Fundraising in a Recession: A Panel Discussion

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Published:

November 14, 2022

Last Updated:

November 9, 2022

Have you prepared your nonprofit for a potential economic downturn?

​If you’ve spent any time on the internet lately, you’ve probably heard the chatter.

​And, as nonprofits that depend on grants and donations, this can be a scary proposition.

​But don’t fret - The good news is we’re not there yet! And there's still time to prepare your nonprofit & fundraising strategy for a recession.

In this workshop, we talk to grant and fundraising experts on where we are now, where we might be headed and what steps to take to keep your organization on-track.

By the end of this workshop, you'll have learned:

  • What’s the status of the economy today
  • ​How recessions can impact fundraising
  • ​How nonprofits can prepare & adjust fundraising strategies
  • ​Tips on minimizing stress during a stressful time

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About our Panelists:

Over her 35+-year nonprofit career, Maryn Boess has been an on-staff grantwriter; a grants consultant (winning $42 million for her clients over 10 years); a grants trainer; a grants reviewer, author, speaker, mentor and coach; and – starting in 2006 - even a grantmaker. This 3-D background brings a unique insider's perspective to the practical, inspiring trainings on healthy, successful grantsmanship she shares with thousands of people each year through GrantsMagic U (Go.GrantsMagic.org). A true dual-citizen of the grants world, Maryn may be the only person holding membership in both Grant Professionals Association (for grantseekers) - and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (for grantmakers). In 2020, Maryn became just the second inductee into the international Grant Professionals Class of Distinguished Fellows.

Cherian Koshy is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP), & Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer. Cherian is the Chief Development Officer at Endowment Partners, an investment management firm that solely works with nonprofits and foundations. In addition to 25+ years of fundraising experience, he serves on numerous boards including as the Vice Chair for Professional Development on the AFP Global board. He is a regular presenter at fundraising conferences around the country and across the globe.

Sheleia Phillips is the Founder and Principal Consultant of SMP Nonprofit Consulting. A servant leader, She has dedicated herself to the growth and development of nonprofits for the past six years. A graduate from Saint Louis University College of Public Health and Social Justice, she is equipped with advanced training in public health, program design, and public policy regarding maternal and child health. She has an affinity for research thus making her an advocate for implementing evidence-based approaches. She has secured and co-authored over $3 million dollars in grant awards for youth development, education, and health programs. She is also a grant reviewer for federal agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Click the video link below to start watching the replay of this free grant workshop, or check out the transcriptions below the video.

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Fundraising in a Recession: A Panel Discussion - Transcription

Gabriel: All right. Welcome, everybody. I’m excited to have you all here for this panel discussion. So as you're getting ready for it to start, you want to pop in the Zoom chat. I love to hear kind of what your name is, a little bit about your organization, where you're located, and what your biggest challenge related to fundraising is right now. So, that'd be helpful to hear.

Maryn: Hi, Gabriel. We’re seeing your entire screen. Do you want us just to see the slides?

Gabriel: Yeah. We’ll probably do that.

Maryn: Awesome.

Gabriel: Thank you. We'll see. Is it better?

Maryn: Not yet. Have you started the slideshow?

Sheleia: Yeah, I think -- yeah, the slideshow. There you go.

Gabriel: There you go.

Maryn: Bravo!

Gabriel: All right. There we go.

Maryn: Little behind the scenes work there.

Gabriel: Yeah, no. You’re good.

Maryn: Awesome.

Gabriel: All right. We got about one more minute, so. Again, just a reminder, for those who are joining, you want to drop in your name, your organization, title, a little bit about where you are, and what your biggest challenge like the fundraising is. That'd be great. And at the same time, while you wait, here's a $50 off coupon. If you happen to do an annual plan with Instrumental, so always good to have that in the back pocket as well, so.

All right. So just a reminder, it is being recorded today. And we will follow up with the recording afterwards, if you want to share it with any of your colleagues. If you have questions as we go, if you want to add some hashtags, and I'll show here, here, here, like this in the chat. This will help make sure that I actually get to see what you're seeing and call out the questions.

My name is Gabriel Harkov. I lead the sales team here at Instrumental. And so, it's a pleasure to have you all here. It's one of our standard free webinars that we offer. So, definitely, if you found this one, you might be interested in some of the other ones. We have some great topics. I don't know if any are as topical as this right now with what's going on in the world. But there are lots of great things that we present on related to grants institutional fundraising. So, I'm just going to pop forward here a little bit. Again, just as a reminder, we're going to talk about how to fundraise in a recession. And we've got some awesome panellists here that I’ll introduce in just a few minutes.

So a little about Instrumental, we help over 2100 non-profits right now in finding, tracking, and managing their grants. And so, that means we're hearing every day of kind of what their challenges are and, hopefully, giving them a nice solution from the institutional fundraising side. One of the things our customers love about Instrumental is the efficiency we provide. They say they save on average about three hours a week and they can really significantly increase that grant application output, often as much as 50%. So, a little bit Instrumental. I promise to be brief here.

Just in case you haven't heard about us, one of the core things for Instrumental is helping you find the best fit funders. So, we have over 1200 active RFPs, active grants on the platform. We have a really special algorithm that helps match 24/7 against those, so you always get weekly updates. If there's anything new that comes in, if a deadline changes, all that stuff is there. And if you might see with this green save button here, you can save them to your tracker, which we'll talk about here in a second to make sure you're keeping everything kind of organized in your institutional funding world.

