Keys to Grant Application Success: Bill Bodine
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As the President of the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust, Bill Bodine oversees and work to grow a foundation of about $37 million that strives to enhance the lives of central Virginians through the establishment of endowment funds that support non-profit agencies in Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell.
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Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou. My guest today is a dear friend of mine who I have known for less than a year because I have been in Lynchburg, Virginia for less than a year. He was one of the first people I met at a rotary breakfast. Bill Bodine. He runs an organization that is now known as the Lynchburg Community Foundation. Bill Bodine, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Bill Bodine: Glad to be here. Appreciate it.
Hugh: And there are people who are watching it on video and listening to the podcast. I like to start out these sessions by asking my guest to tell us about themselves, your journey. How did you end up doing this really important work that you do?
Bill: Mostly luck, Hugh. I’m originally from New Jersey. I ended up in Lynchburg via Lynchburg College, which in two weeks will be the University of Lynchburg. I didn’t necessarily intend to stay, but I got a job working in health care right out of college. The longer I was here, the more I liked it. I have been a resident of Lynchburg now for about 40 years. I know I don’t look nearly that old.
Hugh: You don’t.
Bill: It’s true. It’s true. As far as getting into fundraising, I spent most of my career in health care. I was really looking for something that I could be more excited about and feel like I was making a real difference and helping the community. I have served on several boards. It was important to me to find something that was more service-oriented. I luckily saw that at the time, the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust was looking for a president and CEO because my predecessor was retiring. I went after the job and three years ago, they gave it to me. I have loved that. It’s been a little bit of a circuitous journey, but I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.
Hugh: Oh, I don’t think men ever grow up.
Bill: I don’t know if I ever will, but at least I figured out what I want to be. It’s been really enjoyable.
Hugh: And you and I both drive convertibles.
Bill: We do. We do. I have a little Miata that I try not to get in trouble with. Not driving it today because it’s too darn hot with the top down.
Hugh: It’s 97 in Lynchburg.
Bill: I know it’s crazy. Next time it cools down, I’ll be in it.
Hugh: Probably had the remarks about, “Oh, it’s a mid-life crisis.”
Bill: That would be true if I was in midlife.
Hugh: It’s too late.
Bill: A late-life crisis. More accurately. I have always enjoyed driving cars, and it’s a fun car to drive. I know your Mustang is a lot of fun.
Hugh: It is fun. It’s fun to go slow.
Bill: It’s fun. I’m not in a hurry. I just enjoy the journey.
Hugh: It takes getting some age on. Also, the wisdom of leadership is impacted by our journey and our age. You came into this leadership position, I don’t think by dumb luck. I think people looked at you and said, “Oh, this guy can do it.” From what I’ve heard from people, you have stepped up to that plate.
Bill: I feel like things are going well. I think the things that I bring to it are I really enjoy people. I enjoy talking with people. I have a passion for the mission of the organization. If you have that, you are more than halfway toward doing what you really need to do. I have a great story to tell, and I enjoy telling it. People are willing to listen. That’s been nice.
Hugh: What does leadership mean? You lead an organization that leads and supports leaders of organizations. There is no real membership.
Bill: There is no membership. My leadership stems from the fact that we touched 175 nonprofit organizations last year alone in terms of providing grant money. I get to interact with a lot of other leaders. I try to help them fine-tune their grant application process. I also try to pay attention to what the needs of the community are. How can we work together, and how can we best serve others? The leadership part of it comes from being in a chair that touches a lot of other leaders in terms of the grants and trying to make this a better community in any way we can. That’s just a byproduct of the job, but I enjoy that, too.
Hugh: I picked up something. You just revealed our topic today: grants, and how to do a better job of applying for grants. You slipped in something there, and I’m going to pull it out. You work with people so they do a better job. People just don’t know how to apply for grants mostly.
