Deadline still open to apply for nonprofit grant funding

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

This week’s column is a round robin of resources and recommendations regarding nonprofits and the impact of COVID-19.

I was very happy the City of Tallahassee and Leon County recognized the importance of the nonprofit sector when they created the Local Emergency Assistance for Nonprofits (LEAN) grants through the Office of Economic Vitality (OEV).  Nonprofit organizations, excluding churches, associations, and foundations, are eligible to apply to the OEV for a one-time grant of $2,500.

I had concerns about the initial criteria which was modeled after the grant program for private sector businesses. For example, in many for-profit businesses, when goods and services are not purchased, revenue declines immediately. In a nonprofit, cancelling a fundraising event typically impacts future revenue. As a result, many nonprofits could not document a 25% decline in revenue as required in the application.
Fortunately, after the initial round of funding did not generate the number of applications they anticipated, OEV tweaked the requirements to make more nonprofits eligible to apply.

I was also concerned about capping the grants at $2,500 which does not consider the size of the nonprofits and the differences in losses between them. With this model, a nonprofit with an annual budget of $400,000 was eligible for the same amount as a $2 million nonprofit with four times the payroll.

Regardless of these issues, it is still wonderful to see our local governments supporting the nonprofits and I encourage nonprofits to apply. The deadline is Friday, May 15, 2020 or until all the funds have been spent.

In addition, many funders are trying to work with nonprofits to maintain eligibility for funding even though service delivery has changed due to the pandemic. It is encouraging to see funders recognizing the nonprofit’s need to pivot and improvise to ensure successful outcomes, even if the path to achieve them is  revised.

As one nonprofit leader I spoke to said, funders and nonprofits are meeting in the “messy middle” to achieve results. Some of the best innovations come from adaptability, making mistakes, learning from them, and thinking outside of the box. I agreed with Felina Martin of the Institute of Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence (INIE) when she said, “this situation has taught us there is no box!” I hope this flexibility and cooperation among public and private funders and their grantees will continue.

I have also marveled at the depth and breadth of philanthropy that has been evident throughout the community, our state, and country. The response to meet immediate needs such as food and housing along with grass-roots efforts to sew masks and make hand-made signs of support for healthcare and front-line workers has been nothing short of amazing.

During my 30+ fundraising career, I have heard donors and funders say hundreds of times they only want to give to direct support rather than infrastructure. While I understand the focus on services, I am a fervent believer in the unequivocal importance of capacity building which strengthens the organization from within.

As such, I am very hopeful one of the outcomes of this crisis will be an increased understanding and commitment to help nonprofits invest in technology and infrastructure. Too often, requests to funders to purchase new software or provide board and staff education have fallen flat. In some cases, nonprofits themselves have not prioritized these types of investments.

Looking ahead, as we start to consider the long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on nonprofits, I urge Tallahassee’s funders including governmental entities, corporate foundations, and philanthropists to establish a capacity building fund. The purpose of this fund will be to build the infrastructure and internal strength of nonprofits to deliver quality services now and in the future.
Once seeded, the capacity building fund could provide funding every year to help nonprofits of all sizes make internal investments such as purchasing databases for managing finances, donations and volunteer contributions; upgrading websites and investing in advanced communication strategies; providing leadership training for Executive Directors; providing training for current and incoming board chairs  (who often learn on the job and follow in the footsteps of their predecessor whether good or bad); committing to robust  strategic planning; financial planning; conducting financial assessments, fundraising audits, Board assessments;  team building, and developing new earned income programs.
I heard an interview on WFSU’s “Perspectives” with Tom Flanigan (Thanks, Tom – you rock!) that included Katrina Rolle, Community Foundation of North Florida; Berniece Cox, United Way of the Big Bend; Felina Martin, INIE; Shington Lamy, Leon County, and Christina Paredes, Office of Economic Vitality. Listening to these organizations come together to educate and advocate about the importance of the nonprofit sector has been a silver lining in this crisis.

Notes on Nonprofits is written and edited by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and Kelly Otte, MPA, who is on sabbatical. Send your comments and questions to [email protected].

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