The other day, I was seeking information for an RFP for a client when I came across this startling article be The Chronicle of Philanthropy---Nonprofits Led by People of Color Win Less Grant Money With More Strings (Study). While I have known for a long time about the Capacity Paradox small nonprofits face, I was blown away by the findings in the study.
The study found a troubling reluctance and outright fear by Foundations to invest in true community solutions-organizations that are led by BIPOC folx to support BIPOC communities. Those BIPOC communities that so many funders say they want to serve are best served by BIPOC leaders who have lived experience.
When those funders ask for the breakdown of our leadership profiles and the long list of demographics of who we serve, are they comparing? When you look at the data is hard to not worry that when a Foundation sees a black woman at the helm of an organization they may not see that organization as a "good investment”
How do we in the nonprofit industry undo this? We do what we always do; we change the system.
We use storytelling and measurable goals to educate donors on how this work is done. We write bolder grants that don’t mince words about why BIPOC communities are the experts in their own solutions. We seek diverse leadership and boldly tell this to every funder—not just the ones that ask for it. We set bold goals of what leadership diversification looks like and we state those goals and the why and how of getting there. We state this in every grant even if we must shove it into the Organization History section. This statement is worth every character count it takes.
We help our fellow nonprofits out by sharing funding opportunities with organizations that are By and For the communities we serve. We offer to partner with these organizations, not ask them to partner with us. When we partner with them, we listen, and we follow. We support their work at the cost of securing yet another grant for a white-led organization.
We do this because if our mission as a nonprofit industry is to make our communities stronger, more equitable, and healthier anything less is mission drift.
I wanted to supply a list of my sources to support my most recent post on “Defunding the Police." I have also added a few suggested readings to help any readers self-educate on this matter.
There are tons of books and articles out there to explain the systemic racism of our "Justice" system. These are just a few options. I have read some, but not all of these. The work is always continuing.
The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
A recent interview with Mr. Vitale, about what Defunding the Police means and could look like.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. If you have not read this, go read it. It will drastically change the way you view our Justice system. Be prepared for intense rage while reading this.
I am currently reading Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores by Dominque Gilliard. This is particularly interesting in its exploration of Christianity’s role in the evolution and expansion of mass incarceration.
I also highly suggest this list of readings. I have not read all of them but am making my way through
This site also has a plethora of articles and information in shorter doses.
The sources listed here include sites for the majority of my data. However, some of the data, especially correlations, is from my internal knowledge of nonprofits and years of personal study.
If you are interested in reading about Terry Stops in Seattle, there is a precinct by precinct breakdown of stops in The 2019 Seattle Police Stops and Detentions Annual Report. The 2017 and 2018 Annual Reports can be found here. Insight on the 2019 report can be found here. This information can be informative of where funding is going and the results.
The City of Seattle 2020 Proposed Budget can be found by digging through this site. Be warned it is an 800 page tome.
This Seattle Times article has good average cost data for Rapid Rehousing and other services in Seattle. RRH success rate and demographics can be found on this website and another Seattle Times article discusses housing availability. Homelessness information can be found in the 2019 Count Us In Report.
Mental Health response and policing data can be found at the following sites
Treatment Advocacy Center and Campaign Zero. Both have a depth of information.
Job training data was gathered from programs I have worked on, as well as from Seattle Job Market Data and from Washington Technology Industry Association.
Most of the School Based Health Centers information came from a variety of Seattle Public Schools site as well as this economic evaluation.
If you have any resources to add, please feel free. I am always looking for more data.
I want to start off by saying, I am not an expert in Defund the Police. There are incredible black folx and people of color who have created this movement. They are the experts. I am late to the table. That is a privilege my skin has afforded me. However, in a recent Instagram Live session with experts, Ijeoma Oluo and Janaya Khan, the call to action was to “lend your skill to the cause.” Looking at data and budgets and equating that to community impact is my skill to lend.
