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New Project Workshop: A Place to Start Working on Your Good Ideas


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Have a new idea you want to get off the ground? Have an old idea that didn’t go as far as you wanted? Finding it difficult to move forward? This discussion will help you start thinking about beginning …

Have a new idea you want to get off the ground? Have an old idea that didn’t go as far as you wanted? Finding it difficult to move forward? This discussion will help you start thinking about beginning (or restarting) your project by providing some background and examples of Lean Startup practices and meaningful community involvement. We’ll also discuss transition from making a project plan to finding funding for your project. Our presenters will “workshop” a sample project to illustrate how their methods can be put into practice.

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  • There are four major components to the funding process: planning, research, writing, and communication. We have already heard about the planning process, so I am not really going to address that component. I will be focusing on the research process, which is where you identify your potential funders in order to write for a grant. Communication is a key component in all stages of the funding process, so I will address how to communicate with potential funders, as well as touch on follow-up communication with your board.
  • The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is, are you ready to seek support from foundations and corporations? Grantmakers don’t simply fund great proposals; they fund strong organizations. That means, among other things, that your organization has received tax exempt status under section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code or your friends group may be acting as your fiscal sponsor. It also means that you have a mission that matters, a track record of providing programs or services successfully, effective administrative support systems, and respected leaders. Funders are generally encouraged by an active board. This can mean a variety of things, such as everyone donates time or money each year. Are any of your board members active in the community? Pull on their strengths in addition to your own. If you do not yet have 501(C)(3) status, you can explore the possibility of putting your program under the umbrella of an existing nonprofit, like a friends group, that can accept and administer grant funds for you. This is called fiscal sponsorship.

    Next, you’ll need to decide what kind of support you need—funding for general operations, funding for a project, or something else, like equipment. This is where the planning you have already completed comes into play. The more you plan, the more fruitful your funding search may be. It is often easier to secure funding for a specific project or program than for general operations. If you are not able to identify a particular project, you might try to determine whether there is a part of your work that can be separated out into a discrete project or program. Look for programs or services that are exciting, achievable, and measurable.

    Finally, consider if you have enough time to go through the proposal review process. It can easily take six to nine months from the date your proposal is submitted to the date you receive a check. If you need funds are sooner than that, your best bet would be to seek support from the individuals in your community who are in a position to see and appreciate the good work you do. Again, this is where having good communication with your board is helpful. They should already be involved, or at least informed, of your potential program/funding needs.
  • Now we turn our attention to researching potential funders.
    Foundation executives talk a lot about something called “the fit.” Your goal is to determine a fit, or a match, between your organization and each prospective funder.

    First, you’ll need to determine which foundations or corporations have previously provided support to organizations like yours, for projects or programs similar to the one for which you are seeking support.

    Your first task will be to look for a match between a foundation’s field of interest and your own. Your library might be operating the best youth literature collection in the state, but if you send a proposal to a foundation that was established for the purpose of supporting the arts, your proposal is probably not going to be successful.

    Similarly, your library can be operating the best youth literature collection in the state, but if you send a proposal to a foundation with a strong interest in youth, and that wants to fund youth services somewhere on the other side of the country, your proposal will also not be successful. You need to match not only what a foundation is interested in, but also where that foundation gives—which may often differ from where the foundation is physically located. We use the term “geographic focus” to indicate where a funder gives.

    There’s another kind of match you can look for as well, and that is called “type of support.” Some foundations will provide general operating support, while others give only for projects, or for capital campaigns, or for technical assistance, or scholarships, etc. If you need funds to construct a building, you’ll need to make sure that the foundation you approach is one that does provide capital support.
  • Now that you have thought about the potential fit, it is time to look for potential funders. Here are some resources for you.

    I like to start with who you already know. Since board members tend to be active in a community, they may be involved with several organizations. Therefore, a great place to start is with them. Do they have any connections to foundations or other funders that may be a good fit for your project or program? Even if they do not, once you find potential funders by using other means, check back with your board to see if anyone knows anyone on the funders board. The funding game is frequently about networking, in addition to good planning and research.

    In the Grants Information Collection, as well as other Foundation Center Network partner locations, you will find a variety of print and electronic resources for research on grantmakers and grants. We have the 2014 edition of the ALA Book of Library Grant Money, for example. You might also see what population specific directories are available. This is going back to the populations served by your library or project.

    Of course, databases are also very useful. The Foundation Directory Online enables you to over 96,000 grantmakers, including foundations, corporations, and grantmaking public charities. You can also search over 1.4 million grants, or text-search across hundreds of thousands of foundation informational returns, known as 990PFs.