Bill: It’s all over the board, Hugh. Some people are really good at it and have a lot of experience doing it. Quite honestly, some of the smaller nonprofits that we work with, that’s not what people are trained to do or have done or have a lot of time to do. A lot of the smaller nonprofits are making things work with as few staff as they can and as little resources as they can. What I’ve found is that it’s helpful to work with people and speak with them about fine-tuning their grant. What I want to do is give them the best opportunity for success. Our foundation is not there to hold onto money. Our foundation is there to give that money away according to our donors’ wishes. The better job I can do helping people access those funds means I do a better job for our donors. That’s really what it’s about.
Hugh: That’s amazing. I don’t think everybody understands that. This is a good point to make. I posted on the web page some of the questions we’re going to address that came from you because you know what you’re talking about.
Bill: Maybe. Depends on who you ask.
Hugh: Part of my career I served megachurches. I was in the interview process in the five biggest megachurches at the same time. Nobody knew what questions to ask. That was amazing. I pretty much had to provide my own questions.
Bill: It helps things go smoother if we have an idea of what we’re going to talk about.
Hugh: Or to get to the bottom line. What is it we need to know about this? Let’s start at the top. If I’m going to make a grant request- I run a 501(c)3. It’s a foundation. I give away services. I don’t give away money. I help people leverage what they have and attract money. Part of my work could conceivably be preparing people to do this process. What I tell my nonprofits is that funders are gonna look at the impact of your work, what results it will create. I want to check my accuracy. If we give you this money, what results will it produce? They will also look at your team. Can they really implement it? Are those the factors that are high?
Bill: Those are the big deal. That is the real meat and potatoes of it. You could actually go back to a baseline. One of the first things I would tell people is if you are going to apply for a grant, make sure you review what exactly the grantor is looking for in terms of information. It surprises me occasionally how many applications we get that are incomplete because people have not thoroughly read what it is we are asking for. We get grant applications that come in without a list of the board of directors, which is one of the things we ask for. I would encourage people at the very baseline of it to read very carefully what the requirements are for the grant application, and make sure you include all that information. That seems basic and elementary, but it surprises me how many of them we get that are not fully completed. First and foremost, make sure you understand what that grantor is looking for and what their requirements are in applying for them. Make sure it’s complete because it’s a little bit like when you write your resume, make sure you spell things correctly. First impressions are important. That is maybe the first step.
But you’re absolutely right. We like to know first of all what do you want the money for, and how is that going to help my community be a better place? How is that going to satisfy the wishes of the donors who have given us the money in the first place? First and foremost, I am bound by their wishes and their desires. My responsibility is to use the money that our donors have provided as wisely as possible and as closely to their various intents as possible.
Hugh: I want to introduce you to somebody who got stuck on the viewer side of this, who is my co-host. He has been AWOL here. Russell David Dennis is joining us in this podcast from Denver, Colorado. I thought you were maybe having technical difficulty today. Russell showed up a year and a half ago and was very consistent with this. Russell is one of our WayFinders. It is our antidote to a consultant. It’s a WayFinder. We guide you; we don’t tell you what to do. We help you define what you’re going to do. Russell has been through the whole methodology of SynerVision, and he is now one of our bonafide WayFinders. I made him co-host. He outshines me many times. I like to say I pale in comparison. I’ve used that line. Russell, welcome. You’re muted.
Russell Dennis: Greetings. I had to turn to my tablet. My computer has been loading updates all morning, and it doesn’t seem to want to finish.
Hugh: Welcome to the party. I already warned him that my co-host has the zingers of the questions. He is braced for ya. I’m getting chats from across the screen. Russell, we’re talking about grants today and what makes a good grant request. So far, Bill has validated our premise that we need to have worthy goals in terms of what difference we are going to make, and people on board to do that. Bill, people maybe do read the requirements. You think they just forget? Or they weren’t careful? I guess you go back to people and resubmit.
