Category Archives: Funding

COVID-19 has forced us to think outside the box when it comes to fundraising. In a time where face-to-face interactions are unsafe, it’s essential for fundraisers to adopt new strategies for engaging donors and potential supporters. While virtual Zoom meetings or phone calls aren’t ideal, there are still plenty of ways to build and maintain relationships with your funders and donors.

In order to navigate these changes, it’s important you know your donors well, and use that understanding to help shape your approach. Here are a few steps to get you started.

Show genuine empathy. Check on your donors like you are checking in on your friends and family. Ask how they’re coping with the situation and let them know you’re here if they need anything. These small but meaningful interactions can go a long way. In a time where we’re all trying to ‘figure it out,’ you never know what ideas you might be able to brainstorm together. While we’re all trying to maintain our businesses, this is also a time to take a step back and connect with others on a human level; because we all need it.

Have leadership communicate with funders. Funders / donors want to hear a president’s or CEO’s perspective on the crisis and what their plans are for moving forward. In that respect, it’s also important to consider what channel your leaders are using to communicate, and how you’re framing your message on each of those channels. For example, email is typically used for more formal communications, while social media serves a more human to human interaction, where you can reach people quickly and take immediate action. Bottom line is, be clear and concise with your messaging, and leverage each channel effectively.

In addition to ensuring you’re maximizing your channels correctly, you may also want to create separate messages for separate groups. For example, if you have major donors or prospects that you’re looking to capture, you may want to craft a more in-depth message and ask for their thoughts or reactions. You might also consider hosting investor calls with smaller groups or donors and friends to update them on how you’re responding to the challenges at hand, and add in some reassurance about the long-term goals to come.

Highlight your expertise. A great way to stay close to your donors and prospects is to show them how their donations are helping to support COVID-19 efforts. Nonprofits often hire experts and create resources that are only possible with support from a donor. So if you can show how their donations are helping support COVID-19 efforts, you’re more likely to gain the support, respect, and action by donors.

Stay hands-on with content. It’s important during this time to keep the conversation moving in any way you can. Consider holding web conferences, hosting webinars that facilitate conversation, or asking thought-provoking questions on social media. If donors can tell you’re actively participating in the conversation and staying on top of trends doing COVID-19, your credibility will improve drastically.

We know this is a tough time and it seems like the pandemic will never end. But it won’t last forever, and we encourage you to keep the momentum going with donors by crafting clear and thoughtful plans.

Need help receiving support from donors? RBW Strategy can help! We can assist with prospect research, grant writing, grant management, and more. Find the contact us form at the bottom of our website, or visit our services page for more info.

Does this sound familiar? Your fiscal year end is quickly approaching so you and your team members (could be comprised of development staff, finance staff and/or program staff) work together to prepare your budget in time to be approved by the board. Is there a strategic approach that you use or is this done through a piecemeal process? Does this require a number of reviews and approvals before deemed final? Typically, you prepare your budget based on operating needs and the projected income you intend to receive and your organizational/programmatic expenses.

If you receive federal funding, this post will be of particular interest to you as the OMB’s Uniform Grant Guidance is more focused on performance-based budgeting vs. the typical budgeting based on operating needs. Wikipedia tells me that, “Performance-based budgeting is the practice of developing budgets based on the relationship between program funding levels and expected results from that program. The performance-based budgeting process is a tool that program administrators can use to manage more cost-efficient and effective budgeting outlays.”

coins-912720_640Well, what does that mean? So, instead of creating a budget based on revenue and expenses, the budget is based on intended program outcomes. For example, if you plan on providing an after-school program to at-risk youth, the budget should be tailored to meet the intended outcomes that support the programmatic goals (i.e. improved assessment scores, enhanced self-esteem). All of the budget items should be evaluation focused rather than creating a budget from a purely operational standpoint.

OMB likes this approach because the budget becomes more transparent and can account for how funds are being spent and tied directly to outcomes. However, people need to be trained as to how to appropriately create such budgets, and more importantly, on outcomes measurement in general.

This is the trend, so take the time to learn more about the process, as you may be requested to create such a budget on an upcoming application. This presentation helps to provide some additional guidance to those seeking further clarification.

grant guidance


Well, September 30th marks the end of the federal fiscal year. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I do have a sense of the upcoming funding cycle and some thoughts of what we might expect. Let’s see how many actually come to fruition.

