Lesson #18 – Nonprofit GuideStar Profile and Lesson #19 Nonprofit Form 990

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Are you happy with the progress you are making with your chapter’s application writing activities? We are close to being done with the preparation components of the lessons and soon will be moving forward with the funding sources components. Today we are going to look at two very important issues, the Nonprofit GuideStar profile and your chapter’s nonprofit Form 990.

Lesson # 18 -Nonprofit GuideStar Profile

Many chapters have found their chapter’s profile on GuideStar and have updated it. One should go in at least once a year and update the chapter profile. And when you go into , you will find that the inputting system is significantly improved from a year ago. GuideStar does not charge for a nonprofit to update its profile.

GuideStar is a database filled with information about nonprofit organizations: public charities and public foundations. GuideStar obtains the information used in its database from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Each nonprofit has a profile on the GuideStar website at . GuideStar allows each organization to claim their profile and then to update and embellish the profile with more specific information. GuideStar does not have information about corporations.

How to Start
In order to use GuideStar, the committee member needs to create an account and log in for the chapter using the email username and password established in Lesson 1. Go to to start.

Claiming your Profile
Search for your nonprofit organization, when your chapter’s name comes up select the link and you will be in the chapter’s profile. GuideStar gets the information for your chapter’s profile from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

GuideStar Exchange
The GuideStar Exchange is an opportunity for you to show your organization’s commitment to transparency and communicate directly with your stakeholders —for FREE. GuideStar has several videos on their website on how a chapter can claim and update their profile. There are four levels of participation on GuideStar Exchange: Bronze, silver, gold and platinum participant level brings with it several benefits. The benefits have changed in that a nonprofit no longer can gain access to the foundations that grant monies as part of their GuideStar benefits.

Lesson 17 – Chapter Form 990

A nonprofit organization files a Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax). Form 990 is an information return that is filed annually. It is the mechanism used to communicate the organization’s financial information and activities to the IRS each year.
Funders will ask for Form 990s. Scan the chapter’s Form 990 document and place  it into a Dropbox sub-folder and into the hard files. Funders often ask for previous Form 990s. Putting at least the past two years in Dropbox  will help if one finds that more than one year is requested by the funder.

There are two main types of Form 990. Nonprofits file Form 990 and foundations file Form 990PF. Some members of the public rely on Form 990 or Form 990PF as their primary or sole source of information about a particular nonprofit organization. Form 990s are available for public inspection. You need to start looking at Form 990s for any funder you may think is going to have an opportunity for you to collaborate with. We will talk about this more in an upcoming post.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie



Lesson #16 – Writing Nonprofit History and Program Descriptions and Lesson #17 – Potential Funding Tracking Documents

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How are things going? It is hard to believe summer is almost over. Our application writing activities are in high gear. It is great to work with a team since we never know when life will throw a curve into our work. It is nice to know that we can call up another member and say, “hey, can you help me, I have an application due next week and I have a catastrophe going on”. One of my favorite statements is “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance”. Just think the material we are working on this week may only need to be written once and then simply tweaked from one year to the next. No reinventing the wheel here!

Lesson #16 – Writing Nonprofit History and Program Descriptions

The committee will need a description of the chapter’s history and its programs.


Each chapter has its own history. It is important to collect the facts. The facts need to demonstrate a solid and energetic nonprofit ready to serve its community. The history should include the date the chapter was established and its affiliation with National Assistance League. Next one can indicate the number of philanthropic programs that are supported by the chapter, the number of members and the number of service hours contributed by members in the last fiscal year. One can then start with the date and name of the first program and then in one sentence explain whom the program serves. The writer then proceeds to follow the same format for the rest of the programs. At the end, the writer refers the reader back to their website. After the draft is completed, be sure to have several people read it for accuracy, clarity, spelling errors and correct use of grammar. The writer then needs to send the document for review by saving the document to Dropbox in a separate folder. The reviewer can then open, edit, and save the document back to Dropbox.

Program Descriptions

The number of philanthropic programs is different for each chapter. Funders will either desire to learn only about the specific program that the application is written for or they may want a short synopsis of all the chapter’s programs. Additionally, this is one variable where the number of words or characters may be limited (150 to 1,500). The writer must capture the heart and soul of the program in a few succinct words. The description should start with the date the program started. The description should include outcome specific data. The number of service hours spent in administering the program during the last fiscal year should be included.

