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Q&A: Strengthening Connections With Your Nonprofits (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a panel discussion with several nonprofit professionals answering Q&A questions about ideal relationships with funders. Learn what nonprofits wish funders knew.

Stephany Hessler, Grants and Foundations Manager | Save the Bay

Nonprofit professional with expertise in: volunteer management; grant research, budgeting and writing (corporate, foundation, and federal); experiential learning program development; project management; relationship building; recruitment, retention and recognition of volunteers and staff; public relations/media relations; internship program development and management; community outreach and sponsorship; event planning; creation of public programs for nonprofits; group training and facilitation; board development and leadership.

Laura Cochran , Senior Development Associate | Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP)

Laura Cochran has been a grant professional for over 14 years, a member of GPA for over 11 years and a GPC for 10 years. For the last 11 years, she has worked for the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), helping to increase access to affordable housing in Indianapolis.

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, Founder | DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, RST is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC), Approved Trainer of the Grant Professionals Association, and a Registered Scrum Trainer. Diane began her career as a Program Officer for a state-wide grantmaking organization and she continues to serve as a reviewer for a variety of grantmaking organizations. Since 2006, when she formed DH Leonard Consulting, Diane and her team have secured more than $98 million dollars in competitive grant awards and Diane has personally trained more than 69,978 nonprofit professionals. When not working with her team, Diane can be found in the 1000 Islands, out for a run, or drinking a strong cup of coffee.



Logan Colegrove 00:00:02:01

Welcome to Connected Philanthropy. Today’s episode is part two of a panel discussion featuring nonprofit professionals discuss the things they wish funders knew. This is just the Q&A section that happened at the end of our recorded webinar and the first voice you’re going to hear is our moderator, Tammy Telsey. Let’s dive right in.

Tammy Tilzey 00:00:26:15

All right. These questions, we’ve got some great questions, and maybe our panelists have been looking at them. So there’s one favorite one you want. Raise your hand and ask and answer it yourself. I will start out with this one that has received some some votes. What’s the best succinct question to ask that would clarify the organization’s impact in the community?

Laura Cochran 00:00:57:03

I think for for me, the problems and the struggles I have with answering impact questions are are twofold. One, it’s exactly what and Stephanie and I, Diane said, is like long term impacts. I can’t I can’t give you hard data on our clients. But but second, its impact can be depending on the size of the grant and what we’re doing.

Laura Cochran 00:01:22:20

The impact may not be huge. It may be, you know, $50,000 grant may only provide home repairs for two families. But those are you know, that’s a big impact for those two families. But I’m hesitant to apply for a $50,000 grant if I only can say the impact is to families. So really think about your definition of impact and any threshold you might have saying, oh, this isn’t impactful enough.

Tammy Tilzey 00:01:54:21

Excellent. And so this is thank you. And this kind of follow on to a question asked, okay, I’ve given people extra space to attach things and and maybe an extra question to provide additional information. And that’s something that came out of this panel is appreciated and a best practice. Any other tips on how to to get encourage nonprofits to put something in there or attach that additional information?

Tammy Tilzey 00:02:29:19

I think it’s more often that you don’t see it. So I appreciate that funder the but did it and you all work something in it.

Laura Cochran 00:02:35:23

But maybe there may be nothing that, you know, we really have to attach to or I think you add a you know, certainly if I think Diane was saying that if you had a box where you would let us talk to you about our things rather than attach a picture or attach a brochure, well, we don’t really have, you know, brochures for for our programs.

Laura Cochran 00:03:01:02

But I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about the impact we do or the other, the needs in the community. So. Okay. Okay.

Tammy Tilzey 00:03:11:09

That’s good to test it.

Laura Cochran 00:03:12:12

Quite obviously. You know, it’s an optional question.

Tammy Tilzey 00:03:15:01

Yeah, an optional question versus an attachment. Thank you. That’s a great idea to test. Alright, another question we have here, it’s a question that we had planned but didn’t get to. But what things besides like how funders might assist nonprofits beyond the grant or are there ideas there that you have? This question comes from Thomas. What obstacles or barriers do you encounter with government funders and what can be done to help you through those systems and processes?

Tammy Tilzey 00:03:47:03

So maybe a funder or someone who’s looking to help you there, That’s a specific question, but if you don’t have an answer to that question, are there other ways that funders can help? Let’s start with Diane. I’m like, Oh, I have an LA.

Laura Cochran 00:04:04:12

So I’m based in New York State. There’s a very outdated portal that in theory might go away but no longer really receives any support in terms of the qualification process and like the the tech behind it. But though I think when we think about the, the like process with government, it looks different in each state. It might look different in a county, might look different in a city.