Bill: We do. We review all the applications. Before we put them in front of our distribution committee, we review them for completeness and accuracy. We try to track down questions we know they might ask. But yeah, it’s hard to know the reasons, Hugh, why people don’t always include everything. Sometimes they don’t have the information, and sometimes they forget, and sometimes they are just flustered by the process and don’t think it through well enough. Whatever the reasons, again, what we want to do is help people be as successful as possible. I just throw that out there as step one. Make sure you read the requirements and do your best to fulfill them. If you have a question or problem, call us, or call whomever you are applying to and ask for their help.
Hugh: Are there community foundations in every area in the country?
Bill: Just about. When the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation was formed in 1972, there were probably about 30 community foundations nationally. We know from the Council of Foundations in Washington that in 1975, there were only 50. So we were formed in ‘72. There are now over 850. So they are all over the place now. A community foundation is a little different from family foundations or corporate foundations. Often family foundations and corporate foundations have more specific purposes. Ours is probably more general. We have more general purposes than a lot of other foundations. We cover the waterfront. As I mentioned before, we gave grants to 175 nonprofits in Lynchburg and the four surrounding counties last year alone. We will support basic human needs, the arts, historic preservation, the environment, all kinds of things. Most foundations you’ll find have a little bit narrower focus. That’s true for hospital foundations, the United Way for example. All of them do fantastic work. But our reach is a little broader. For some people, that fills in.
Hugh: It fills in some gaps I would imagine.
Bill: Yeah, it does. We have a flexibility that appeals to people. The other thing is community foundations are intended to be forever. We are perpetual. The appeal we have for people is that you can set up a fund, name it after your grandmother or whomever you want, and it will be here long after you’re gone and probably after your children are gone. It leaves a legacy. That is one of the appeals to community foundations.
Hugh: I found more and more people who are interested in the legacy component. They are the instigator. They start this thing. But they are not going to be around forever. We want to have impact that goes on after our lifetime. There is a value. When they get money and enough money that they put it under management, you assist with that.
Bill: Our purpose is to grow the fund and to distribute monies annually or more often than that sometimes from that fund, but continue to grow it so it continues to expand and lasts as long as the world lasts is the idea. People like that.
Hugh: I’m hearing some fundamental principles. One, which we talked around, is pick up the phone and call. I don’t think people do that who are applying for grants. Maybe not all foundations are equally as successful as yours.
Bill: Well, I don’t know about that. I haven’t worked at other foundations. I’ve talked to some colleagues. I think we are all generally here for the same purpose, which is to help people out and help the community be as seamless as possible. I really love it when someone calls me and says, “Hey, can I talk to you about this grant? I’ve been thinking about this proposal. Can you help me fine-tune it a little bit?” I do a lot of that.
Hugh: Part of our due diligence, and Russell worked 11 years on an Indian reservation and he did grants, he comes up with another experience. Part of our job is to do our due diligence to learn about the grantor. What is the purpose of the grant? What requirements are there? Will what we want funded match up with what you want to fund? And spell the name right.
Bill: Sure. We get applications that are for things we can’t do. If an organization is renting a building, and they come to us and ask for renovations to that building, that is something we really won’t do because we don’t pay for renovations to a building that is not owned by the organization. We only provide money to nonprofits, and we don’t want to improve a building for a landlord. We want to help that organization. I try to guide people not to do those kinds of things. We typically don’t like to pay operating costs such as salaries. We need to hire a new person and we need this for a salary. We’d rather not do that. We’d rather put our donors’ money toward programs, resources that go directly to help people, and that sort of thing. That is part of the guidance I try to provide. I don’t want people to waste their time or our time with an application that I know is just not going to perform.
Hugh: One of the deficits we see often is that there is an organization trying to fly by tradition and history by the seat of their pants without a strategy.
By the way, Russell, he is a fellow musician. He is an actor/musician. He has been a professional production for the past couple of weeks, so he far exceeds my capabilities.
We need a map. What do you sing when? When do you go off stage? When do you go on stage? When do the trumpets play? The way we think is there is a core map for where we’re going and how we’re going to get there and what kind of impact we’re going to have. That gives us substance for our thinking.
