If We’re So Popular, Why Don’t We Have More Money?

Dear Kim,

We are a newly formed nonprofit serving Latinos in a predominantly Caucasian community. Ours is the only organization of its kind in the area, and we find ourselves overwhelmed with requests from community agencies to partner or work together, or even to assist them in targeting the Latino community in their proposals. We do not know where to begin. We have no funding and no grantwriting experience. How can we obtain funding for our own projects? Are there any particular steps we need to take?
—Baby Steps

Dear Steps,

You need to back up and reaffirm why you created a separate nonprofit to serve Latinos in your community in the first place. I imagine it’s because the services you needed were either not present, not adequate or not culturally competent. When other agencies ask you to partner with them, negotiate with them to be written into the grant proposal. If they want your organization’s expertise and you think they do good work, then ask them to pay you for what you know. Of course you want to be cooperative, but you don’t want to be window dressing.

As far as where you should begin, here are some first steps:

1) Go to the nearest Foundation Center (you can find the nearest one from their website: http://www.fdncenter.org) and ask them to show you how to use FCSEARCH. This extraordinary database will help you find foundations that fund start-up projects in your field of interest. Also, make an appointment to see someone at your local community foundation (the Foundation Center librarian will know if there is one), United Way, Chamber of Commerce, local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (http://www.afpnet.org, a website with a wealth of information). Introduce your program and the reasons you started it to each of these funding sources, and ask for funding suggestions.

2) While you are doing step one, don’t forget to start building a base of individual donors. Consider holding a special event that reaches out to the Latino community and shows the larger community what kind of support you have. Ultimately, you will be most free to do your work if you have funding from a diversity of sources.

3) Finally, what is your Board of Directors doing? Perhaps you haven’t fully formed a board yet, so as you do, look for people who will introduce you to other people who are interested in your work and may want to support it.

This process will be frustrating at first, but if you keep at it, you will find the funding you need. Stay focused on your mission and don’t feel you have to say yes to every request from other agencies.