Laura Cochran 00:04:26:20

We know what’s happening at the federal level. But I think that the biggest thing, whether it’s a tech obstacle or an eligibility obstacle, the thing that is the most helpful to overcome whatever it is, because I think there’s a lot of answers for how we could go about it. Deaf helpdesk, something. There’s the paid capacity in most of those situations where someone can help, but making it clear who or where is the someone that can help write the contact information in an RFQ.

Laura Cochran 00:04:55:16

Great, Amazing. A great A grants Gateway helpdesk at the New York state level. Also helpful grants dot gov. Right. We love their helpdesk. They’re super helpful when you get into a tech glitch or so just thinking about if you are on the government side, how do you make it clear that this actually goes to Stephanie’s earlier point about asking questions?

Laura Cochran 00:05:15:10

When can you ask questions? How do questions get answered? If you can be transparent about where and how to ask questions, tech, programmatic that will solve so many obstacles and barriers just across the board for us.

Tammy Tilzey 00:05:29:01

Thank you so how much time would you like to spend on completing an application versus how much time do you typically spend? So how much you think it should take versus actual in some cases? Maybe That’s a question from Sydney. Anybody want to take that zero?

Laura Cochran 00:05:49:06

I you know, my expectation depends on how much I’m asking for. We’re waiting for obviously, a federal grant. I expect to take a lot more time than a $5,000 grant. I expect a $25,000 grant to have more, you know, details. So I think really looking at here’s how much more we’re going to give, here’s how much we, you know, make it make it, you know, a ratio.

Laura Cochran 00:06:18:23

There. So, you know, if I’m going to ask for this much, I’m going to ask I’m going to require this much information. I’m going to, you know, don’t ask for a quarterly report for a $5,000 grant, you know, that kind of thing. So I think it’s less the amount of time and more be kind of the return on investment, so to speak.

Tammy Tilzey 00:06:38:13

Thank you. And how about in terms of questions that, oops, already answered that one. Sorry, asked and answered feedback on demographic data questions. How do you how do the panelists feel about DTI specific questions on applications like if it’s is this being incorporated into your organizations? Do you have a DTI plan? Like what are the best types of questions or helpful or anything?

Tammy Tilzey 00:07:11:13

I guess in this area Carla’s asking is anybody have any. Stephanie start us out?

Stephany Hessler 00:07:19:08

We’ve definitely seen an influx in the DTI questions on applications in the past probably 18 months. I actually can probably count more that have it now than that. Don’t I think I think it’s a meaningful question to ask, and I think it is a reflective question for organizations to look at. But at the same time, I think there needs to be understanding that how an organization implements DTI work is going to look different for every organization based on their size, based on where they’re located.

Stephany Hessler 00:07:58:07

We you know, I saw an application for a group I was working with that asked, you know, have you done a DTI audit with outcome of that? Because if you and then it was like one of those if you did. Yes. You then how many DTI candidates have you brought on or constituents have you served because of that?

Stephany Hessler 00:08:18:21

Like that’s a very hard thing for some groups to manage because maybe you just injured on it and so there’s no outcome for it yet. The other thing to think about is at the end of the day, an organization might not be in a position to be doing any hiring right now. So that might not be a valid line of questioning.

Stephany Hessler 00:08:37:24

So I think the DTI work is important to acknowledge on grants, but just saving space that that work is going to look different for every organization.

Laura Cochran 00:08:46:14

Our our board is dictated by our bylaws that a third of it’s appointed by the mayor or a third of its appointed by United Way. A third of it is I mean, we don’t have what you know, we don’t have the ability to pick and choose most of our board. And on the program side, we are also limited by fair housing laws on how we can reach out and who we can provide services to.

Laura Cochran 00:09:12:00

So we can’t legally focus on a certain, you know, race or or with for our programs because that breaks the law. So, you know, asking those questions is is one thing, but also making sure that you are you understand the nuances that organizations are facing.

Tammy Tilzey 00:09:31:17

Right. Thank you. I think this may have been asked and answered, but just to see if there’s any others, Debbie. Yes. How much and what type of information would you like to see on a funders website about grant cycles?

Stephany Hessler 00:09:46:17

Like all the information, all.

Laura Cochran 00:09:48:23

All of it, everything. You can’t put too little on there about it now. But most importantly.