It helps if the program has been established for a period of time so one has some outputs to use, such as, the number of children clothed in the Operation School Bell program during the last year. In writing a good narrative here are some tips:

  • Put your good writing hat on (know your grammar and spelling issues);
  • Simple is better, be sure to write in the active voice;
  • Remember the funder knows nothing about your programs, paint a picture;
  • Support your writing with current data; and
  • Know what you are asking for and why you are asking, tell a compelling story;
  • Tell your story with passion;
  • Proofread what you write; and
  • Ask someone else to critique what you have written.

Save the document file to Dropbox. One can upload all programs on one document and then cut and paste as appropriate for each online application depending on whether they want only the program for which the application is written or they want to understand all the programs that the chapter conducts.

Lesson #17 – Potential Funding Tracking Documents

Well the last lesson was long and this one will be shorter. It is important to keep track of the funders you evaluate. I use two Excel spreadsheets. The first one catalogues each of the foundations and corporations that are not a match for our chapter’s programs. On the second one, I put those foundations and corporations that I believe our committee will want to write a letter of inquiry or application. Go to and you find sample forms for both under Resources/DownloadableFiles/Funding /Grantor Name Searched  and Resources/DownloadableFiles/Funding/Evaluation Elements. Please take the time to check these out. If you have decided to use both GrantStation and Foundation Directory Online, be sure that you add a column showing which database you used.

While this may seem like an extra step, it is important to do since often times our committee members do not stay on the committees for more than a year or two. If you do not know how to set up an Excel spreadsheet, ask others in your chapter to assist you. Once it is developed, adding the data is a simple task. Remember to add these documents to your chapter’s Dropbox so that other members will have access to them.

It is early in the process and as things get more technical, you will be glad that you engaged someone to work with you on the technical stuff. Remember not everyone on the Grants Committee needs to write applications, there are many tasks that need to be done.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Conference is coming up soon and I am looking forward to seeing many of you there. Sandie

Lesson #14 – Populate Online File Management System and #15 Word-processing Tips

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So are we having fun yet? One thing I believe in life especially at this age, is one should have fun! This next lesson takes a little time but it establishes the draw to volunteers who want to work from their home in their pj’s.

Lesson #14 – Populate Online File Management System

If you are using Dropbox for your chapter’s application writing activities, you will need to appoint an Administrator. The Administrator will give permission to individual committee members to access the files that are placed in Dropbox. There are three different sections of files. First, there are all the files needed by the actual application writer to complete an application. Second, there is  a section where applications are housed by year so that a member can look back on what applications were written in which year. Third, there is a section where research on new applicants and general resource material is housed.

It is critical when setting up a filing system that you make it easy for other members to find documents that they need easily.
Once an Online File Management System, such as, Dropbox, is put in place, it is time to populate with the files needed for writing applications. Initially, the Dropbox administrator creates a folder that will house all the sub-folders. Below is a list of needed sub-folders:

  • Address, phone, fax and EIN number,
  • President’s biography,
  • Board of Directors list,
  • IRS Determination Letter,
  • Nonprofit Form 990,
  • Mission statement,
  • Brief chapter history,
  • Audited financials,
  • Organization budget,
  • Program budget,
  • Balance Sheet,
  • Profit and Loss budget,
  • Chapter history,
  • Program descriptions, and
  • Grants contributions from previous year.

After creating the appropriate sub-folder, the administrator saves documents to each making sure that scanned documents file size is reduced.  You can reduce the file size with a program like Adobe Standard. Documents that are large in megabytes (MB) may not transfer over the Internet based on the criteria that has been set-up by the funder’s online program.

Lesson #15 – Word-processing Tips
Each word-processing program works slightly different depending on the program and version being used. The following four features will help the member save time and helps make the work more enjoyable: autorecover; spelling and grammar usage; number of words feature; and the track changes feature. You can do a google search to find the right information for your computer, whether it is a pc or mac and whether what version of Word you are using.
Autorecover can be set on one’s computer to prevent the loss of a whole document should one lose power or the computer has another malfunction. By activating the feature, the member ensures that original typing is being saved ever minute.

Spelling and Grammar Usage
Microsoft Word provides a feature that allows the member to search the document for spelling and grammar usage.