When people are looking at funding, if there is a deficit in leadership or lack of strategy, are those pieces what we might call capacity-building? Are there capacity-building grants for them to up their game so to speak?
Bill: There are. There certainly are. For example, let’s say somebody needs new computer equipment. We have helped people with that before, but only if we understand what they are going to use that computer equipment for. If you apply for a grant saying, “I need new computers,” that’s great, and we can assume a certain number of things. What I’d really like to see is “We need these computers because we are putting them in front of school-age children to make them more familiar with technology. It will impact 80 kids.” That kind of detail is very helpful. If it’s capacity-building, that’s great, but what are you building that capacity for? What’s your plan? Anything like that is more helpful than not having that information.
Hugh: Russell, you’re here and smiling. I’m sure you have some reflections or additional questions for Bill Bodine. You sat on the other side approaching grantors. This stuff, I’m sure, rings true for you, does it not?
Russell: Yes, it does. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to contort what they’re doing into the requirements of a funding source they are not familiar with. To back up further than that, the number one reason grant proposals are turned down is because they don’t follow instructions. If you do that with a government grant, I have sat on grant panels for three years, if they don’t follow the instructions, we don’t even read it. It goes on the pile. I have seen some bad proposals. It may be a really good one, but because they didn’t follow the instructions… There is a strategy to this. The first piece of that is making sure you’re talking to the right source. You get these applications that don’t fit what you’re doing because people will sit and do a shotgun/M50 machine gun approach where they apply to 150 foundations and see what sticks.
Bill: Like a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. That’s not good.
Russell: And it doesn’t work. There is a strategy and a process. I have mind-mapped that a bit. I need to build a course on that. I have a couple of courses, but that’s one I need to build. I’m working on one for donors, too, at the moment. There is a strategy and there is a process. Everybody that sends you a grant proposal should be calling you on the phone and talking to you just to get clear because the guidelines are out there, the instructions are out there, the requirements are out there, but when you take a few minutes to call, ask about some things. Please do your homework, folks. You don’t want to ask people information that is already on the website. What you really want to do is get a feel of what is going on between the lines. Are there some things within this broad category that are really important to the foundation right now? What sort of things have they funded recently? Talk a little bit about your project. I’m thinking about does this fit in what is important to you? If not, what would be more of a fit? Would it be all right if I send you a proposal based on what you’re thinking?
Hugh: Can I slate that data point for just a second? What he outlined was an exploratory conversation. What does that look like from what you sit? Sorry to interrupt you, Russell. I just wanted to capture that. To me, that was a notable sound bite.
Bill: Russell and I are definitely on the same page here in terms of making sure you follow the instructions. But also what he said is really important about knowing what the grantor is and what resonates with them.
The other piece is: What is a reasonable amount to ask for? All these foundations have different amounts they are comfortable providing. With our foundation, we gave away $1.7 million last year alone, but it went to 175 different nonprofits. That includes scholarship money for high school students going to college. The amount of money that we have is not as huge as many community foundations might be, and it gets spread out over a large number of agencies. If someone asks us for $100,000 today, that is not something we can really do without taking away from our other responsibilities. I like to sort of give people an idea of what is a reasonable amount to ask for and what we can do. That tends to be helpful, I think. That is another piece.
Russell: That is knowing what your source is all about. Community foundations, which is a donor-advised fund because people have purposes, is it always is in the guidelines. You will see a range of funding that is awarded. That breaks things down into pieces, put them in sequence. What can you accomplish with that? It’s understanding how much you have and how much you need. Here is the thing that I want to stress to any nonprofits out there who are listening. It’s every bit as difficult, if not more, to get this money into the hands of people who will make good use of it than it is to apply for it and get it. Community foundations, a lot of family foundations are running lean. They don’t have all the people and tools that they have to try to give technical support to these nonprofits. What a community foundation does is work with smaller organizations. Finding good projects is really difficult. You have to put yourself in their shoes and understand that it’s not just difficult for you to get the money, it’s difficult for them to find projects to invest in and make sure that money is making the impact it’s intended.