One of my favourite things, so I worked in the non-profit space for a while. I would have loved to have had this data of what is actually the right way to apply to these grants, how much, are they open to new grantees. So, we help you prioritize faster. We dig into the 990 data for you and we analyse it and give you some key learnings. We also make it really easy for the team to collaborate. So, you might have board members. You might have other development team members who might be a part of your grants process. So, again, we can assign tasks, milestones. We have notes. We keep documents in here again making sure everything is organized. And then we have a tracker where you can see kind of where everything lives, what stage they're at, what we've been awarded, maybe what's out and we haven't heard about yet, as well as our account review and our reporting tool.

And again, everything you might need from an institutional funding standpoint to make sure that, again, you can apply to some more grants and win some more funds, which helps fund your mission. So with that, I'm going to introduce our panellists here. So, I want to make sure I pull up the bios to get this right. We have some really great folks talking to you today about fundraising in a recession. So, we'll start with Maryn Boess, right? Did I get the name right? I’m so sorry.

Maryn: Maryn.

Gabriel: Maryn. Sorry. I'm so sorry, Maryn.

Maryn: It’s okay.

Gabriel: Has been on staff grant writer, a grant consultant. She has won over $42 million for her clients over 10 years. She’s a grants trainer, a grants reviewer, an author, a speaker, a mentor, or coach, and even starting in 2006 a grant maker.

So, this background brings a unique insider's perspective to the practical, inspiring training on healthy, successful grantsmanship that she shares with thousands of people each year through her GrantsMagicU. And you can go there. I'll put the link here in the chat in just a second, so.

And we have Cherian Koshy, who is a certified Fundraising Executive, Charter Advisor in Philanthropy, and Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer. He is the Chief Development Officer at the Endowment Partners, an investment management firm that solely works with nonprofits and foundations. In addition to 25 plus years of fundraising experience, he serves on numerous boards, including as the Vice Chair of professional development on the AFP global board.

And then we have Sheleia Phillips, who is the Founder and Principal Consultant of SMP Non-profit Consulting. As a servant leader, she has dedicated herself to the growth and development of non-profits over the past six years. And she secured and co-authored over $3 million in grant awards for youth development, education, and health programs. And she's also a Grant Reviewer for federal agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. So, yeah, I'm really excited to learn from you guys today. And I feel like we're all going to hear some great advice in what seems like it might be a little tricky time.

So before we hop in, we've got some panel questions, questions for the panel ready to go. So, we'll go through that discussion. And then like you said, I'll be looking at the questions to make sure we get that answered as we go. And then we'll spend some time on those at the end and, hopefully, give you some good advice as we go.

So, I think the first place we want to start here, let me share --turn off the screen share. Let’s see. Sorry, my Zoom has gotten there, is talking about where we are today in terms of the economic situation. So, yeah, Maryn, would you like to take that for us?

Maryn: Yeah. Why not? Just jump right in, right?

Gabriel: Yeah.

Maryn: Where are we today as opposed to yesterday or a week ago or six months ago? If you ask five different economists this question, you will get at least five different answers. And I think it's safe to say two things. First, there really is very little that we can say with certainty about where we are today on the current economic environment and where it's heading. And I don't say that glibly either. That is my honest response to this very big question. And number two, that there really literally hasn't ever been any degree of “certainty” in the economy that we inhabit as members of the grants community in what I call grants world.

That said, I've been doing grants work for over 35 years. That goes way back to the Reagan era. And many of you weren't even born yet during the Reagan era. So, I was there through all of the tumult during the Reagan years. There was the 2008 recession, the massive great recession of 2008. There have been all the ups and downs and twists and turns of the last several years. I will say, and again, I'm just making a very macro view.

Generally, the arc is always like this. So, there are ups and downs that flow gently over time. It's been a little bit more like this the last couple of years. And given where we are in our political environment, I don't think we can say with any certainty what's ahead. So, I'm really looking forward to exploring what that means for us in the nonprofit world going forward. And I think that's probably a good place for me to -- oh, and I also want -- it's easy to forget that the US economy is part of the global economy. There is no clear separation between what happens in the United States and what's going on in the world, the larger world around us. So, just to set the scene and get us thinking big, I think those are some good points for us to keep in mind.

Gabriel: Okay. Awesome. I don't know if Cherian or Sheleia, do you have anything to add to that?

Sheleia: No, I agree. And I think I've heard it once before that we're in a recession that no one wants to call the recession. So as Maryn mentioned earlier, depending on who you talk to, everyone has a different perspective on where we are right now. But the writing is on the wall. So the stocks are down, inflation is up, remote jobs are declining, and just overall the workforces are in a real strange place. I would say that the demand hasn't changed. So, we're just in this space of -- regardless of who you talk to that we should all be paying attention but not panicking. So, that's what I'll add to that.

Cherian: That’s great. And I would agree with my colleagues on that. I think what's helpful for you all in the nonprofit world, as Maryn mentioned, in grants world, particularly when I was writing grants or managing grant portfolios, the thing that I would be looking at is, how is this going to affect the ecosystem?

So, we're talking on Wednesday, if you're watching this recording later, that tomorrow the CPI will come out. And it will indicate -- I think most consensus will indicate that inflation is still persistently high. It will be in the 6.5, 6.7 range, somewhere in that neighbourhood, which is lower than it was a year ago. But it will still encourage the Federal Reserve to pursue this sort of aggressive recession or inflation containing measures.

