Proposals or People – What Do Nonprofits Need Most?

I wrote my first grant proposal in 1997 to fund a summer entrepreneurship project for adjudicated youth in Paterson NJ with AmeriCorps VISTA. The funder awarded us the full amount – $50,000. Beginner’s luck I thought, that was too easy!

21 years year later and the lure of grant writing still calls me. Securing grant funds from foundations, corporations and government sources for the important work of nonprofits like OLSHF is a lesson in perseverance. You get used to denials, learn how to juggle many deadlines, follow grant compliance, and wade through varied reporting requirements as well as struggle with the limitations of continual funds.

We assume grants – whether for operations or capital (bricks and mortar) projects – are a large, robust percentage of a nonprofit’s budget, right?

Well, not really.

Certainly grants are a key element of any nonprofit’s development plan.

But the real treasure is building a strong, ever-increasing donor program. In other terms, individual giving from people like you.

Historically, donations from individuals account for over two-thirds of all donations. If you add in gifts from bequests, then the category accounts for nearly 80% of all giving. (Data from

OLSHF has a healthy mix of income streams, including an individual donor program. But we’ve worked diligently to scale up our potential to reach more supporters and improve our donor communications plan.

In 2018-19 we anticipate almost 10% of our income for our operating budget to comprise of individual donors.

How can we do this?

Our PRIDE donor program is a perfect way to build infrastructure and increase our individual base of supporters.

Our Keep the Promise events and other “friend-raisers” (held in different regions of Oregon) provide an opportunity to meet new people and share our community impact, adding potential donors and volunteers.

The thrill of planning, writing and winning a grant award will always make my heart race a bit, but grants may come and they definitely go.

What stays and becomes a legacy are the people who believe in our mission and the varied network of people who continually support our sight and hearing programs for Oregonians in need.

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