Bill: That’s right, Russell. The biggest sense of responsibility I have is to remember that it’s not my money. This was money provided to us by donors, individuals, corporations, and families who have a dream. They really have a desire to do something important with that money. I always have to remember that I need to find things that are worthy of those desires and that I am fulfilling that responsibility. If I don’t, I am not only letting those people down, but I am also possibly ruining potential contributions to the foundation to continue that purpose. That is a real responsibility that I feel strongly about.
Hugh: While Russell is formulating his difficult question… As you’re looking at projects, is there any value for looking at collaboration coming to you, like two, three, or four different entities coming to you and saying they are going to do something together?
Bill: Very highly. Again, getting back to that core value of trying to do the most good for the community we possibly can with our ultimately limited resources, any time we can encourage collaboration- One of the things we are in a good position to do in my spot is look for gaps in services and look for overlap. There is a lot of both quite frankly. So trying to get some of the smaller nonprofits to talk to each other, it might be the people providing food or shelter or furniture, or even arts organizations. How can we encourage collaboration with the ultimate purpose being how we can get our dollars to work as efficiently as possible and to do the most good they can do. Yeah, Hugh, that’s a vital point. You hit on something really important. We have to try to encourage collaboration. We just started to scratch that surface.
Hugh: Maybe there is a place SynerVision could play in facilitating some conversation.
Bill: I think so.
Hugh: We have to get Russell over here from Denver.
Bill: If I lived in Denver, I’m not sure I’d ever leave. Maybe we can get Russell to come because Lynchburg is great, too.
Russell: I’m happy to come out there and see what’s happening now. I have some friends out in Virginia Beach. I have excuses to come over and poke around and have some fun.
The challenge that you talked about of getting people to collaborate, this scarcity thinking that I’m not going to share my resources with anyone, is trying to get people to break out of that way of thinking. I think even something as simple as saying we encourage collaboration on projects that involve collaboration between a number of entities that are different from what is out there will be given extra special consideration so that maybe triggers something in people’s minds to say let’s talk to other people. There seems to be a lot of resistance to that. I don’t know why. More hands makes the work lighter.
Bill: I think you’re right. I think we need to get at the sources of those feelings. Some people may have a control issue. I need to control this so I can make sure it goes in the direction I want it to go in. Or some of it is just not knowing who the other leaders out there are. If we can identify those reasons, then we can appeal to those people based on whatever their sensitivity is. Maybe we can provide assurances and say, “If we combine with this other group and they provide a service, you can still run that. You can still be in charge of that. Let’s say if we can’t strengthen your organization by getting some help from over here,” or whatever your trigger is. If we can identify those, then we may have a chance to approach it properly with a chance for success.
Hugh: You could apply for one of the grants at SynerVision. You could say, “Hey, we want to fund this project. We are going to ask for SynerVision to group you together and come up with a plan to present this to us.” It would be the work that we do, facilitating people collaborating.
Bill: And the carat for them is these funds are available in terms of the grant. You have to figure out- Just like with donors. What is their hot button? What appeals to them? When you hit resistance from people who maybe are not willing to collaborate, maybe they are in that overused term of being in their own silos—that is the buzz phrase for the year—but whatever it is, and we can figure out what that is and address that, then we maybe have a chance to hook up some of these collaborations.
Hugh: It’s an exploratory conversation first. Get some knowledge. Part of what I see, and I think you have, too, is people don’t understand how to collaborate or how to get it started. We think consensus and collaboration are the same as- What’s the other side? Compromise. A lose-lose. A consensus is a win-win. A collaboration is how we do consensus. We come together with a common purpose and a common mind. Actually, we can make the dollars go further because we are making lighter work for everybody.
Bill: Sometimes it’s just that people are paddling as hard as they can and they don’t feel they have time. Who wants to go to another meeting unless you’re sure it will be extremely beneficial? Some of it is just battling that. Whatever it is, we ought to be able to figure it out and address it.