Stephany Hessler 00:09:57:09

If you have a funding cycle established, maintaining your funding cycle and not changing at year over year, if you have established funding priorities for your foundation, maintaining those and not changing your funding priorities year over year again, because we all plan multiple years out and budget multiple years out and make partnerships or programs multiple years out. So definitely being being thoughtful about that process is important for us.

Laura Cochran 00:10:27:06

I think it’s not when decisions are expected and it doesn’t see when applications are due and just amazing. So then I can tell my boss, Oh, we won’t hear from them for six months instead of them asking me every month, Have you heard from them? Have you heard from them? And I guess one thing to do is put a grant contact, ask for a grant contact, not just the executive director, please, and then use that grant contact.

Laura Cochran 00:10:52:11

You don’t. They’ll call the executive director. If you have a grant contact, you will get in touch. Last year. Your answer is if you call the grant contact.

Tammy Tilzey 00:11:03:14

And then the grant contact will know what the answer was regardless of where they had to get the answer. Excellent. This other question I’m excited about, Diane, you mentioned serving on a grants review committee from Thomas. As a grant seeker, does the opportunity to review grants as a grant panel has seem like a worthwhile development and learning opportunity?

Tammy Tilzey 00:11:29:24

Is it beneficial for funders to ask, or is it insensitive to ask applicants for more of their time to do this? So there I love that that asking the question and that compensation of time realization that it takes time in addition to the could. I think it’s a great development opportunity. Diane always give us examples from Duke.

Laura Cochran 00:11:56:03

Yeah I think it it’s an amazing professional development opportunity. I do it because it keeps me I mean, I started as a grant maker, so I love continuing to do that work. But for anyone that’s in the grant field to get the chance to be in the be on the other side, step in those shoes, it is it’s eye opening to see how do you react to the way something is presented.

Laura Cochran 00:12:15:12

But what it makes me think of, you know, honoring what is the time, what is the expectation? There’s two things that can come up. What’s the time, commitment and sort of the pressure because of the relationship dynamic to participate, But also is it going to create any sort of conflict for them in the process? I think actually, like United Ways are often a really good example of how organizations might have community panel members, but then also are in the cycle and how they can keep them separate.

Laura Cochran 00:12:41:19

So I think there’s ways around it, but it takes a lot of sensitivity to the relationship. You are offering something of value. It also helps you in the process to have a voice from funded groups at the table. But yeah, careful in that equity sense of the relationship. Yes, being a reviewer is helpful and that makes you think that you should get the opportunities meaningful.

Laura Cochran 00:13:02:09

That if I’m spending the time to review and offer my opinion, then I feel like that information is actually going to be used and important to the organization.

Stephany Hessler 00:13:13:13

One of the things Diane mentioned is we have a foundation in New England and they fund organizations throughout all of New England. And when they have all of the applications and then they send them to the potential reviewers, then I like to sit on the review panel. They send us a list of the applicants and we have to select if we are involved with them in any way, do we volunteer with them?

Stephany Hessler 00:13:33:19

Do we sit on their board and do we know staff at the organization? Are they local in our community? And that helps us really. It makes it so we’re not coming in, you know, and coming in to have a preference with a certain application in their pipeline. So.

Tammy Tilzey 00:13:50:13

All right. The last one of the last questions we’re running up on time here. There are two questions here, and I want to give you a chance to pick which one you want, but. Well, no, let’s let’s do a quick round on what’s the best feedback you’ve received after being denied, aside from no feedback at all. And that’s that’s something that came across as being able to know whether you’re awarded or not was very helpful.

Tammy Tilzey 00:14:18:16

So, okay, let’s assume that. But if you’re not getting some feedback, what’s been some helpful feedback you’ve received to speed round?

Laura Cochran 00:14:26:21

Diane The opposite. It’s nice. A very much appreciated When you get feedback of any kind, when you get denied. Have you considered the capacity of your organization giving feedback when you say yes to an applicant, this is someone that is one of your funding partners. What you are telling them is what stood out for you, what you really liked, so that they will hopefully do it again.

Laura Cochran 00:14:48:12

Repeatable process, always good. And also, while it’s not a rule for what will work for another foundation, you’re helping to set them up for potentially some additional sustainable funding. So I would actually encourage you to really think about how you provide feedback when someone gets an award. What did you like? What was really helpful, what was meaningful out of their application that you’d like to showcase?

Tammy Tilzey 00:15:09:19

Thank you. I love that twist on that. How about you.