And so, if you are watching Jamie Dimon, these other people talk about when a recession will come, most consensus is or is sometime in early to mid-2023. I'm licensed by FINRA. So, I'm not going to be very specific about recommendations because there are all kinds of regulations about what I can say. But as you're looking at the news, the thing that I would be paying attention to is the unemployment report and that inflation report. And what that means is, for federal grants in particular, the allocation of federal grant opportunities will continue to change with the budget. And as Inflation affects the federal budget and then state budgets, because a lot of those federal budgets or federal grant projects are then state allocated. You want to be mindful of whether the budgetary allocation is going to change. But also, what the expectations are around that funding for the top level.

When it comes to family foundations, organizations that you might apply to, the inflation and unemployment numbers are going to affect them more dramatically. And in particular, what you should be paying attention to is how those family foundations allocate their spending. So, are they doing a three to five years rolling average? And what does that look like? Because it probably was up in 2021 but has been down in 2022. And so, as you're thinking about 2023 and forward grant applications, thinking about what that looks like. And then one of the things that we'll talk about, as we move forward, is the issue of unemployment bumps that will happen in 2023 or 2024.

The market is pricing in at 2% increase. So, that has an immediate effect on our organizations, on our donors, but also the foundations that we would be applying to, and being mindful of the fact that they may be understaffed as we are because of the job crunch that's affecting them as well. So, thinking about that mindfully from your grant application perspective will be helpful as you move forward through this space.

Gabriel: Okay. So thinking about that, Cherian, I’m curious, how long do you think the recession is going to last? I know that's the big question. But does anyone have any ideas? And maybe if we don't, what should we be doing to prepare for potentially a longer or shorter recession?

Cherian: So, I guess what I'll say -- and then I'll leave it to my colleagues to comment, is that, on average, recessions last 11 months. The last one in the pandemic lasted two months. So because of my role, I'm not going to surmise what that might be. But I think what Maryn said is really important. Recessions are a natural part of the economic cycle. They happen on average every six or seven years. So we're way, way overdue. Even with the pandemic when that happened, we're way overdue for a recession.

So, the key thing to remember is that your organization is important. The needs are important. You're going to continue to barrel through this and prepare yourself today for what will happen immediately after the recession, which is an increase in the economic cycle.

So, my biggest recommendation is that organizations invest in fundraising, strategy, and infrastructure now knowing that at a certain point, it will -- the worm will turn and you'll need those relationships with funders when the opportunity is available in the future.

Maryn: Yeah, I'll go ahead and jump in because these are all great points that I want to kind of continue to drill down on the bigger ecosystem, which is really understanding that it’s a part of that bigger ecosystem. And first of all, we need to remember that grants are a long game. Right? There are no fast acting buttons that we can push or levers that we can pull. No quick course corrections that we can activate when the economy gets especially jouncy. So, we cannot be reactive. That is the important part. And I really appreciate that. Sheleia has said that right up front. She said, “Pay attention, but don't panic because panicking can create its own self-fulfilling prophecy.” And we absolutely want to stay out of that particular cesspool and maintain that long-term output there.

And second, the grantee ecosystem is very much a creature of the overall economic currents and structures in our country. We don't necessarily think about this as grant seekers, but as a grant maker. I'm very aware that grant dollars don't just come from nowhere, that they actually come from investment gains in the stock market, and asset transfers in corporate profits. And all of these are sort of long term streams that the organizations behind them have worked really hard to kind of smooth out the impact of them.

So whatever is going on in the economy right now, we generally won't see it. This is my experience. And I'm ready to be corrected because anything that happened yesterday may not happen tomorrow. We don't know that. That generally speaking, we're not going to see specific impacts on how the dollars are put out into the grants world until the next economic cycle. So in other words, the grant makers that I'm familiar with are operating today out of dollars that were generated a year ago. And that's a long enough time period for most of those that are doing a good job of managing their assets to take smoothing actions to kind of mitigate the impacts of that short-term jounciness.

It sounds kind of wonky. But I think it's really important that we stay with what Sheleia said and what Cherian has been emphasizing that this is a long term, typical, cyclical process that is not -- that should not cause alarm. It should cause us to pay attention but not be alarmed.

Sheleia: And I just want to add as a -- if we were to put a bow on what my colleagues mentioned, I think, for me, how I see it rolling -- and, Maryn, you made a great point about how the grants economy is a long game. The event of what we're going through right now, it has a ripple effect. So, when we think about all of the things that are happening today and will occur over the next couple of months, while we're aware of it, we won't really know the impact possibly until a year, maybe years down the line.

So when we talk about not panicking, it's typically because we can't predict the future, right? So, we might as well prepare for the best using our best wisdom and just trends that we've seen year over year. And being mindful, even in our grant research, of how things have probably changed from today versus what's historically there.

So, again, just being mindful of those effects even though the event may be shorter than what we anticipate, as Sherry mentioned earlier.

Gabriel: So, I know we talked about the grant side of things. I know it's not about individual donations. But generally, grants go as part of a full fundraising like a plan. Right? And I'm curious what you might tell people who advise folks as I'm thinking about. We think individual donors might go down and they need to, therefore, increase grants as part of forward thinking. I don't know, Sheleia, what you would tell your clients or what you're thinking through on that one.

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Sheleia:
 Yes. So, my philosophy has always been a balanced one. And my colleagues, they might laugh at me. But when I think of the world of grants -- and I'm a grants professional. So if I could be biased, I'm probably more biased. But I do think of them as more of a lottery. So when you think about the competitive nature and just be -- it's not predictable, grants aren't predictable in a sense of we know that we're going to get these dollars. We need to make sure that we have a diverse strategy overall and have contingency plans. So, of course, when it comes to grants, there are grant strategies that you all can consider like making sure that you are applying for a more general operating fund.