As a Grant Writer who has supported funding for nonprofits in nearly every sector in the Greater Seattle area, I support the call to Defund the Police. If there is one thing I have learned in my career, it is that Justice is about resources. When I say resources, I do not just mean money, but it is the number one thing that is needed. There is no shortage of love, knowledge, expertise, passion, or kindness in equity work. There is a shortage of money. Nonprofits in Seattle are doing incredible work cobbling together funding from fickle donors, politically based budgets, and mostly white-led foundations, but it is not enough.
When you look at the 800 page City of Seattle 2020 Adopted General Fund; Arts, Culture, Recreation, Health, Human Services, Neighborhoods, and Development funding COMBINED makes up 27% of the total budget. In dollar amounts, all of these categories COMBINED do not equal the total $409,538,851 Seattle Police Budget. The Seattle Police (SPD) Budget does not include Fire/EMT Services, Municipal courts, all pensions and health benefits, etc. This is just the SPD budget. There is already a lot of important information available about why we should defund the police due their consistent failure to communities. What I have not seen, is information about the impact that the reallocation of resources from the SPD budget could have in supporting our communities, in particular Black and Brown communities.
My numbers are not perfect and are sourced only from my own knowledge and from what is easily available online to the public in a short amount of time. All estimations are conservative and assume for the highest cost. I have chosen the following examples because they require the least repeat funding while creating compounding success factors for Communities of Color. Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color should be making the decisions on what reallocation will actually look like. My goal is to spark a conversation that will focus on what could really be accomplished with these resources.
This is what we could do in ONE year with just over $196 million dollars reallocated to impactful services that already exist in the Greater Seattle Area. This is $9 million less than what activist are calling for in Seattle.I
One. We could house the homeless. I am not talking a few homeless, I am talking about nearly all the non-chronically homeless people in the Seattle/King County area. Rapid Rehousing (RRH) programs are proven to be successful in breaking the cycle of homelessness. In King County, RRH has a 94% success rate of keeping people from returning to homelessness. African American/Black participants in RRH have the highest success rate of moving into permanent housing. Reallocating just over $66 million in funding from SPD to expand RRH programs that already exist would successfully exit 8474 people from homelessness for in one year. Yes, that is accounting for the 6% that would return to homelessness. In the city of the Seattle 10.5% of the apartments sit empty. In Tukwila, Sammamish, and Issaquah another 15% of the units are empty. The space is there, the money and true dedication from the City of Seattle is not.
Two. We could prevent homelessness. We know that COVID-19 is only going to push more people, especially Black and Latinx people, out of their homes. It is hard to estimate how many people will need rental assistance, but 67% of homeless people interviewed during the Count Us In report in King County/Seattle reported living in homes that were owned or rented by themselves or family and friends prior to homelessness. On average it costs $1,000 per person/per month for a maximum of the three months to keep people housed. Based on this data, we could prevent 6,020 people from becoming homeless by reallocating roughly $54 million in funds from the SPD budget.
Three. SPD responds to an average of 10,000 crisis contacts per year or 27 per day. Police are known to escalate Mental Health Crisis and as many as half of fatal police shootings involve individuals with severe mental illness. Violent encounters dropped by 40% when a Mental Health Response team was deployed. By reallocating $10 million in funds from the SPD budget, Seattle could expand their current Mental Health Response Teams from the five mental health professionals projected to work with SPD in the 2020 budget to 100 mental health professionals who can respond to Mental Health Crises with or without a police presence. By turning our response from relying on police to handle mental health crises we could deploy Mental Health Response teams first and foremost and then lean on police if mental health professionals deemed it necessary. This would increase the amount of help a person in crisis would receive while reducing instances of violence and imprisonment and reduce the burden on police and our courts.