Number of Words Feature
Microsoft Word provides a feature that allows the member to determine the number of words/spaces in a document or a portion of a documents. This feature is valuable will the member is developing a document in Word and then is going to “cut and paste” the document into an online application.

Track Changes
Microsoft Word provides a feature that the reviewer can activate that tracks the changes suggested by the reviewer to the writer.

Don’t let this information overwhelm your committee, take one suggestion at a time and teach it to the members. Remember it is our job to create enthusiasm for our work. Our communities are depending on us to raise monies for our local Assistance League chapters philanthropic programs. If you have questions please let us know by sending an email to or by hitting the “Comment button” below the post at .

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie



Lesson #13 – Establishing an Online File Management System

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Oh its me again! I am releasing a post at the beginning of this week to get us back on track with our work! Another key to success in setting up a sustainable team is establishing an online file management system. There are several opportunities that a chapter can use. We have had success with Dropbox. Our chapter has been using Dropbox for our application writing and we now have 5 years of history. So when we want to find out what we did last year or two years ago, it is quite easy to look it up.

Lesson #13 – Establishing an Online File Management System
Dropbox is a valuable tool in the on-line application writing process. Writing applications requires the handling of documents.

Availability of Documents
The members appreciate the ability to access documents from an online filing system. When members share the same system they are able to work individually or collaboratively. When holding a meeting, everyone can pull up the same document to review. Completing online applications requires the uploading of several documents (files) to the funder’s online program. As the committee develops and continues to write applications one year over the other, they can refer back to applications from previous years.
Preparation of Documents for Online Use
Many members use word-processing programs like Microsoft Word. When using these programs it is important to save the documents in the lowest version possible. Not all members will have the latest version and when documents are saved in the newest version they will not be able to open the files.
There are documents that must be attached to the online document, such as, the Internal Revenue Service Determination (IRS). These documents are converted from a paper document to an electronic document by scanning and saving to a portable document format (PDF). After converting to a pdf file, the file needs to be condensed to the smallest size file possible in order for the online application programs to accept the file.

Dropbox is a popular online file management system. In order to use, go to . Dropbox allows the committee to share all the files created and used to write applications. One can work from anywhere since all the files are located in “the cloud” as well as one’s local computer. Dropbox is a free program unless more than 2GBs of data is stored. Dropbox places an icon on your computer desktop. There is also an “app” for your iPhone.
Dropbox needs an email address and password to get started. The Dropbox administrator sets up the account for the committee by inviting each member to join the communal Dropbox. The administrator sets up the initial committee file and then many subfolders. Each subfolder contains several files related to a specific topic. Here are several important points related to the use of Dropbox:
• The Dropbox administrator has an important responsibility to ensure the files remain intact. She must teach members how to access and delete a file without deleting the entire folder housing all the committee’s work. The administrator controls who has access to the files. As new members come onto the committee and others leave, she needs to ensure that access is given to some and removed for others. All members need to own the responsibility of not deleting the major folder where everything is kept. It is important that at least two people know the Dropbox username and password.
• When several members are reviewing a file simultaneously, only one person should make changes. All others should exit out of Dropbox, with the person making the changes exiting last. Conflicted copies will occur if multiple people make changes and save them simultaneously.
• When working on a document as an individual member it is best to save the file to one’s desktop and then to resave to Dropbox when completed.
• When saving an original document the first time, use the “save as” feature to ensure the ability to select Dropbox and the correct subfolder.
• It is possible to have Dropbox on an older computer and then decide to have it serviced and the staff does not realize the significance of removing all the files from a hard drive. That action also erases all the files from all the members who have access to the folder. So if someone is going to buy a new computer and donate their old computer, be sure they are removed from the Dropbox folder prior to erasing the files. They can always be reinstated when they get their new computer.
• When files are erased they can be retrieved by the administrator. She must go into the folder and restore the files that have been deleted. Files can be retrieved for a 30 day period, after that time they are permanently removed from Dropbox unless the files are protected with a feature called “Packrat”. Packrat is priced at $3.99 per month but also protects the files from deletion for one year. Additionally, every member should back-up their local files routinely.
• We should all be backing up our computers regularly. Have you looked at your backup process recently? It make take a professional to recover the files lost but if there is no backup in process there is nothing to retrieve.
• A good protocol is to save all documents into Dropbox with a “.doc” filename as a routine. You may get an excellent new application writer who only has an older computer. If you save Word or Excel documents in the latest version, she will not be able to access the files.
• After the first year or two that you have Dropbox in place you have to clean out Dropbox and add new folders. You will have to orient the committee if you make major structural changes to the filing approach used. Be sure if you are changing Dropbox administrators that a good orientation between them occurs.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie



Lesson #11 – Sustainability and Lesson #12 – Establishing an Email Account

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Well the smoke is back again from the fires in California and North of Reno. I have had some technical issues with computers over the last week, which have now been resolved. It is a real good time for me to get back to our work. As a teacher, I have gotten slightly ahead of myself in discussing the Lessons, so let me step back before I go on with finding a funder because if you are new to writing applications there are a few things you need to know before we proceed.

Lesson # 11 – Sustainability

One important point when one is starting out or if you are a seasoned application writing team is  to think about sustainability. As we look at what volunteers want to do in this day and age, it is to work on projects, to be able to work independently, to not be micro-managed and to work with with other competent volunteers. Working on a team of application writers meets all these expectation of today’s volunteers.

Sustainable is an interesting word meaning “a resource is able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed”.  As we build our long-term team to write applications it is important that we do not use up our main resource for doing the work, which is the team member’s mind.
Unlike other work we may do for our chapter, the team member’s mind is what makes for success in getting checks for the chapter’s philanthropic programs. If the team member is enthusiastic it spills over to the other team members. If the team is patient and persistent about its work, it sets them up for success. If the team writes more applications that are a good match to the funder’s need to make awards, it increases the chances for success.

In order for the long term success, the words commitment, passion and conviction that as a team, success will come, has to be part of the team’s culture. Lastly, if each member has the right attitude, they will find fun in their work and will be ready to celebrate their participation and success in getting funding.


Lesson #12 – Establishing an Email Account

The purpose of setting up a committee email account is two-fold: online applications and coordinated communications.

Online Applications
To start an application, the applicant has to set-up a user name and a password to start the process. Every online application has the applicant register an email address. There is a chance that a chapter’s administrative email address administrator may not realize the importance of a message and may not respond do it. Additionally, when a personal email account is used, no other member has access to the application. Having a specific email address allows all members to check on the incoming emails as needed. For instance, they will be able to determine if an application has been submitted by checking the communal email box. Having a communal email address also allows the applicant’s work to be checked by a reviewer without divulging their personal username and password for their email box.

Coordinated Communication
The committee chair should check on emails on a daily basis. While all members have access to the email, the committee chair should also monitor the email and she may need to forward emails to specific members. The committee chair file emails in appropriate folders. All emails should be kept forever since one does not know when they will need to access them.
Two popular email vendors are ( and Google ( ). With Yahoo one sets up a Yahoo email address and with Google, a Gmail account is established.

While this may seem like a small task, I have found it is one of the most important elements to ensure the development of a team that is able to sustain over time.

Okay we are now back on track!

Be sure that you take the time to accomplish each task as we move through these next lessons since these are the keys to developing a sustainable team ready to write applications way after you have decided to move onto to other chapter tasks.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie


Lesson #10 – Finding a Funder

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I am so glad to be back to my home computer, trying to blog on a cellphone does not work well! Life took me on some unexpected travel! I am glad to be back to GrantLessons and to get on with our work. Finding a funder is one of the most interesting issues for a grant writer! Over the years we have determined several ways for us to find a funder. The one most important factor in finding a funder is “location, location, location”. Funders, both foundations and corporations, are interested in giving funding to nonprofits where they live or have lived previously. They want to have a sense of being able to contribute to a community they know!  There are many ways to find a funder. The ways range from the simple to the complex. For instance, I was once part of a speaker’s bureau team that made a presentation about our local Assistance League chapter to find that a major funder’s director was sitting in the audience. He was impressed and it was the start of funding for our organization. Also, we have had a funder walk into our Thrift Shop wanting to make a donation. We thought her donation was going to be clothes. But instead, she wanted to talk with someone about making a donation. She was from our community and simply liked vetting the nonprofits by going in undercover. She has made large donations to our chapter’s philanthropic programs. I like saying, “You never know whom you are talking with, so be sure to keep your smile on and the 2 minute ‘elevator’ speech in your hip pocket.”