So if something happens, we're able to shift those dollars wherever we need them, or increase the amount of grants that you all are submitting month to month. As long as it does not add to staff or admin burden, I'm all for that. But don't forget just your other revenue streams because those do come in the midnight hour to help you out, particularly around individuals. While those will be or we anticipate those to be impacted, they're still there. And while we're in times like this economically, it’s not the time to be modest; rather, with your individual donors or your grant funders.

So it's a time where, I think, if -- in just full transparency that those who are focused on being holistic in their fundraising, they're going to prioritize those relationships, regardless if it's an individual or an institution and not be modest and be very forthcoming with, “Hey, we have some needs. How can you help?” And see where they go. So, I don't want to suggest a certain strategy over another. But just be balanced and see how that works for your organization because there's no one-size-fits-all or one answer to help you ride the tide.

Maryn: I love that. I love that you land on the image of riding the tide because the image that I like to bring forward in this kind of discussion was about how we steer their ship. And we always steer the ship and the waters can be turbulent and the winds can come from here and the winds can come from there. But we have our destination clearly in mind. And we may need to tack to the left or tack to the right to get there, resetting our sails. But it's the North Star that we’re steering by.

And this is not at all sexy. But what I say and what I teach all day every day is that healthy, sustainable, successful fundraising and grant seeking is simply a function of healthy, sustainable, successful non-profit management. And the principles, the foundational principles of a healthy, sustainable, and successful non-profit are, to me, always the same. And this is the time not to abandon those principles in favour of some short term reactive strategy. But instead, to double down. Double down on mission and stay clear about your organization's mission. Number one. Number two, double down on collaboration. This is the time to get really, really committed to looking for ways that we can leverage what we have by working together with others in our community. Number three, planning, planning, planning. You cannot abandon planning at all at this point in time.

Those funder relationships and good funder research that both of my colleagues have mentioned, are absolutely critical. And especially, the relationships that have carried you through well where you've got a really good relationship of trust, those are the funders and the donors that you want to be turning to now and then doubling down on those eight plus grant proposals, getting those proposals out the door. It's not sexy. There's no magic wand.

And when the weather gets jouncy, though, that’s when we're holding really tight to the steering wheel, if you will, and making sure that we're steering that solid course. So double down, double down, double down on all the things that are always going to sustain healthy and successful organizations.

Cherian: I'll just add one piece. I love that Sheleia said that there's no one-size-fits-all approach. And I think that's true of almost everything. So as you're thinking about -- as you're thinking about grants, grants is not one thing. Right? There's not one type of funder. So, it's important to do some segmentation work on whether that funding entity has headwinds or tailwinds.

And as coming back to Gabe’s question around individuals, our firm is a member of the Giving Institute. If you haven't seen the Giving Institute data so far, I would recommend that you take a look at it. What it tells us is that, in particular, individual giving has continued to increase over the last several years. But the number of donors who are giving is decreasing. And Nathan Chapelle has a new book out called Generosity Crisis that addresses that. I would encourage you to pick that up as well.

But the point here is that individuals look at these economic indicators; inflation. And the markets and unemployment are affected by it more viscerally and more immediately than institutional funders are. So our organization -- our firm does not work with individual donors, but we do work with family foundations and community foundations in managing their assets. And so, some of those funding structures, their spending policy happens in advance. And federal grants, state grants, obviously, that funding has been allocated. So, it's there to be spent and it's there for that purpose.

It's not fungible. So, if there's a NOFO that says $30,000, or $300,000, or $30 million is available, that's what's available and you can apply for that. And so, I would absolutely encourage you to do that and pay attention to that.

But when it comes to family foundations, they have -- as long as they're meeting the legal requirements, there may be more kind of personal reasons around their spending policy and how they allocate that. We try to have those conversations with them on a more strategic level. But in general, foundations between 2009 and 2018 funding levels from foundations was around 5.4 to 5.8% of the total corpus. So when there are these types of economic indicators, if you know how the foundation manages their spending policy, you can get a sense of, are they going to be more sensitive to what's happening now and what will happen in the next year? And moderate your appeals to kind of think about, do we ask for more today or do we talk about a multiyear strategy with some of those foundations that would enable us to smooth out the situation for the family foundation or corporate foundation, whatever it might be?

So, one of the strategies that we've talked about with our clients is actually asking for stair step funding, because we know that a recession is happening at some point. I mean, I guess I shouldn't say we know, but we anticipate. If your total need is $500,000, maybe ask for $150,000 in 2023, $250,000 in 2024 from there so that you can create sort of a stair step multi year relationship that accommodates where the funder is and your overall needs. Just one idea to throw out there, if that's helpful.

Gabriel: So, yeah. I think that's amazing. It's a great kick-off to kind of, as we're looking at what's coming. We've talked a little bit about preparing. And we also talked a little bit about grants generally a little more, or even over time because this money is coming from different periods. If I'm a fundraising professional or I'm a grant writer, what should I be doing now? What should I be telling my organization now to make sure that we're all prepared and ready for what some people in the organization might be thinking is going to be very rocky for all this?

So, I don't know if anyone wants to grab that. I can certainly tag somebody. But anyone on the panel wants to pick that up and tell us what you think.

Sheleia: I'll start. For me, the main priority is to, as Maryn said, double down on those relationships. I have a dear sister at work, and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this with the group. But she tells me all the time that the real money is behind the back door.