Four. We could provide skilled job training and apprenticeships in middle to high wage job fields in need of employees now and which have a projected need increase in the next five years. Studies show that the less unemployment the less crime. In fact, a 1% decrease in the unemployment rate can cause a 1-2% decrease in crime. We also know that to break the cycle of poverty in Communities of Color that lead to homelessness we need to increase access to well paying jobs. By reallocating $18 million in funds from the SPD budget we could provide 1,000 individuals with Tech Job Apprenticeships and 2,000 individuals with advanced manufacturing and aerospace and maritime industry job training and apprenticeships. This funding could help diversify fields that are in need of diversification and support our economy and communities, while reducing crime rates.
Five. By reallocating roughly $47 million in funds from the SPD budget, Seattle could put School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) in every public school in the district. Seattle School Districts includes 113 schools. SBHCs place critically needed services like medical, behavioral, dental, and vision care directly in schools so that all young people, no matter their zip code, have equal access and opportunity to mental and physical health care. Healthy kids do better in school, have a lower absentee rate, and higher test scores. Youth who are successful in school are more likely to thrive now and in the future. Currently Seattle Public Schools have SBHCs in 25 schools with the general budget building out 3 more sites and partial funding for one more site.
These numbers are in addition to what nonprofits are already doing in our communities. This work is complicated but with proper funding and support, I have seen nonprofits create programs no one ever dreamed could exist. In researching the impact of what Defund the Police would mean for Seattle, I can say this is the first time that I can see potential for real progress in Seattle. It is amazing what nonprofits can do with so little, but so often real change is slow and small. With leaders of color at the helm of this kind of resource reallocation, working hand in hand with nonprofits and organizations that are already doing impactful work in our communities, we could see real justice in Seattle in a year. Let alone what could be done year over year.
I do recognize that the impacts of COVID-19 are predicted to cause a budget short-fall. I did not take this into account because I wanted to use this budget as example for what can be done year over year in Seattle.
Now the question you are asking is what does the City of Seattle lose through this reallocation? Honestly, this is not a place I am an expert in. I also cannot find a true budget that line items all the expenses of the SPD. Overall though, communities would not lose that much. Studies have proven over and over that the Police do not prevent crime. At the best of times they respond to crime, at the worst they cause crime. I can say that the practices and policies that the SPD is promoting in their budget are proven to incite violence, increase racial profiling, promote a perception of safety without actually reducing crime, and support systemic oppression of communities of color.
If you have questions or would like resources, I will be sharing them here soon, but feel free to contact me for immediate questions. Please follow Ijeoma Oluo (buy her book!) and Janaya Khan on Instagram these amazing people continue to lend so much power and knowledge to late comers like me. @ijeomaoluo @janayathefuture
Is the data supporting my story or is it dehumanizing my clients?
It can be difficult to balance the “head” and the “heart” when so many funders want data. Notjust your data, they want data about your community, city, state, staff, and they want it divided in the ever changing socio-economic categories they have come up with. Oh AND they want all in less than 2,000 characters. If you aren’t careful you can reduce your clients to a forgotten statistic. A number that fills a quota. Not only is this not interesting to read but it takes away from the humanity we are trying to show to our clients.
I want any person who walks into a shelter I am seeking funding for to know they are more than a number. I want every youth of color who is experiencing the outdoors because of my grant writing to know he is more than an “at-risk youth” How can I do that if I write about them like they are numbers or categories?
To avoid this I write a grant without a list of data points, stats, or numbers I need to get in. If in the narrative writing process I naturally feel the need to input a stat or data point (and I will), I write it in with a placeholder for the number. Then I go find that data piece. This ensures that I am writing the story first with statistical evidence merely to support my claim.
Our organization provides X community leaders of color as mentors for young men of color in our community. Through X hours of one on one mentorship these young leaders laugh, learn, and connect with leaders from their own community as one step towards dismantling internal oppression.
Are you comfortable with your clients reading what you write?
This is my constant tight rope to walk. If I am writing about people, I want to make sure that they would be proud and understanding of what I am saying about them. This doesn’t mean I sugar coat things as I don’t want to devalue the struggle, but my words should speak to my clients’ strengths and successes, as well. If a client reads my writing, I want them to feel proud and not stigmatized or shamed. I also want to make sure I am sticking with language that is representative of the people we are serving.
