of rookie-level panic here, then breathe.*

It’s normal and often encouraged to seek multiple funding opportunities for a single program, often referred to as braided funding (see Braiding Funds without Getting Tied Up In Knots – Approaching Budgets with Pre-Award and Post-Award In Mind by Julie Alsup, GPC). You might even request more funds than you need to run a program with the expectation that one or more proposals will fall through. As nonprofit organizations that belong to and are supported by the public, we should always be looking for new funding streams in case an existing source should dry up. But what if you ask for more than you need, and all the funders decide you shall receive?

Every grant proposal requires some type of budget. Unfortunately, some of us tend to put off this component for as long as we can. However, it should really be the starting point. When we write a proposal, it should be for the purpose of filling a gap in our budget, not just to get money for money’s sake. In a previous blog, Julie Alsup introduced the idea of braided funding. Here, let's walk you through the nuts and bolt of implementing this useful concept.

Grant proposals consist of a variety of components depending on each grant’s requirements. Most require some form of a budget, whether that is a simple project budget or a complex organizational budget, or both. Some will also include a budget narrative or justification and any number of other attachments. But in any grant proposal, the narrative is where you will likely spend most of your time. Fortunately, the proposal’s narrative is the fun part! This is where you get to put your storytelling skills to work. So how do you get started? Much like an author would begin a novel, start with an outline.

Many funders see far more applications each funding cycle than their dollars can feasibly reach, forcing them to give careful consideration to how they wish to accomplish their respective missions. Even if your organization is doing amazing, life-changing things for the population it serves, if you fail to articulate those amazing things in a way that convinces the holder of funds to invest in you, you could be missing out on funding.

There are many ways to think about budgeting in relation to grants. Essential to a well-run grants program is planning what discerns program or project creation needs from budget relieving needs. Program/project creation - funds to help create a new program or project that aligns with the organization’s mission. Budget relieving - funds that help ‘plug’ holes and relieve existing expenses.

There are lots of activities that can help a nonprofit organization become grant ready, and one of them is their internal roadmap of tasks that define their grants program. The purpose of these practices is to help ensure staff have a documented process that covers the A to Zs of a comprehensive grant program.

During my experience working for and in partnership with nonprofit organizations, one common thread is the perpetuation of a “scarcity mindset.” This mindset is based on the idea that nonprofits exist to help others in need and serve the greater good, therefore, staff and anything they might need to do their jobs (salaries, benefits, training) is often last on the list of funding priorities.