So when you have those relationships with grant makers -- and I've had this in my own personal experience when I was in the nine-to-five side is that sometimes we had grants that came through without us applying, without it being on the website simply because they were familiar with us, our work, and actually had opportunities to be boots on the ground with us. So when you create environments and really cultivate those relationships with grant makers, you'll be surprised how they can come through for you outside of their general cycles. You just never know where their dollars or where they may get extra dollars from and how they can benefit you. So if you are like me and afraid to cultivate relationships, now is the time to overcome that fear. Because it will not only benefit you professionally to grow as a grants pro, but it will also benefit your clients and your organization overall. So, reach out.

Instrumental does a really great job in giving us a who's who and see who is in your network. Whether that's through social media or through your board or your staff, anyone, so that you all can make these warm connections. Or if you have folks who have been down with you for years, again, I'll repeat what I said earlier. Don't be modest. Be completely honest and see where that goes. You'll be surprised how that'll turn out as a win for you.

Maryn: I'll take that. You teed that up perfectly for me because as a grant maker, I can speak from that perspective. I am stunned how few people actually do take the opportunity to reach out and have conversations with the people that you're asking for money. And it always struck me as a little bit strange. Why would there not be any attempt to at least establish a connection? Not become best friends, that's not what we're talking about. But you’re a representative of your organization.

And what I, the grant maker, I'm interested in is truly less about your organization and more about the work that you're doing in the world, because that's what you're asking me to invest in through you. So, we are truly prepared to partner with you in creating change in the community in a certain way.

And I think that partnership, if you can get over your fear of talking with somebody who supposedly controls the money, the power is not in the money. The power is in the muscle on the ground. You've got the muscle on the ground. You've got the know-how. You've got the community connections. You know where the needs are. All we're doing is sitting here with some money that we need to get out the door because, otherwise, we're going to be taxed on it or find something. And you are the ones that need to let us know where that money can best be invested.

So, think about us as partners with you in creating change in the community, or responding to a need in the community, or helping you become stronger from the inside out and the capacity going braces as members in the community. Again, looking at that long-term goal is less than reacting.

We are less likely as institutions to respond to emergency appeals than we are to respond well to the sense that you've got a good solid plan and you're working the plan, and you're committed to following through the plan, and you want us to partner with you in that.

Cherian: I'll just add quickly one tactical way of doing that. And building those relationships is what I encourage everyone on fundraising teams that I managed to do, which is to be involved in some sort of grant making activity. By that, I mean, if there are multiple public entities, somewhere in your locale that give out grants that are -- that include people like community people on those grant review committees. So as an early grant writer, one of the things that I did not understand was, why did we win grants, why did we lose grants? And I just decided, “I'm going to volunteer and be on a grant review committee.”

And as a result of that, I was like, “Oh, I see how this comes off and what the conversation is like. So, it's an opportunity for you to sit on the other side of the table. And right now, that's a great opportunity. I mean, generally, most of those public institutions, they will love that someone wants to sit on grant review. And having sat through those meetings where you are inundated with grant requests, I can tell you, having other people in the room is really helpful because then it evens out the number of planning grants or full proposals that you have to read and comment on.

So if you have an opportunity to volunteer in that capacity, I would highly, highly recommend that you learn a lot. I certainly did. But it's also a great service to your community. And that builds that relationship. So, at some point, if you want to apply for a grant, you'd have to come off the grant review committee, or whatever. But it's a great opportunity for you to kind of transition that at some point in the future as well.

Gabriel: Awesome. I love that idea. That's great.

I just want to remind everybody, if you have questions as we go, please drop them in the chat so we can make sure we bring those out to the panel as well.

I'm curious. So one thing that I saw in the last pandemic recession, and I'm sure it's something that nonprofits are dealing with now is, okay, so we're going to have to get ready for this. So, let's cut our programming. Let's cut our spending. Like going back into a shell almost. And then that's how we'll survive.

So, I see you all had some reactions to that thought. So, probably, the same as what I would have. But I'm just curious. And, Maryn, we could probably start with you. What would you tell your clients? What would you tell folks? Is that a good idea, a bad idea?

Maryn: Well, yeah. So, again, I'll go back to the long game thing. We don't really know where things are going to stand a year from now or even six months from now. So, I wouldn't advise doing anything today that can't easily be undone when situations change again. This is a good time to get together with your financial team if you're in a leadership position.

And certainly, I know a lot of people who are -- developing grant proposals aren't necessarily part of the leadership team. But this is where you can take some leadership and work with your leadership team and your financial team to take a look at the what-if scenarios. You might just say, “Okay, let's take a look at what our budget planning looks like now.” And if we had to trim 10%, where could we do that without substantially impacting our operations and without crippling us in terms of going forward? And then maybe push it to the next level and go to 15 or even 20%.

So, you've got some contingencies in place. You can play out the what-if scenarios. And then that just gives you that sort of subverts the Chicken Little running around the sky is falling energy and gets your feet on the ground. In reality basis, you've got the numbers on your plans. You've got the scenarios that you're playing out. You can make some good and thoughtful decisions now about how you might steer the course should that need come up.

And again, just really be investing on doubling down, doubling down on those internal infrastructure things that really go to the core of the strength of your organization. And never forget to continue investing in partnerships and in planning and in collaboration and in the mission of your organization.

And I know it sounds very general, but -- I imagine Sheleia will have some specific tactics that she can add to flesh that out a little bit.

Sheleia: Yeah, I just want to add. Well, first, let me answer your question, Gabriel. No. Absolutely not. That goes towards just that going into panic mode, right? So when I think about non-profits in their programs, I think about just the heart of what you do always makes a demand. And in times like these, the demand tends to increase. So, I'm always serving people is why I got into the grants profession, right?