Who are we serving and how do they identify? Should be one of the first questions you ask an organization. In this line of work the majority of Development staff are white, cis females. That carries power and responsibility. Seek out people who don’t look like you to read what you’re writing. Ask program staff to review what you’re writing not for the grammar but to make sure that it has language they would use–offer them chocolate, coffee, or wine as a thank you. If you enter an organization and their language makes you uncomfortable, say something. You have the power to change the way the story is told.
What do these buzz-words even mean?
New buzz-words move in and out of popularity all the time and using them can be the ticket to getting funded, but do your research. Do these words mean what you think they mean? Can you prove it (quantitatively or qualitatively)? Does this new Buzz word fit with your mission and programming?
It can feel like these words all mean the same thing but as grant writers we don’t chase money. If my organization is really understanding of people’s experiences but doesn’t have trauma-informed training, I shouldn’t be using the term trauma-informed. I should be putting a bug in someone’s ear about getting that formal training, though. Then the organization can assess if that training fits their mission and goals.
As a grant writer if you keep these three questions in mind, your story will be more compelling to readers, more representative of the work your organization is doing, and more respectful to the people you are serving.
What would you like me to fund? No not what needs to be funded, but if money wasn’t the concern what program or services would you provide?
Most people who know anything about grants cannot understand how anyone can like this work, let alone love it. The usual response is grant writing takes a special person with a special set of skills. Which is very true but is also a very polite way of saying--Gurl you crazy.
Why would anyone want to sift through thousands of funders seeking the right potential fit? Then put in hours upon hours to craft a persuasive narrative only to send it off and wait months to hear yes or no? That is if you even hear anything back at all. Today I was reminded of why I love this work, because in those hours upon hours of research, writing, and character counting I can change the world, in real tangible ways.
The most coveted grant of all for nonprofits is the General Operating grant, because that means unrestricted money that can be put to the best use. In short this can be directed and managed by the people who are actually doing the work versus the funder who may know little to nothing about what it takes to serve the clients. But for me, for the Grant Writer, I love that grant that makes program staff dance with joy. The type of grant that funds a dream project that can really make a sizable and impactful difference for the clients we serve.
When I take on a long term contract, my number one goal in the first month is to meet with program staff. Sit down face to face with them and ask: What would you like me to fund? No not what needs to be funded, but if money wasn’t the concern what program or services would you provide?
Program staff may be hesitant because in nonprofits we use up all of our energy on our clients hopes and dreams. We shut away our in a perfect world plans in that bottom desk drawer, right under the hodge-podge stash of holiday candy. We usually take them out together, eating chocolate while looking forlornly towards a far off future that is never funded. I ask program staff to dump that drawer out and I make sure to keep that dream list where I can see it.
Every once in a while, I will find that funder who might just want to fund this big, hopeful, world changing project. Even rarer than that, I will find an organization that is in the right place to keep the lights on –dimming during the pre-gala slump month aside—and who is brave enough to go after that funding. Then if I am really lucky, the rarest of things happens; months go by and I hear back. I hear back, Yes. That moment is when we all dance. We get to bring out that hope from the drawer and put in on the shelf as reality.
While I write this, I can hear every grant writer groaning, because we honestly don’t need more new funding as much as we need more general operating funding. I get it. I really do. The exception though is in that rare case where you aren’t creating a project when you are struggling to find existing money, but recognizing a service gap that has existed for years and finally getting to fill it.
So while tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I will go back to groaning about the hours we spend just to find something that will fund existing projects; for now I will dance and celebrate the win.
What exactly is Grant Pipeline?