Hugh: I think it’s a new way of effectiveness here. Our initials, people in business invest money for ROI. In nonprofits, people invest money for ROL, return on life. How we get there is ROR, return on relationship. What you’re talking about is let’s develop a relationship with the funder to know that we’re in sync. We were both smiling when you were talking about the intent of the donor. We ask people why they want to serve on the board and what they want done with their money. We don’t really go there because we don’t think about it. So really, how do we understand the intent of the donor?
Russell, you had some time. Come back to Bill here with a goodly framed question. Couldn’t get that out.
Russell: That is why I left the IRS. People started thinking I was this horrible, scary guy, and that’s just not true. Hugh is trying to turn me into this evil quizmaster that will send the guest running for the exit. That’s not the truth.
You talked about getting the money into programs. I think that a lot of this scarcity thinking is really centered around the fact that for some nonprofits, because they don’t have diverse funding, they’re worried about how to keep the lights on and pay the bills that eats up a lot of our resources. How much of that do you think is a factor in people not collaborating?
Bill: It’s hard to quantify it. That’s a good question. It is a factor. I think we can safely say it’s a big factor. What percentage? I would have a hard time putting my fingers on that. That’s part of the job is trying to make sure you’re helping people take care of those basic needs so that they feel more available or open to diving deeper into this stuff. I don’t really know if that answers your question, but I think you have identified a big factor. How to quantify that, I’m not sure. In different organizations, it varies widely, I would guess.
Russell: That falls in line with the airline safety theory of putting your own mask on first. People really feel they would actually be taking something away from themselves to collaborate when in fact they might find some extra resources for their programs. This is the motivation for trying to find other ways. We live and die by the grant. We did have some private donors and other sources. When I was working for the tribe, we spent a whole lot of time focusing on grants as opposed to any other sources of revenue. We did try to start some businesses. There is a lot of snake oil out there. You have to keep your eyes open. That diversity of funding is important, and building relationships with donors is critical. That funding usually has more flexibility on the bottom end. When we start getting into the top end of the donors, they are usually a little bit more focused with what they want to see happen with that money. It’s trying to get other sources of revenue in the door. Grants are not intended to keep you operating. They are for special purposes: to build them, test them until you can make them sustainable. That’s another mistake folks make with grants.
Bill: The other comment I would make on that is you are exactly right. The other thing is grants, we tell people that you can’t put us in your budget for next year and assume you will get a grant every year. We have two grant cycles a year. We evaluate those separately every cycle. You can’t count on that grant income. If you’re good at it, you may have a good track record. You really have to develop other resources for funds that are steadier than that. I guess you found that with your Native American work.
Hugh: When you review people, they have to submit financials or something. Do you look for alternate sources of funding?
Bill: Yes, we do. It’s one way you judge the strength of the organization. Do they have other sources of funds? I don’t really want people who depend solely on us for their annual budget. There are some smaller agencies that probably truth be known they are very dependent on us. It’s a stronger application if they can show us other sources of funds or have programs that generate funds. That helps the application.
Hugh: There is a lot of data here that I think is helpful to any grant application. Understand what the grantor wants to achieve. Know about them. Follow the directions. Be very clear on the impact of what the money is going to provide.
Here is another topic. We don’t think about the administrative. I imagine a $5,000 grant would have fewer administrative requirements than a $500,000 grant or a $5 million grant. So there is some reporting back of how the money was utilized. How important is that?
Bill: It’s really important. Quite honestly, there is not really much difference for us because our grants generally run from a couple thousand to $25,000. We don’t do half-a-million dollar grants. The administrative requirements are essentially the same for all the grants we provide. We feel it’s our responsibility to our donors that first of all, the money was used for the purpose that was stated, and also that the impact that was expected was achieved or nearly achieved as well as could be done. We require written documentation of all that within a year from receiving the grant so that we can have a record of that and show the money was used for what our donors and we intended it to be used for and what the agency said it was going to be used for. That’s a big deal to us. I know there are foundations that struggle with that sort of validation. They will go back later and find out there have been some discrepancies, or that the money wasn’t used for what it said it was going to be used for. Whether you get $1,000 from us or $25,000 from us, you have to jump through the same hoops.