Foundations by State

The more conventional way to find funders is through the use of a database. These options run from the simple to the complex. Each option comes with opportunities and limitations. Let’s examine some of these options. A simple method is to “google”  for “foundations by state”. One of the results takes one to where a map of states is presented. One simply selects their state and a list of foundations is presented. The opportunity is you can start to see which foundations are located in your state that provide funding to nonprofit organizations. The limitation starts with the list not being able to be sorted by city. When one selects a link they can determine the geographic location. For instance when I select Community Foundation of Western Nevada, I see that they provide funding to Northern Nevada.  The foundation base of the lady who lives in Reno is located in the East and therefore is not on the list. So the lesson is one cannot assume that any list contains all the potential funders.


GrantStation is a database that provides more information about funders in a particular state. You can view GrantStation by going to GrantStation provides an opportunity to search for more specific funding. If you go to the following link you are able to see the information included in the profile. The limitation with this database is that one can not easily determine if the funder will give to a specific large city in the state. I can put parameters into the database to help define what I am looking for funding. This helps to delineate those funders that are giving to the arts as opposed to those giving to human services. The database would greatly be improved if it easily provided a dropdown box to discriminate whether the funder gave to nonprofits in the entire state or whether it only gave to specific cities such as “Reno” or “Las Vegas”. Because that option is not available one will have to look through many profiles to determine which ones are specific to your geographic focus. One should know that National Assistance League provides an opportunity to its chapters who desire to subscribe to GrantStation. An annual subscription can be purchased for $47 when the chapter orders through the National Assistance League office  The following link will provide the form that needs to be completed. Chapter GrantStation signup form . When using this database you will spend time reviewing profiles to determine if the foundation provides opportunities in your geographic location.

Foundation Directory Online

A sophisticated database for finding funders is Foundation Directory Online. It is a subscription based product that can be purchased for amounts of time from one month to one year. Foundation Directory Online can be viewed at . The database provides more specific information about the geographic location the funder desires to fund. Again one enters parameters for the search which can include more discrete data fields, such as, county or city. While there is a higher cost to using this database, the results generally will provide profiles with more leads for funding.

Time to get out into this beautiful weather here in Reno-Sparks.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie



Lesson #9 – Foundation Grants and Corporate Contributions

Greetings from GrantLessons!

I hope this post finds you enjoying your summer. I am lucky to be in Birch Bay, Washington today enjoying a boat ride on a friend’s boat. Just taking a few minutes out to let you know that if you have gotten your team set-up you are ready to start the next process which is to evaluate foundations and corporations that are trying to find nonprofit organizations so they can give them a percentage of their income so they can maintain their tax status with the IRS.

Now that we have established a team, we need to determine which of our programs would be a good match for seeking foundation grants or corporate contributions. There are several things that need to be considered including the chapter’s location, the characteristics of the chapter’s program, whether or not the chapter has previously received funding from a grantor or corporation previously  and the tolerance the members have for failing.

Chapter Location

If your chapter is located in a large metropolitan area your chances of finding a match between your chapter’s programs and a funder are significantly better. However you must assess your community. You may be in a smaller community and find that a director of a large foundation lives in your community and therefore your city has been singled out as the only city in the country that can receive funding.

Chapter Program Characteristics

The team must evaluate their program for which they desire to ask funding. A well established program with evaluations done regularly will provide substantial information for the writer to present a case statement. Essentially, founders want to know their funding is going to a needed program in the community. The funder wants to know that that program is not duplicating services. They are interested in the chapter being able to sustain the program in the future. They like seeing that other foundations support the program.

Funding Sources

It may not be entirely apparent to us why founders ask the questions they ask. Many funders will ask if they gave money to your chapter the previous year. They may desire to provide funding every other year. The funder may want a long term relationship with a nonprofit they trust and therefore seek out repeat funding opportunities. The important point for us as applicants is to answer all the questions that the funder asks to the best of our ability. If funding has been received previously, it is important to maintain the established relationship with completing reports and/or sending out justification letters annually.

Ability to Fail

A tolerance for failure will help the team be successful. When starting to write applications there is nothing like getting funding for the work done. However, because one gets a denial on an application is still a success. With every application written one learns from it and becomes more familiar with the process. As the confidence of the team grows, they will eventually find success in funding for an application. So one just has to continue to fill out applications because without doing that funding will never be obtained.

Catch me when you can and I will catch up with you soon! Sandie