Monday tip: online security

Add two-factor authentication (2FA) to your Facebook account (and, ideally, all your online accounts). While traveling last week, I received two unexpected “security code” text messages from Facebook. Someone was attempting to hack my account. By receiving the security codes, it was clear the hacker had my password and was one step away from accessing my account. It takes a little effort to set up 2FA but, I believe, it’s worth the time. And, be sure to use a strong password featuring a jumble of letters, numbers and special characters. I thought the password I was using was strong enough–apparently not. I now use a password manager app to create all my passwords.

How do you keep your online accounts secure?

Have a great week!

Sustainability planning: the missing link

Grant-funded initiatives rarely last forever. Sustaining programs is a challenge for even the most successful organizations. The big mystery is how to keep the momentum rolling after initial funding expires. And, what should sustainability look like? Does it mean continuing a program at 100% strength or can it be downsized to a point where existing funds and other sources of revenue can support it? Planning teams get so caught up with designing effective programs, they often overlook the sustainability issue. It’s not their fault. Tight grant deadlines don’t always afford people the luxury to forecast future revenues and demand for services. In the end, “we’ll apply for another grant” becomes the unwritten strategy.

So what are the keys to sustainability?

  1. Funding assessment. What funding do you currently have available that could be redirected to supporting your new program after other funding expires? Everything should be on the table—including scaling back an existing program if the new program proves more successful/effective.
  2. Blended funding. Don’t launch new programs with a single funding source. Ideally, use two or three funding streams. If/when one source drops off, the program won’t be as severely impacted. Also, providing matching funds makes for a stronger proposal.
  3. Scalability. Design your programs so they can be easily expanded and contracted based on available funding and demand.
  4. Income generation. Explore ways your program could generate revenue to offset some costs.
  5. New frontiers. Keep your eyes and ears open for new funding opportunities and new ways to partner with other organizations. Network. Network. Network!

Do you need a sustainability plan? Reach out to us. We’re ready to help.

Case study: Misspent funds

The stability (or at least reasonable predictability) that annual funding allocations provide is a wonderful thing. On the flip side, when funding becomes routine (i.e., taken for granted), oversight can become lax and questionable expenses can slip through the cracks. Read our latest case study to see how we helped a large public school district improve their purchasing monitoring and approval process.

Download the case study (.pdf).

Tip: Don’t add ongoing expenses to one-time funds

Thank you, Captain Obvious. This might sound like common sense advice but you would be surprised how often organizations receive a large sum of one-time funding and load it up with expenses that will outlive the money. Full-time personnel, cell phones and equipment requiring ongoing maintenance are just a few examples of expenses that can put your budget in a pinch once the funding runs out.

One-time funds are better suited for staff professional development, hosting a conference/workshop/symposium, preparing communications materials, working on policy papers, replacing program supplies and replacing obsolete technology. There will always be a temptation to hire that full-time position you need and to worry about the funding down the road; that doesn’t always work out. If the position is truly critical, find a stable source of funding at the outset.

Need help with your budgets? Reach out to us. We’re ready to assist.

Diversify your funding

Reliance on a single funding source can spell disaster for nonprofit organizations. A recent New York Times article perfectly illustrates this point. Popular programs one year can be cast aside the next. Politicians are fickle people; they want to fund their own pet projects, not the previous office holder’s projects.

We recommend nonprofits limit their federal funding to no more than one-third of revenues. Any more than one-third exposes organizations to unnecessary risk. If your organization is too reliant upon a single funding source, contact us and let us help you diversify.

New grant seekers: Ditch the templates

We occasionally receive requests from organizations seeking a template grant proposal they can use when approaching funders. That’s not how grants work—at all. Funders can spot templates from a mile away. They’re ineffective and they diminish an organization’s credibility.

Every funder has different application requirements based on their mission (or the authorizing legislation in the case of state and federal monies). You need to tailor each application to the funders’ needs. You want the funder to see that you invested the time to develop a program that will advance their goals. Grants are partnerships. If you’re replicating a single proposal over-and-over again, you’re telling the grant-making community your organization is more interested in dollars than partnership.

The best way to create a successful grant proposal is by writing many grant proposals. The first one is naturally the most difficult because you’re starting with a blank sheet of paper. The second proposal is a little easier because you can pull some language from the first proposal to enhance your next effort. The third proposal builds upon the work from your first two: you shore up the weak spots and you can recycle text that was especially compelling. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The more proposals you prepare, the more comfortable you become with the process and the more narrative language you have to use from earlier proposals. Every proposal is a little better than the previous one. Just keep after it. Success will come in time.

Need help getting started? Contact us!

Quick tip: financial controls

Don’t allow just one person in your organization to have sole control of your financial records, bank accounts and credit accounts. Always have checks and balances over your finances. The person preparing checks should not be the one to sign them. The person signing the checks should not be the one to record the information in the accounting system. Misspending, embezzlement and fraud can occur when only a single individual is in charge of financial records. In smaller organizations, it might not be possible to have three staff people controlling expense authorizations; in that case, board members need to step in and fill the oversight gaps. Trust but verify. At least once every year, perform your own internal audit by spot-checking a handful (or more) of random expenses to see if proper procedures were followed. Everyone in the organization has a duty to safeguard funds.

If you need help reviewing or establishing your internal controls, please visit our site and contact us.