And I think to Maryn's point, we have to double down on our infrastructure to see where our opportunities to save more money. How can we partner with other folks to do our part in resource sharing? And then what can we do this innovatively? So maybe it's not a question of cutting our programs, but are there ways that we can do it differently and still serve people in excellence?

So, times like these really help us think outside of the box. I'll tell you that as a business owner. We find different ways to do things. So, it requires a level of wisdom and discernment to know what we can do differently without cutting off our ties to our program and putting our community in an interesting space, so.

Cherian: So, I fully agree with my colleagues on not under investing. And I think in particular, fundraisers, and specifically grants professionals, get the short shrift when economic cycles look. When boards and senior leadership look at ways of cutting organizations, that's when staff gets cut, so. And I'm super biased.

We talk with our organizations, with our clients a lot about change management during this time and what are smart investments and what are disastrous investments. And I would point to the research, if you haven't seen this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. I'm very biased because I was the former chair of volunteer Iowa, which is our state CNCS. And they were very represented in this article that references the research from Fidelity Charitable that says that during the pandemic; a lot of organizations got rid of people who managed volunteers. And what we know to be true is that volunteers make really great donors. And if we were to extrapolate that out -- and what we do when we talk to boards, is to say, when you cut fundraising staff, when you cut grants professionals, in particular for you all in this audience, what you end up doing is creating a knowledge deficit and a strategy deficit in the organization.

And this article does a really great job of indicating. When we didn't have volunteer management and we didn't engage volunteers, it really crippled organizations. So the main thing that I want to encourage you to do is really print that article out, share it with your internal leadership team and remind them that as we go into these situations, we have to be very mindful about if we do cut, what we are cutting out of our budgets and make strategic investments in those long-term relationships both in terms of institutional knowledge internal to the organization, but how are those community relationships managed so that we maintain them. Because eventually, we will come out of the recession, for sure, that I will say, without equivocation. We will come out of the recession. We will need funding again and funding will be available again. So, we want to make sure that we're mindful of how those pieces come into play.

And if you are rehiring for grants professional after you have gone dormant for several months, or maybe even a year or more, that's going to, as Maryn pointed out, these are long-term, long cycles. So if you're starting that cycle again after reducing staff, it's going to be even longer to -- or a longer road to recovery.

So, I would encourage organizations that are thinking about cutting to be very, very judicious about what that looks like and don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Isn't that an idiom? Who knows? You got the idea.

Gabriel: We got a number of requests for that particular article, if you have a link, Cherian.

Cherian: I do. Actually, I'll throw it in the chat.

Gabriel: And something I was thinking about that. I know we have some great questions from the crowd as well, it was okay, so we don't want to maybe stop the spin, right? We don't want to collapse into a ball. But maybe there are opportunities that we can identify that are new that will kind of spur growth or make us more able to win grants, right? So, is there something that we can do? And how do we identify those opportunities? Or how do we have those conversations internally?

And I don't know if either of you have seen that. And if you've seen that in the past, that's kind of like using the recession or recession, we'll see which way it goes, as like an opportunity for growth for the non-profit.

Maryn: What's really interesting is that it sparked a memory. Because we've all been through something very similar through the pandemic, which is really unprecedented in our lifetime. But from an economic perspective, it is sort of the ultimate jouncy economic experience, right?

And one of the interesting things that I found was that while people weren't able to work in their traditional modes, there was a lot of opportunity for them to double down on their training. So, my business actually took off in a nice way. And because that's all I do is train and teach people, share information about how to be more successful and healthy grant seeking.

And so, that would be an absolute. This is a great opportunity to build that internal capacity and the knowledge base and the skill level, not just vested in the one grant writer. I call grants girl or grants guy that everything that grants goes to that person and nobody else, but the entire leadership team develops a more robust understanding of how grants really work. And I don't mean just filling the blanks on an application, but the entire economy and how much the leadership team as a whole has to do with the help and success of that entire fundraising/grant-seeking function.

So in addition to doubling down on the five principles that we've been talking about all along is a terrific time to double down and get some really good solid skills and context training in these exact issues. And you've got great people right here in front of you on the screen today that are a part of that, who can be a part of that process for you.

Sheleia: And I just want to piggyback off of Maryn's point. What came to mind while she was speaking is that pressure tends to show out the cracks in your foundation.

Maryn: Yes.

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Sheleia:
 So one of the things that I noticed at the beginning of the pandemic is just how can I be more efficient in my writing, like the deadlines are not going to stop. At that time, I was the grants girl at an organization. So, everything came to me. And you all can imagine how much of my hair came out just with the increase in opportunity. So not only did we have our regular grant cycles, we had COVID response funds. And everyone was just being extremely generous. We didn't know how this pandemic was going to actually turn out.

So, when I came to the consulting side, training and capacity building was foreign. But I'm learning. Similar to Maryn is that that's what a lot of organizations want, especially if they aren't in a position to afford a done-for-you provider.

So, we have just taken the last few months to create different types of opportunities, whether that's in a do-it-yourself form or in a done-with-you form to help non-profits really hone in on those areas that they feel they need to either increase their capacity, strengthen their internal readiness or grant readiness, or just make the grants were less stressful for them. So, this is a perfect time for you all to invest in those types of services. There are so many different options out there so that when we emerge out of this, you'll be more competitive and ready to go.

Gabriel: Awesome. Thank you. So, Jewel Nems sent a question. She said, “There's a lot of money in donor advised funds right now and it's parked there. Is there anything that we can do as grant professionals or as fundraisers to help get a little bit more of that release?” Any ideas on getting folks to part with their donor advised funds right now?

Cherian, you are nodding your head. So, I'm going to ping you first.