Russell: If you are going to have a high-performance organization, you should track everything you do. This is strategy as we lay it out. You’re tracking everything you’re doing. This should not really be a stretch to reach out to your funding sources and say this is what you did. You built the framework, you built the strategy, you’re tracking what you’re doing, and you’re getting it out there. Sometimes, things don’t go well. People don’t want to be transparent. I went to my mastermind network that I have out here. I put some stuff on the table. I got a lot of suggestions that were helpful. Some of the stuff was very basic, but it’s the transparency. Now these folks can help me more than they were ever able to if I hadn’t done this. The transparency supported me. Sometimes things don’t go as well as they’re planned, but we need to be in constant contact and transparent so that we can right the ship and get it back on track. A lot of foundations don’t have the resources to track because you guys have to review everything you get back to make sure that project is on track. If you’re effective, you’re doing that. In structuring these programs, getting back the strategy piece and building things out, you will want to create systems that capture all the information you need, but they’re easy to understand, access, and use by the people who are running the programs. If the evaluation tools are too hard, people will not use anything that is hard to implement. It has to be simple. It has to flow in line with their work. As these programs run, they are easy to track. It doesn’t become a stretch at the end of the quarter, at the end of year to scramble and finish these reports. Been there, done that. That’s how I know. If you got these things as part of your process, you can just roll this stuff out because you are tracking it all the time.
Hugh: Part of what he referred to is we teach people when you have a strategy, you have milestones. This is your success. You’ve reached this. Then a milestone, you have a budget over here. When you pay a dollar, you achieve a milestone, so there is a redundancy in the budget. We find a lot of organizations don’t really have any way to track things because they don’t have a system in place. It’s the Covey principle, as you were talking, Russell, of begin with the end in mind. You’re going to have to do a report, so let’s think backwards. What do we need to create now so it’s not a big deal? The question to you is: Do you have pamphlets or educational materials or trainings for people to master these skills they may not have?
Bill: The answer to that is no, we really don’t. That is not something we have seen in our role up to now. What we have tried to do is as Russell was saying make it as easy for people as possible. Three years ago, we required paper copies of all applications, ten copies, so you’d get a stack of paper a foot tall from this little agency. Not only that, but all the trees we were killing. We have brought the process online on our website. While you’re there, you can look at all the grants we made last year, who we granted to, how much, and for what purpose. We tried to make that as simple as possible and with as few clicks as possible.
To your point, Hugh, I think maybe that’s one of the next steps. I really see organizations like yours being at the forefront of helping people gain the tools they need to be successful. I don’t know that with the staff I have, which is me, another full-time person, and a two-day-a-week accountant, that we could provide a lot of these resources. But there are good people out here like yourself who can do that. We’d certainly be interested in helping out.
Hugh: Sure. We might have something we could provide for you. Russell, that was a good point you opened up there. What else are you stirring up in that no-hair head of yours?
Bill: It’s a good one. I’m not going to make any comments about hair. I’m right behind ya.
Hugh: Oh, he has hair!
Russell: I’m going to have to take a razor to it because when it comes in, it’s pretty gray. I promised myself after I recovered from chemotherapy six years ago, no formula. I’m going to remind myself that I’m on blessed time, I got a few extra days, and I’m going to wear it proudly.
That is part of the piece. A lot of nonprofits don’t have the budget and development. That’s something community foundations- Denver Foundation will provide technical support to grantees who they have granted funds to before. You spread too thin in terms of resources to do that. Partnerships between entities like SynerVision and my company and community foundations makes sense to go in and talk to people and help them get the training they need. Doing that for a community foundation, you touch a lot of entities because I don’t know how many organizations you have, but the Denver Foundation probably has somewhere between 200-300 organizations who are grantees and members. That is a common size. To be able to talk to people about these things and to help them and to provide that sort of technical assistance that you haven’t been able to provide is still good stewardship. It’s about good stewardship and protecting those investments. That is something that benefits grantees and the foundation. It’s really about going out and making that impact and supporting one another. Maybe something like a mastermind group from time to time. Some of our community foundations have put on a training event. But a mastermind, I just left a mastermind for my business. Is that something you have thought about with some of the folks you work with? Creating a mastermind group.
