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The reality of the nonprofit sector is that many organizations must rely on state and federal funding to advance their missions. Without this funding, many organizations would not be able to provide services to the population they seek to serve. Applying for and receiving funding seems like the perfect answer for nonprofits that are looking to get started, as well as for seasoned organizations that need extra room in the budget for new expenditures.
What nonprofit staff may not consider when applying for and accepting this funding is the effect it will have on their organizations, staff members and clients. What could be bad about more money? Taxing applications, constant scrutiny, bureaucratization, collecting intrusive information from clients and extreme reporting, just to name a few. For already overworked program staff, this additional burden can seem extremely overwhelming.
So, how do you balance funding a program and remaining effective to the mission of the organization? Here are some ideas:
Only apply for funding that fits into the realm of the established mission. Instead of trying to create a program that fits into what a grant wants, only apply for funding that is applicable to the work you are already doing.
Let technology work for you. Find computer software that will assist with running reports. Hand counting for grant reports should long be a practice of the past.
Create a compliance department. Many nonprofits now have departments fully devoted to ensuring that practices and decisions are in compliance with grant contracts. This frees up program staff and the other administrative staff members to focus on other things.
Let clients choose how much information they provide. The caveat to this is, if the grant allows it. Some grants want all the facts and figures on every client, no matter what. Governmental funding contracts want information to support why they are giving your organization their money, which makes sense. However, it can be intrusive to clients and can feel counterintuitive to what we know about the helping profession and a client’s right to self-determination.
Remain true to the mission. If at any time you find yourself straying away from the passion of the initial work you set out to do, find a way to get back as fast as you can. Yes, you may have to finish out the grant year but do not reapply for funding that prevents you from doing the work that the organization was created to do.
When all else fails, go private. Although a very lofty goal that not all organizations can accomplish, it may be beneficial to not utilize any governmental funding. Some nonprofits are turning to this practice to have the freedom they desire to pursue their mission in the way they see fit. Many organizations also utilize the practice of creating an endowment fund to ensure stability for the financial future of the organization in what can feel like a very volatile financial climate. Not knowing if your program will get funded in the future can have anyone on pins and needles as contracts come up for renewal. Having this safeguard can provide peace of mind.
Ashley Mitchell is a native Texan who found a passion in 2014 for assisting survivors of family violence. Since that time, Mitchell has occupied roles of direct service (to both victims and batterers) and supervisory/leadership. Mitchell completed her graduate degree through Arizona State University’s online Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program in August 2018.