This is the last installment of the GrantMasters Series…
and I hope you’ve gotten some enjoyment and some good ideas and resources out of it. If you’re just joining us for this blog post, you aren’t too late. Make sure you go back and check out the previous GrantMasters Blog Posts, many of which had some free goodies you won’t want to miss!
The Power of Organization
Why Board Engagement Matters
You Need a Plan
Is Your Financial House in Order?
Good Grant Writers Don't Just Rely on Grants
So you’ve read them all and now all you can think is “there’s a lot more to address than I realized.”
You’re right and there’s good news and bad news that comes with that insight. First the bad news, just to get it out of the way: You may not be able to do everything that needs to be done without either getting help or removing other tasks from your plate so you can focus on this. Or at least readjust your expectations of how long the process will take.
Ok, now the good news: You should have a much better idea of what needs to be done and some basic steps you can take to get there. If your organization is doing ok and has stable funding in other areas you may be able to spread out your efforts over time so you can learn more about each part of the process and implement things on your own timetable. This will keep you from getting overwhelmed and still allow you to do it yourself, saving your organization some bucks in the long-run.
But if you’re somewhere in the middle, not quite sure whether or not you’re in over your head, here are 5 signs that you might need the help of a pro:
- You know your donor base isn’t broad enough and no one on staff knows how to form an appropriate development strategy.
Think back to what we’ve learned about broadening your donor base. You can’t rely solely on large donors or small donors. You need both, plus everyone in the middle. But that begs a lot of questions, right? Like how to reach different levels of donors, how to craft messages for different donor groups that will actually resonate, how many campaigns per year you need and which ones, how to structure them, when each campaign should start and end (or should it end at all?), how to create good marketing materials and where to distribute them, etc. etc. Oy Vey. I could keep going.
If you aren’t ready to tackle all these issues or you already know that no one on staff has the expertise to do it well, then it’s time to look at hiring a pro.
- You know your current grant records (heck, really all your records) are in a sorry state of disarray and although you know how to fix them, the thought of actually doing it gives you hives.
Do you have a storage room full of boxes with grant files but no idea what’s in them? Do you have storage boxes and binders in your office (and everyone else’s) and nothing is labeled? Or it is labeled but nothing in the boxes and binders corresponds to the actual label? Or maybe when you go to do reporting on the grants you have right now it’s a mad scramble to get the data you need and you’re not always sure it’s right.
You’re well aware that you would probably need several weeks to sit down and do nothing but go through all these files, create a filing system, scan them in, and get organized. Which all sounds great until you take into consideration that you’d need to stop answering the phone or attending to any of your other job duties to do it.
And if that’s not gonna happen anytime soon then it’s probably time to call in some reinforcements.
- Your nonprofit has lost credibility with past funders and/or community entities and you need a way to show them that your org has changed its ways (without saying “just trust me”).
If you’ve been reading any of my blogs (or anything else on grant writing and nonprofit management for that matter), it’s probably safe to say you didn’t cause whatever mess your organization finds itself in. Yet you’re part of the effort to dig out and since your org doesn’t have a great track record with grant makers, local organizations, peer nonprofits, etc. your word that it’s going to be fixed now isn’t doing much. And that’s understandable from their viewpoint.If this is the situation you find yourselves in it may be time to bring in a hired gun who can lend your organization some much-needed credibility. And you’ll be able to say that you’re not only working on making things better, but you’re learning “best practices”, too, so you’ll really get it right this time. (Grantmakers and pretty much everyone nonprofits deal with love the term “best practices” so use it liberally. You’re welcome for the tip.)
- You know your operations aren’t up to snuff and even if you got more grant funding you couldn’t manage it well. The thought of evaluating and implementing all the options to fix things gives you hives. Again.
So back to the example with the boxes of grant files….maybe it isn’t just grant files. If all your files are this way, tax season is a nightmare, you’re not sure you’re in compliance with anything, and finding any sort of document can easily turn into a wild goose chase then it’s time for some clean-up. But maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe your org never had policies and procedures in place to determine whose responsibility it was to retain and organize these files or how to do it. And does anyone even have oversight over some of this stuff?
If you can’t answer those questions (or you can but they’re all the wrong answers) and again, you can’t stop working for the next month while you write new policies and get your stuff together then you should probably hire a pro to help out.
You know you need to get better engagement with your community, donors, and patrons but that sounds like marketing and marketing is scary. And you don’t have a staff person for that anyway.
Marketing doesn’t have to be scary, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you can do more harm than good to your image and your marketing plan. All of this stuff can be learned, but time is usually short with nonprofit staff and if you don’t have quite a bit of time to brush up on email marketing, SEO, website platforms, social media algorithms and more then you might be better served by calling in someone to help show you the ropes and get it all set up.
Not quite sold on the idea of hiring in someone else? Let me help dispel some common fears and myths that might be holding you back.
- We don’t have the money to hire a consultant.
- We don’t have time to bring someone up to speed.
- They won’t understand what we do and the unique ways we operate.
Ok, friend. Let me break this down for you. You’re doing your best and it’s been great so far. But you’re losing time and money right now not getting a good foundation in place so your organization can actually grow. Hiring a consultant or contractor is cheaper than hiring another staffer who would need benefits if they’re full-time or would likely be a high-turnover position if they’re part-time. And besides, a good consultant is worth their weight in gold and their services should end up more than paying for themselves in the long run.
And the time argument? I get that one. I do. I was you at one point and most days even though I could have used help, I felt that taking time to explain and teach someone else how to do it would take longer than doing it myself. But that viewpoint was incorrect and here’s why:
You are wasting time right now trying to figure out how to do it yourself and you aren’t getting the best results even when you DO think you’ve figured it out. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a bunch of articles looking for better ways.
You’re spinning your wheels. You are losing time that you could otherwise spend putting your talents and knowledge to work in other areas, thereby advancing your mission, and helping your nonprofit more than you will when you try to do it all. Because you can’t be all things. Trust me.
And if you’re worried that you’ll hire someone who doesn’t understand what you do and how you do it then rest assured that there are lots of consultants out there who specialize in certain areas. Like me! I specialize in helping arts nonprofits. (I know….shameless plug, but it couldn’t be avoided.) Take a little bit of time to research options, find someone who specializes or who has worked with similar clients in the past, have a discussion with your board, and then write up a short summary of the challenges your nonprofit is facing and any information unique to your organization that a consultant should know. Yes, it will take some time, but not nearly as much as you think. And the return on investment will be worth it. I promise.
Need help finding a good grant writing or fundraising consultant? Look through directories at the Grant Professionals Association, Association of Fundraising Professionals, or give me a call. I’m happy to help and make recommendations for someone who specializes in your area of work or need.
Or just go straight to my Services page to take a look at ways I can start solving problems for your arts nonprofit and then drop me a line so we can chat.
Don't forget to share this article with your other nonprofit colleagues and sign up for the Newsletter (see the subscription form in the sidebar to your right) so you can receive exclusive tips, grant alerts, and free tools that I don't share anywhere else.
Want more? Drop your name and email in the form below to get notified when new blog posts come out.
Want news you can actually use?
Sign up to receive my exclusive, bi-weekly nonprofit Arts Roundup, where you'll get....
- stories from the nonprofit trenches
- free tools& resources
- grant alerts
- nonprofit arts news & articles
- tips & quotes