Cherian: Oh, sure. So first and foremost, absolutely. That is true and significantly true. Check out the research on that. And the first thing that I would say is you’ve got to make it super easy for people to make gifts from their DAFs. So if you don't have a DAF widget on your website, that's one way of doing it, especially if you know that you have people who have DAFs in your donor community.

The other thing is to be proactive about letting people know that they can make guesses out of their DAFs directly to you. And that's a great option because that money has already been given. They've already gotten the tax benefit and whatnot.

Helen Brown also has a tool. I'll throw this in the chat. I know you all are going to ask. That I've seen and it looks really cool. That's called DAFinitive. It allows you to search donor advised funds by topic area. So if you're an arts organization, for example, you can look for DAFs that give money to arts organizations, for example. So, I would check that out.

There's no affiliate, anything like that. Helen showed it to me. I think it's the only DAF search engine out there. So, that's helpful.

If you don't want to pay for that service or whatnot, I guess the other thing to be mindful of is that your local community foundation probably houses a bunch of DAFs. And so figuring out how you can kind of cross market your needs to those donor advised funds would be the other way to approach that.

Gabriel: Okay. Awesome. I have some other questions here. I'm going to combine two into one. So, we have someone who's wandering newer to grants. Where's the best place to go for training? And, obviously, I'm biased to say Instrumental. But I know there are lots of great resources out there.

And then the second question, which I think kind of goes hand-in-hand is, how do we find maybe a help from the grants writer, a new contract grant writer, or a staff person who's a grants writer to help us win more grants? Because that's something that they don't necessarily have right now. So, I don't know. Sheleia, if you want to start to kick us off on this one, and then we can go on from there?

Sheleia: Absolutely. So, I'll go back to the basics with this one. We just had a chat last week with my social media community about, if you're looking for a grant writer, here's a few things that you should do first. So, the number one thing that I would suggest is that you check your organization's grant readiness. So, that's just a simple way of saying what's your organization's capacity to find, write, win, and manage grant awards?

Now, for the sake of time, I can't get into all of the nuts and bolts. But a skilled and ethical grants professional will help you check your foundation to just see, one, do you have the capacity? And are you competitive for grants? That's the first and foremost thing. Okay? Second, I would say check and make sure that you actually have a budget for a grants pro. I know there's a lot of talk throughout the pandemic and on social media about writing on commission, and things like that.

That is unethical. I saw someone drop the GPA in the chat. And that's an excellent resource both to check our ethics and how we should operate in this space as well as a consultant directory. But be prepared to just have a budget set aside for grants pro. And if you can't afford it done for you, I’ll repeat again, try some do it yourself or done-with-you options.

And then, number three, make sure that you have some internal staff capacity to work with the grants pro. So, there's this -- I'll say it's just a myth that if I hire grants professionals, I can wash my hands of the entire process. And this is just certainly not true. I will tell you from personal experience that we will reach out to you to review narratives, if there are some last minute attachments and things like that.

It's more of what Maryn said, relationship and partnership. So, we're your partners. We're not your miracle workers. So, those are just some tactical things to consider. And again, if you want to either reach out to some folks on the GPA, please, in addition, reach out to Maryn and myself, and we'll direct you to the right place.

Gabriel: All right. Maryn and Cherian, any other thoughts on that one?

Maryn: Oh, I forget what the original question was. But I was so enthralled by Sheleia’s response.

Gabriel: It was very comprehensive. Yes.

Maryn: It was a terrific response. Oh, about, yeah, bringing somebody into your organization to help with grants. And I'm just sort of still buzzing from that, we're your partners, not miracle workers. It's like, yes, absolutely, a hundred percent on that. And just a soft pitch here, again, I appreciate Sheleia offering, we can help you with those resources. If you want to email us, I imagine you'll have access to our emails afterwards.

And if you're looking for specifics in terms of directions that you can go for training or to contact top notch ethical and trustworthy grant professionals, we'd be happy to help you with that.

Gabriel: Awesome. That’s great.

Cherian: I can’t add anything because I don't do grants writing and consulting. We help organizations that do grant writing. But the one thing that I would share with you is I've lots of friends who do that work. And GPA is a great resource. But in conversations with people like Diane Leonard and Ken Miller, one of the things that keeps coming up are the questions not to ask in those circumstances. And one of the things that we think about is how successful are you at raising money through grants?

And in reality, as Sheleia mentioned, that has a lot to do with you and your organization and your internal capacity. There's no magic wand that the grant writer can do to take something that's junk and make it into something amazing, like a $100 million grant proposal.

So rather than thinking about, “Can this grant professional transform my organization and give access to us to hundreds of millions of dollars in grants?” is, really, “Who do you trust to work with and really get you to the point that you as an organization can get to?” So, just asking the right questions, I think, would be very helpful.

Gabriel: Okay. Awesome.

So one other question we had -- and this goes back to Cherian's point of joining a grant making organization and what your experiences were there. Are there a couple of top things that you would see in grant proposals? Or, maybe everyone else in the panel can answer this. That would be like a no-go, like these were clear toss out, make sure you go through your proposals that don't have these things in there.

Oh, okay.

Maryn: I teach you this all day every day from sweat. We call it from inside the grant maker's black box, what happens inside the decision making process that people who are working so hard on their grant proposals never see the things that make the grant makers, the reviewers, and the decision makers go, “Aah!” And I will say the big thing is, if you are not writing your grant from a plan that's already been developed independent of the grant proposal, your grant proposal is going to sink down to the bottom of the pile because we can spot it right away. It's like this looks like they were just sort of spaghetti throwing things in in response to the questions.

