Every six months since Fall 2011, GrantStation has asked nonprofits worldwide to complete a survey, with the goal of taking the pulse of grantseekers on the ground. The responses are used to create a biannual State of Grantseeking Report that GrantStation shares far and wide. The report identifies the most recent trends in grantseeking in the nonprofit sector and helps nonprofits identify benchmarks to measure their own success in the field.
In other words, as grantseeking grows increasingly competitive, reports like GrantStation’s State of Grantseeking Report can help savvy organizations use the latest trends and apply lessons learned by others to help drive strategic development in their own organizations, particularly vital during the current atmosphere of uncertainty.
While the usual participation rate for the survey, around 3,000 respondents, provides illuminating information, the response to the Fall 2017 State of Grantseeking Survey was impressive. Over 4,000 nonprofit leaders provided feedback to the Fall 2017 survey, representing organizations in the United States, Canada, and other nations. When responses were incorporated into one document for analysis, GrantStation staffers likened it to "108 Pages of Pain."
Ellen Mowrer, President and COO of GrantStation, synthesized key findings in a recent TrendTrack article, "108 Pages of Frustration and Pain." Top fundraising challenges for nonprofit leaders included lack of time and staff for grantseeking activities (18%); increased competition for finite monies (15%); placing greater emphasis on strict adherence to varying funder practices and requirements (12%); and difficulties finding grant opportunities that match with mission, location, or program, regardless of their focus, service area, or interests (11%). Respondents also noted reduced funding (10%).
In this interview, Cynthia Adams, founder and CEO of GrantStation, discusses why she thinks this 17th biannual survey generated such a strong response rate, key findings, and why nonprofit leaders are feeling the pain.
Linda Shockley: Why do you think this particular survey garnered such a strong response rate and touched such a nerve?
Cynthia Adams: I think this survey touched the already frayed nerves of nonprofit leaders simply because raising funds for an organization is always difficult, and the divisive national election added a high level of anxiety and uncertainty. Nonprofit leaders are feeling a lot of pain and frustration as they serve recipients and their mission.
From a big-picture perspective, respondents told us there is a greater need for non-restricted funding, regardless of mission focus, and that there is limited funding for their specific missions. Many respondents referenced the changing political landscape, proposed state and federal funding reductions, and the resulting confusion.
Also, frequently noted by respondents, there is significant frustration with greater expectations placed on fewer staff members, funder practices perceived as arduous, and a sense of disconnect between organizations and funders, the government, and the community as a whole.
Shockley: What does this particular survey reveal about the state of grantseeking?
Adams: Specifically, the State of Grantseeking Report answers these questions:
- What type of grantmaker is most likely to fund my organization?
- What is a reasonable level of funding to expect for my organization?
- How does my budget, location, or mission focus affect my organization’s ability to be awarded grants?
- What are the recent trends in grantseeking, and how can I use knowledge of those trends to my organization’s advantage?
While the total report is sufficient in depth and detail for grantmakers, for individual organizations, I recommend that they also review the "section" reports that best match their own organizations.
Based on years of biannual report analysis, I find that (in order of importance) annual budget, mission focus, and service area have the most impact on an organization’s grantseeking experience, although organizational age and geographic region can also skew grantseeking techniques and results.
For example, funding varies widely by mission focus: the Federal government was reported as a source of funding by 7% of Animal-Related Organizations, while 82% of Educational Institutions reported the Federal government as a source of funding.
This is the type of information you want to have on-hand as you decide how to most effectively deploy your limited time and staff within your grants management strategy.
Shockley: What issues seem most intractable for grantseekers?
Adams: After administering this survey twice each year since 2010, undeniable issues surface over and over. The most haunting, for me, is the level of frustration nonprofit leaders feel around the entire grantseeking process.
I believe it is past time for a change when it comes to writing and submitting grant proposals. Can't we make this process less arduous? It just seems like an outmoded way for grantmakers to consider requests.
When Natural Disasters and Elections Add to Fundraising Challenges
Like most mothers of necessity, Operation Stand Down Tennessee (OSDTN) was founded in 1993 by a coalition of organizations and volunteers, many of them veterans themselves, to help Nashville’s chronically homeless veterans. Almost 25 years later, it has become a professional nonprofit with a lean team handling a heavy lift, serving not only Nashville veterans but also those in 10 surrounding counties.
There’s nothing fancy here. OSDTN is housed in former strip mall offices that offer classrooms, computer labs, and a warehouse for its thrift store. It has 40 fulltime staffers (70 percent of whom are veterans), a three-person development team, a strong board (veterans included), and a $2.7 million budget. Its fundraising formula consists of a mix of government grants with corporate, civic, church, and foundation support; special events; and an annual campaign. Identifying new sources of funding to match evolving program needs is a constant focus.
OSDTN offers veterans all manner of basic survival needs (food and housing), financial empowerment training, job readiness training, employment placement assistance, legal aid, transportation services, as well as assistance with utilities and deposits.
Operation Stand Down Tennessee
OSDTN has a welcome center in Nashville, a satellite office in Clarksville near the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell, and also offers services one day each week at the VA Center in Murfreesboro. "Stand Down" is a military term for the time directly following the end of a mission or completion of a campaign. It’s a time to regroup, recharge, and share community support.
Tanya Williams has been a grantwriter with OSDTN for nine months although she’s been a fundraiser for NPOs with other issues and constituents for decades, and has trained/deployed to respond to disasters. A veteran herself, she learned about the organization while taking a weekly therapeutic guitar class. “I discovered they needed a grantwriter when I came to class. I applied and I’m thrilled to be here.”
Williams says fundraising for veterans in Nashville offers advantages. Americans tend to take pride in donating volunteer time and financial support to organizations serving veterans. That’s true in Nashville and the surrounding areas, too. And, Nashville’s stable economy stayed relatively strong during the recession of 2007-2009 because of the large and diverse corporate industries that call it home: healthcare, banking, and the music industry. Additionally, Nashville nonprofits receive strong financial and volunteer support from the many churches and colleges located there.
On the down side, Williams says there’s a significant crunch for affordable housing in Nashville, which exacerbates the homelessness challenge for veterans and the groups that serve them. Traffic and lack of mass transit pose other problems, especially for vets forced to commute an hour or more for city employment from suburban housing.
Williams describes other challenges. "Veterans, depending on the conflict or war in which they served, have their own set of challenges. Younger veterans, including post-9/11 vets who’ve completed multiple tours in combat zones, have increasing post-traumatic stress (PTS) issues. We’re working to engage with them earlier, to prevent homelessness, unemployment, and health issues. We help them navigate the VA system and apply for the benefits they’ve earned. We’re constantly expanding our community partnerships to provide job training, wellness therapy, and socialization needs to all veterans."
In some years, certain large-scale events, such as natural disasters or controversial elections, can impact NPO fundraising. Williams explains, "In 2017, many individual and corporate supporters targeted disaster relief in response to severe hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. There were wildfires in Gatlinburg. The 2018 elections are very likely to pull resources away from NPOs as passionate donors redirect support to candidate campaigns. Organizations may need to adjust fundraising revenue forecasts to anticipate the impact on their annual campaigns."
But for now, Williams and the intrepid team at OSDTN are working on a capital campaign for improved facilities, an end of year appeal, and a blues benefit with help from musicians in the Music City. They stay focused.