I am sure you have heard the word pipeline thrown around at trainings or maybe you haven’t and that scares you even more. Hopefully I can clear this up for you a little bit. A grant/donor/funder/whatever pipeline is essentially a plan of attack for funding. This is different from a funder cycle or moves management, which involves the phases of donor relationships (think of that as a pipeline for the individual). Compiling where donors/funders are in the funder cycle and forecasting where they will be is what makes up the grant pipeline. A pipeline is more of a long term plan that sets your organization up for both sustaining funding and growth funding. These pipelines will vary depending on the donor you are thinking of (grant versus individual donor). I will stick to grants but there are links at the bottom that have great advice on other donor pipeline strategies.
What is available to fill the pipeline?
Research. Research. Research. This is the first step in developing your grant pipeline and what I will cover in today’s post.
Start in-house. Have you applied to or received any grants before? Do you have any volunteers or staff who have access to grants either through corporations, foundations, or other volunteer work? Start researching your corporate partners, even if these are informal. Often times just listing that you have a contact at the partner who volunteers can get your foot in the door.
Expand from in-house to a local funders web search. While you can rarely just google this if you start with funders you have heard about like the United Way or here in Seattle we have the Seattle Foundation, these type of organizations not only do their own funding but have a list of other places to find funding. You can also look into city and county grants as well. These often will come up in a google search.
Look at your partners and competition. Who is out there doing similar work to you? Maybe on a larger scale. Go find their annual reports. Annual Reports are a treasure trove of funders. Nearly all of their Foundation and Corporate grants will be listed right in the report. If right now you are saying but we are the only ones doing this you are thinking too narrow. For example: I write grants for an organization that focuses on the sex trade. This is a unique market and there isn’t anyone doing exactly what they do, but most of their clients are homeless, suffer from chemical dependency, and mental illness. There are a lot of organizations that work with a similar demographic. I am going to dig into the Annual Reports of homeless agencies in my area as well as domestic violence support organizations and our partner organizations.
After sifting through annual reports and your own connections move on to foundation search site. While Foundation Center Is not cheap you can sign up for a month and put a volunteer or staff member on research duty for that month. Have them put down every grant maker they can find that might fit into an excel sheet with all the info they can get (website, contact, funding range, focus, similar orgs funded, etc.). After a month you can drop the subscription.
Pro Tip: I also suggest checking the local library system. In King County, the Redmond Library offers free searches as well as an expert librarian. After you have gathered all the information you can dig deeper. There is a link below where you can find help near you.
Sift through the list
This is where the real work comes. Look at the list you have and start with right now grants. This is a grant that you 100% qualify for. These are usually under $10,000, and are local to your community (city, county, or state). These are usually family foundations, local branches of corporations or banks, divisions of the city or county, or tribes. Nearly all grantors will have a list of their funding priorities, use those to assess your fit.
Pro Tip: Look at past funding (also available on Foundation Center) as a good gauge of how much to ask for and who else in your field they have funded. This can give you a lot of insight on their real priorities.
After you have this list go through and mark anything you don’t actually qualify for. Maybe your budget is too big or too small. Maybe they don’t serve your county. Perhaps they have changed their funding and no longer accept unsolicited applicants. Maybe they only fund new programming. Whatever it is this is where you have to be honest. We look at big dollars and think “well maybe if I created new programming,” or “well we kind of fit but it’s a long shot.” Don’t chase funding and don’t create new programs just because you can get funding for it. This is a long term plan and the current focus is the easy to pick low hanging fruit.
Pro Tip: Don’t delete prospects that aren’t a fit! You put a lot of work into making your list. Mark them as for future funding or revisit annually or not a good fit in 2018, something that will move them off your radar for now, but keep them available for future potential.
You now have your list. What do you do with it? Create a calendar with all of the deadlines for each grant and assess what you as an organization are capable of doing. This may be the place where you hire a contractor to come in and start writing grants for you quickly or you may talk to staff members and readjust job description to include a percentage of grant writing. After you decide the best route start writing!
Lace has 10 years of fundraising experience for large and small organizations. She has a depth of knowledge learned in the fundraising trenches, through good and bad trainings, from numerous mentors, and by creating all the excel sheets!