Bill: That’s something that Hugh and I have had conversations about. That’s not something I have really envisioned our foundation doing. But I think in collaboration with people like you guys and maybe others, that’s something we could work toward. I think it’s a great idea.
Hugh: Having a conversation with people about the gaps – they will discover something. We will discover what they think they need versus what they really need. The problem with blind spots is you can’t see them. It’s like your hair, Russell. I am glad it’s coming in gray because you have earned every one of them. Are there any pitfalls that we have not identified in this conversation for people who are applying?
Bill: I think we have touched on the ones that I can really think of. Make sure you ask for the right kind of things. Make sure you ask for the right amount of money based on what you have been able to find out about the foundation or whomever you are applying to. Make sure your application is complete and according to the requirements specified by the grantor. We have touched on all those things. Those are the key things, Hugh.
The other thing I would mention is follow-up. The grant process doesn’t end when you get that phone call or that letter that says, “Congratulations, you have been granted such-and-such money,” or the phone call that you might get- It’s a good idea to make sure that you thank the organization, that you show a level of gratitude. We all like to feel like it’s appreciated. That can only help. Particularly, in a community like ours, where most of these organizations will apply regularly, what you want is to be looked upon favorably as someone who has been A) a good steward of that money and B) appreciated getting it in the first place, and that we develop a relationship where we know who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re a good outfit and good people doing good work.
Hugh: That’s a fundamental principle. I’m so surprised people don’t honor it.
Bill: Some people are really good at it, but not everybody. The ones who are good at it might be in the minority. But that’s an important piece. We all like to be thanked and to have it known that what was done is appreciated and that you take it seriously. I would just encourage the grantees to make sure they do that.
Hugh: Attitude or gratitude. I’m thinking back over the in-kind grants I’ve done. In my symposium, you had a board meeting…
Bill: I know. How lame can you get?
Hugh: People applied for a grant for that even though it was $40, and they got it. They were very grateful. But there were some small community leaders who didn’t have any money who I granted. And only one of them said thank you. One. One.
Bill: It is a bit of a lost art.
Hugh: It is. Like conversation. We are going to give you the last word here. We try to keep it under an hour. This has been very helpful information.
Bill, this is great. He came over to my house so we could hang out and do this. One day, he’ll have a camera on his computer.
Bill: I just wanted to come over and check out your house.
Hugh: Do you like it so far?
Bill: It’s great.
Hugh: So Bill, what do you want to leave people with? What’s a challenge or a tip or a thought you want to leave people with as we are ending this really good interview?
Bill: Always remember the work you’re doing is critically important. On the days when it feels like things are piling up and you feel varied, you are making a difference. I get to jump out of bed every morning and think, Wow, what can happen that will help the community be a better place to live? That’s incredibly motivating. Don’t lose sight of it. That’s what we’re here for. Yeah, it’s about fundraising, it’s about giving grants, but it’s really not. What we’re here for is to improve our communities and give people a sense that their money is going to help their fellow man and help their community. The vast majority don’t give money to foundations for tax purposes and things like that. It’s about philanthropy. We’re helping people feel good, and we should feel good about that.
Hugh: Most people don’t give money because of donations. It’s because they want to make a difference.
Bill: It’s not for taxes. It’s because it makes them feel good. They do it with their heart.
Hugh: I see you smiling, Russell. Thank you again for being here, my friend.
Russell: Always a pleasure. If you don’t tell people what difference their dollars are making, they will put them somewhere else. You stay in touch no matter what the results is. Bill, thanks a million. Hugh, thanks for making it through a broadcast without the magic phrase.
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