  • Transparency, Front and Center: The focus on transparency and safeguarding information and data will likely be reflected in the agency expectations of grantees., which serves as the data warehouse for this information, will be referenced in more detail.
  • Funding is Steady: Federal grant disbursements have remained steady over the past several years (approximately $500 Billion per year since 2008,, even if the allotments to specific programs and agencies change based on federal administrative priorities.
  • Enhanced Internal Controls: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s Uniform Grant Guidance will continue to evolve the way grantee report on, manage and align performance to financial indicators. OMB is seeking a more holistic and comprehensive way to manage grant operations. This graphic from the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) explains the considerations for grantees in developing effective internal controls in more detail.



  • Potential for Government Shutdown: This may impact the responsiveness of agency personnel and also publishing funding opportunity announcements if a budget resolution is not approved by Congress in December (after a new Speaker of the House is appointed). This will also impact funding to states and local units of government.
High_Risk_GranteesEvery grantee in receipt of government funding wants to ensure that they are in good standing with their federal, state, and local government counterparts. However, in some cases organizations can be designated as high-risk, which leads to unfortunate punitive measures down the road. What do these entail and how can you maintain compliance and avoid these measures?

What does it mean to be designated as a “high-risk” grantee?

The Uniform Guidance does not directly define high-risk, and the designation varies between each agency. However, some commonly found criteria include the following (taken from the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria):

  • Has a history of unsatisfactory performance
  • Is not financially stable
  • Has a management system that does not meet the management standards [required by Department regulations]
  • Has not conformed to terms and conditions of previous awards, or is otherwise not responsible

What are the repercussions of a high-risk designation?

The level of enforcement actions required depends on the agency and the severity of the action that necessitated the high-risk designation status. Some potential actions include the following:

  • Temporarily withholding cash payments or using reimbursement method of payment
  • Disallowance of costs incurred
  • Suspension of an award (until the deficiency is corrected)
  • Termination of an award
  • Government debar or suspension of an organization

A tale of two high-risk grantees

The IBM Center for the Business of Government developed a comprehensive report on two high-risk grantees (Puerto Rico and Detroit Public Schools) and the tools and processes they used to rectify their deficiencies. The U.S. Department of Education audited both entities and placed them in high-risk status due to poor internal controls and lack of financial policies and processes, which called into question the entities’ oversight and management capabilities. However, both were able to rectify their situations through technical support and guidance of the Risk Management Service unit within the U.S. Department of Education.

How can I overcome pitfalls?

If you want to avoid any potential impropriety (real or perceived), it is important that you carefully read and understand your Notice of Grant Award, and the terms and conditions and reporting requirements associated with your award. If there are references to specific guidelines or regulations, make sure you understand these as well, and request assistance as needed. If you have questions, reach out to your designated program officer or grants management specialist. Also, take advantage of trainings and webinars regarding post-award management to prepare yourself and to be high performing rather than high risk.

Other resources for your team

This post originally appeared on the eCivis blog.

It’s the age-old “chicken or the egg” question, a brain teaser and an example of the cycle of life. As we all know, having access to information upon preparation of a grant application is essential to the success of the proposal. How can any application (large or small, federal or private) be successful without essential elements such as the organization’s mission, evaluation plan, description of the program and statement of need? However, beyond these elements, which are crucial to the success of the proposal, what about the budget? Does the budget request drive the focus of the application, or does the narrative paint a picture and then the budget supplements these words? Let’s review to think through the importance of both throughout the pre-application process.

First comes narrative

The application narrative should encapsulate the organization’s need, project/program design and capacity to implement the funding requested. In an ideal world, this should directly align with the organization’s mission and vision, as well as the strategic plan. In what instances should the narrative be prepared before the budget?

  • The funder does not request a budget (i.e., this is a letter of intent or short application).
  • The request is for general operating support, and therefore a specific programmatic or project description is not required.
  • The budget section is completely separate from the narrative.

No wait, let’s start with the budget

However, the budget is crucial as it lays out the specific financial request in detail for the funder. This information guides the presentation of the application and is interwoven into the request, as references to the budget are made throughout the application narrative. In what instances should the budget be prepared before the narrative?

  • The funder requests specificity pertaining to how funds should be spent.
  • The request is for a specific program or project.
  • The application is focused a great deal on the budget, and in many cases contains references as to how the funds will be spent (via job descriptions, timelines, project design, logic models), which requires a prepared budget.