I don't get a sense that they have any plan behind this other than just reacting to the questions that we ask on this grant form. So, that is the number one thing that I see on my side that I know that grant writers often don't think about. And other than that, the clear simple declarative sentences, dispense, please, with fancy language. You're not trying to win us over or persuade us. Actually, I think of that as not a competition. I've heard the word competing come up. And I take issue with that because I know that's what it feels like from the grant writer’s side. But from the grant maker’s side, we don't feel like you're competing. We feel like you are showing up and showing us what you've got and giving us an opportunity to audition with you and select from the proposals that are available to us. Given the amount of money we have to fund that portfolio of projects, especially going to further the cost that we want to be investing in.

So, there's a different dynamic when you're thinking about writing a proposal as trying really hard to pull the levers and push the buttons and make somebody change their mind, which is very manipulative. Versus simply saying, “Let's just show up and show you what we've got, tell you who we are, tell you what we're doing, tell you why that work is important, tell you what our plans are, and show you exactly how we'd love for you to partner with us in moving those plans forward.

It's really subtle. It feels like a really subtle thing. But, truly, it comes through on the other side. And the proposal is so loud and clear. You'd be surprised how many proposals get set aside because these guys are just trying to manipulate us. And I don't really trust them as much as I do. This is just showing up and saying, “Here's what we're planning to do. You want to be a part of this with us?” That's my plea.

I have an opportunity here to speak from my heart as the grant maker. And also, the best advice I ever got as a grant writer was from a program officer, a federal program officer years and years and years ago who just been through a week of apparently -- I don't know, anyway. But I called with a question about the RFP that we were responding to. And he said, “Before I let you go, I have one thing to ask you.” And I said, “Oh my gosh, what's that? What are you asking me?” And he said, “Please, whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances, send me another dull, dry boring as bone dust grant proposal.” I spent the entire week ploughing through stacks and stacks of dead, dull, boring, dry as bone desk proposals. Please, will you simply make your proposal sing? Sing, S-I-N-G. And it's like that has infused everything that I've done ever since 30 plus years ago and everything I teach as well. So, I have the opportunity to share that with you.

And, Gabriel, I'm so glad that you asked that question from the other side of the grant review side. We're ploughing through dozens, maybe sometimes hundreds of proposals. Yours will stand out, if it sings, if it's clear, and if we can tell right away that you've got a good solid plan behind it.

Gabriel: Awesome.

Sheleia: Really quickly, Maryn. We call that “You can’t pull on heartstrings alone, but you'll win grants by division you can articulate.” So make sure that when you all watch the recording, write down everything that Maryn said because that's the real deal in how they feel in the world of grants, making sure that you actually have a plan and not throwing emotional language and fluff in there. So, yeah, I agree. I don't have my pompom today. But if I did --

Maryn: It's different with individual donors. I understand there's a different dynamic in terms of relationships with individuals. But we're talking about grants, and that's what I can tell you about that process.

That said, it's certainly interesting because there are certainly grand organizations where the decision can be made by a single individual based on their own whim and their own preference. And they can come in and an entire decision making process could have been gone through with the community team. And the family member who sits on the board of that family foundation can come in and say, “I don't like any of this. I'm going to have the money to go here.”

So, there's all those dynamics that happened behind the scenes that we as grant writers don't have any control over. So, there are no buttons that you can push and levers that you can pull that are going to reliably result in anything. But we're giving you the good solid. These are always good strategies and foundational principles to be paying attention to.

Cherian: I think it's really important to experience this for yourself because -- like I said, as a state service commission somewhere near you where you can volunteer to be on grant review. And the dynamics at play in that room obviously changed based upon the people who are in it. But it is fascinating.

And so, what Maryn just said about Family Foundation is very much true, right? You can have someone who's dead set on funding a particular project or proposal and has some relationship. And because of their relationship with that, that happens or it doesn't happen. I think that's also true, sadly, on some of these community review boards. Someone has something that they're really willing to go to bat for and to advocate for versus not. And I think it's helpful.

Going back to what Sheleia said of -- there's no one-size-fits all. It's just sort of experiencing that in your community. So, if it's a community foundation or a United Way, or some other organization that's giving out grants, being thoughtful and mindful of who those people are in the room, what are the things that they care about, building those relationships. And then as you are able to volunteer and experience those things, I would just encourage you to do it.

Gabriel: Okay. Awesome. I think that's a really excellent place to stop. I know I learned a lot. So, thank you to our wonderful panellists for all the expertise that you guys have shared with us today.

I am going to drop a quick link in the chat as well. It certainly does offer a 14-day trial. So, just something that I would say is a great way of getting a tool. And see if maybe you can find some ways of helping over the next few weeks and months as we go through these fun economic times.

We have a couple of awesome other webinars, workshops coming up, 5 Steps to Perfect Post Award Grants Management and Project Budgets: What To Do And What Not To Do. The RSVP is right here at the bottom. And I will drop that in the chat as well here in a second.

And then, yeah, just a reminder, we have a 14-day trial. Thanks for joining today. We do offer $50 off if you do monthly or two months off if you do annually with our plan. So, yeah, thank you again, everybody, for all your help, information, all the questions, the interaction. I thought it was a great session. And I hope you all have a great rest of your day.

Sheleia: Thank you so much, Gabriel, for facilitating this awesome session and to my colleagues. It was great to pick each other's brains.

Gabriel: Yeah.

Maryn: That was terrific. The time just flew by. Thanks everybody.

Cherian: Thanks everybody.

Sheleia: Thank you everyone.

Gabriel: Bye

Sheleia: Bye-bye.

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