Stephany Hessler 00:15:12:06

Stephanie I would say for us it’s definitely being open to provide feedback. It’s kind of amazing to me how many foundations we work with or that we apply to and not just at my organization but other organizations who if you reach out for feedback after a denial, they just don’t respond. And it really can help us be successful on other applications and maybe with your foundation later.

Stephany Hessler 00:15:42:03

So I think making space within your kind of application process and approval process to leave space for that feedback, you know, sometimes we’ll get a very generic letter back from a foundation that says, you know, there were just a lot of applications at this time. We couldn’t fund everyone, but we actually just got one the other day that, you know, was very clear that they’re going to refocus their funding.

Stephany Hessler 00:16:09:10

They know they’ve funded us for a long time, but they’re going to refocus and maybe we should try again in a year or two to see if something we have is in better alignment. So even just that little snippet in a denial letter was very helpful because it allows me to better plan for the future.

Laura Cochran 00:16:24:06

So following Stephanie, just if we come to you for feedback, talk to us, have a conversation, give us feedback. I understand that the letter that goes out, we had a ton of great applicants. You know, that wording is probably very true, but if you provide a avenue for feedback and we come to you for feedback, talk to us about our specific proposal and why it didn’t get funded, is it did you decide to go a different direction?

Laura Cochran 00:16:55:08

Is it the impact wasn’t great enough? That kind of information can help us decide whether it makes sense to continue having conversations with you or if it’s just not a good match. Funding. Why? I don’t want to waste my time applying again and again to an a foundation or funder who’s not interested in what we do. And even if it’s close to what we think you’re funding, we just it’s better to have that conversation.

Laura Cochran 00:17:24:08

I’d much rather spend time in that conversation with you over, even if it’s over time. I mean, I had I met with a funder for probably close to 18 months every six months touching, you know, touching base with them. And then we were funded, you know, last year. That is I love that. I would much rather do that than blindly applying for an A for a foundation application that I had no chance of getting or just is not of interest to your board or your review committee.

Tammy Tilzey 00:17:58:17

Excellent. And we have one last question regarding the surprise follow up questions. How are follow up questions after a site visit in the application phase received on the applicant’s end, is it anticipated or time sensitive? So I think what they’re getting at is if we do a site visit, we ask and answer questions and then the site visits over and then all of a sudden you have to type them up, I guess in in a follow up report.

Tammy Tilzey 00:18:31:02

QUESTION Is that appreciated to be able to do it or is that unexpected or something else?

Stephany Hessler 00:18:39:07

I would say if you submitted an application, you have a site visit. The site visit should be an opportunity for you as a funder to be asking your questions that you want answered, that then we don’t need to submit one more thing. You know, typically, I know when we schedule site visits that always the executive director myself, our director of operations, if it’s like a capital project or it’s the program director, if it’s a program request.

Stephany Hessler 00:19:08:19

So I think making sure you go in with the questions that you want answered is important. And I also think then being respectful that, you know, there are other deadlines on our plate. So now that might be one thing you emailed over that’s really quick and we can do that. But you know, I have seen funders that do a site visit and then come back with ten more questions like than their board asked and like invite your board to join the site, visit with you.

Stephany Hessler 00:19:36:06

You know, we have a foundation that brings as many members of their board when they do a site visit with us, and it opens a really meaningful conversation.

Laura Cochran 00:19:44:10

And I think I think I always anticipate follow up questions. I don’t think they’re ever unwelcome, but I think the key is the turnaround time. Don’t please don’t send me even one or two questions and expect a 24 hour reply back because I may be on a and I’ve I’ve most likely moved on to my next at my next deadline, which is probably, you know, the day after you’re wanting this.

Laura Cochran 00:20:12:01

So I just think about, you know, how much time can you allow them to answer? Can it be a week, you know, be two weeks? When do you actually need the information?

Tammy Tilzey 00:20:24:05

Excellent. One last thing I crowdsourced. Well, what’s your number one thing that you would want funders to wish they knew? And it was that the running programs running a nonprofit surprisingly takes money in addition to the money to fund the program. So supporting general operating or not restricting unrestricted funding was the number one. You know, just just recognition that that that is is something that our government recognizes it.

Tammy Tilzey 00:20:58:03

And the more foundations and others that recognize and help fund that as well is very much appreciated. And that’s the number one thing they brought. So this has been appreciated and we so appreciate the panelists and all of you attendees making the time for this discussion on Kelly. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Laura Cochran 00:21:17:22

Thank you all so much. We really do appreciate the panelists and the attendees you all are doing such important work out there. We appreciate so much your work, thrilled to be be able to be part of it with you. So thank you. And we’ll see you soon more.

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