Before pursuing any grant, make sure you have an understanding of the funding request and the information you need to compile. While the budget can often be the last item completed, this may actually end up hurting your chances of success due to the integration of the narrative and budget elements. If your application does not flow, it will showcase inconsistencies and lack of cohesion. The more you understand the type of application and creating a checklist of what to prepare in advance, the greater your chances of success.

This post originally appeared on the Grant Professionals Association Blog

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Nonprofit Village of Montgomery County’s “Making a Difference Awards Breakfast” and am continually inspired by the great work that is being done by small nonprofits in the community. As many of you already know, Montgomery County, Maryland is home to thousands of nonprofit organizations. A majority of these nonprofits are small, and many are run by volunteers. The fact that people are willing to spend countless hours working towards a cause for no compensation speaks to the strength and capacity of the residents in our community to help others in need.

This year’s award recipient for the small nonprofit award was the Pain Connection, an organization that seeks to provide help to those suffering from chronic pain. Given that millions of people suffer from disabling pain each day, this group provides an important service. So, while large nonprofits may have the name recognition and branding, small nonprofits have learned to do more with less, and because of that, have become resourceful, able to express passion about the mission, and engage others through powerful storytelling. Which small nonprofit will you support today?

On Thursday, May 7, I will be conducting a training with my dear friend and colleague, Ayda Sanver at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington, D.C. We’ll be discussing a topic that I know is near and dear to many – disengaged boards and miscommunication between nonprofit board and staff.

How can these two groups work together for the betterment of the community, and what tools can help them do so? This makes me also think about leadership, and how passion for a mission can be tampered by focus on administrative matters.Nonprofit board of directors

Here are some tips for nonprofit leaders that might help:

  • Be strategic and thoughtful about what you are able to accomplish
  • Lay ground rules so everyone knows their role, expectations and place within the organization
  • Maintain accountability on specific operational and fundraising tasks
  • Have a strategic planning discussion at least annually to discuss the organization’s path and framework for the future
  • Respect one another’s time, expertise and commitment to the cause

Join us for a deeper discussion on the topic – we know this will be helpful to you and your team.

Register Now!


This post originally appeared on the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s website

Indirect Costs for Nonprofits

In the summer of 2014, almost everyone either participated in or knew someone who participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was a win/win situation – The ALS Association gained exposure through various social media outlets, and experienced a near 1,000 percent increase in donations from the previous year at that time. However, people started to look a little deeper and wonder, Where is my money going? Is it really supporting research? They are shocked to discover that some of the donation funds actually go toward administrative costs and overhead. While those unfamiliar with a nonprofit budget might find this disenchanting, this is actually common and accepted practice, and must be understood in more detail to clarify some misconceptions.

What exactly is an indirect cost and what are some examples?

  • A cost or expense that is not directly traceable to a department, product, activity, customer, etc.
  • Salary and fringe benefits for an administrative or programmatic staff person used by multiple programs
  • Rent and mortgage payments for a facility space
  • Utility payments

The Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) provided some findings about the stress that indirect costs have on nonprofit organizations, particularly as they seek grant funding. The NFF found that when nonprofits do receive funding from government organizations, the indirect cost rate rarely covers the full cost of the program or project. Nonprofit organizations then become greatly concerned about maintaining their programs and services, in addition to growing to serve the needs of additional individuals within their target population.

The following table, taken from the State of the Nonprofit Sector 2014 Survey, shows the average indirect cost reimbursement rates across the nonprofit sector:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in May 2010 about the inconsistencies in how the indirect cost rate is used. These variations can lead to some organizations receiving greater reimbursements than others, and is not always equitable across the board. Another important note is that some nonprofits have Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreements (NICRAs) with a cognizant federal agency. These rates vary tremendously between organizations based on how the rates are calculated, and the accepted practice within the agency.

However, many nonprofits do not have such agreements and try to determine a way to calculate indirect costs. In order to ensure a more equitable and transparent process, the Office of Management and Budget has stated that those nonprofits without a NICRA are allowed to use a 10 percent indirect cost rate on all government applications. This should be an improved step toward reimbursement on those costs, and allow nonprofits to gain back some additional funds that may otherwise be lost.

There is still additional work to be done to clarify indirect costs, and for nonprofits to educate the public on the importance of indirect costs for the functioning of nonprofits. OMB is taking the initiative to ensure the value of nonprofit work continues and they become less consumed by administrative and financial burdens.

This post originally appeared on the eCivis Blog: All Things Grants-Related