    When you use these databases, you will enter your organization’s criteria, such as your fields of interest, geographic focus, and types of support. When you click on “search,” you will receive a list of potential funders that match your criteria, together with detailed information about each one. If a grantmaker has a website, check it out. Make sure you have the current information, including the tax forms. This helps you to determine what the grantmaker has funded in the recent past.
  • And finally, as you hone in our your funding prospect, make sure that you are eligible for the grant and that you have their most current guidelines. Sometimes eligibility is very clear cut, while other times you may not be sure if you are eligible. You can always double check your eligibility with the funder’s program director or contact person. Even if you are certain that you are eligible, I highly encourage you to have contact with the funder prior to submitting your proposal. According to Tom Clements of the Madison Community Foundation, emailing the funder’s contact person or program director to set up a phone appointment is a great way to do this. By setting up an appointment, you are making sure the program director is available at a time that is suitable for both of you to have a short conversation about your funding needs and eligibility. In fact, some may even require a phone call or letter of inquiry prior to receiving applications.

    And, the applications you submit can vary widely: “full proposal”, short proposal, common grant form, or even a unique form may all be possible.

    Finally, be aware of Deadlines. Some organizations only meet once or twice a year to review applications. So you’ll want to be aware of application deadlines and how those fit in with your funding needs.
  • Here is a summary of the research and proposal process. Once last mention of communication: be sure to follow-up with your prospects. Check in with your contact a week or two after submitting your proposal to make sure everything was received. Send any press releases or event notices in order to keep them in the loop. This is true during the approval process and after, whether or not you received the grant.
  • Transcript

    • 1. A Place to Start Working on Your Good Ideas
    • 2.  Dan Reed ◦ Managing Director, American Family Ventures  Paula Kiely ◦ Director, Milwaukee Public Library  Ellen Jacks ◦ Grants Librarian, Grants Information Collection, UW-Madison
    • 3. Lean Planning Concepts
    • 4. Resource constraints Customer alignment Perform across diverse requirements
    • 5. Resource constraints Customer alignment Perform across diverse requirements
    • 6. Time Product attributes
    • 7. Build Measure Learn
    • 8. Time Product attributes Ideas ProductData Build Measure Learn
    • 9. Time Product attributes Minimum Viable Product Ideas ProductData Build Measure Learn
    • 10. The How and Why of Partnerships
    • 11.  Fills gaps in experience and expertise  Expands capacity  Adds intellectual rigor and creativity to projects and process  Strengthens existing relationships  Builds new relationships  Favored by funders
    • 12.  Who do you know?  Relevant experience and interest  Compatible mission / Similar audience  Interested in partnerships  Possess a cooperative spirit  Can communicate across organization cultures  You enjoy working with them
    • 13.  Their Network  Honest feedback and new thinking  Expertise – “know how”  Equipment  Enthusiasm
    • 14.  Good Communication ◦ Explain why you’ve reached out to them ◦ Have a workable timeline ◦ Get your internal house in order  What approvals are needed?  Who needs to be in the loop? ◦ Who knows who? Who’s the right person to make the call?  Make the Call ◦ Introduce the project ◦ Make the ask
    • 15.  “Continuous Recruitment” ◦ Always easier to call someone you know ◦ Networking ◦ The power of coffee ◦ Your place . . . My place ◦ Stay in touch . . . OR  ASAP
    • 16. The Funding Process
    • 17. Planning Research Writing Communication
    • 18.  Are you a credible nonprofit? ◦ 501c3 or do you have a fiscal sponsor? ◦ Track record of effective program delivery? ◦ Active board?  What kind of support do you need? ◦ General operating support? ◦ Project/program development and support?  Do you have enough time? ◦ Can easily take 6-12 months ◦ Crunched for time? Talk to your board.
    • 19.  Establishing the match ◦ What you do: “Field of Interest”  Subject areas  Who will benefit? ◦ Where you do it: “Geographic Focus”  Both the funder and your organization ◦ Type of Support  What do you need the funds for?
    • 20.  Resources ◦ Board members ◦ Print directories  General, subject-specific, population specific ◦ Databases  Foundation Directory Online ◦ Grantmaker web sites ◦ Grantmaker documents ◦ IRS information returns (forms 990 or 990PF)  FDO Free  Guidestar
    • 21.  Eligibility  Most recent guidelines  Initial Contact: ◦ Email? ◦ Phone call? ◦ Letter of Inquiry?  Full Proposal? Or Own Application Form?  Deadlines, follow-up, expectations, etc. Remember, the Grants Information Collection also has resources on proposal writing
    • 22.  Have a firm funding plan  Research grantmakers to match your profile to their interests  Are you eligible?  Follow their guidelines  Consider pre-proposal contact  Complete the application in full  Follow-up with your prospects  Allow plenty of time!