What Can We Say Besides, "We're Still Here?"

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Your nonprofit has been around a long time—congratulations, statistics suggest that a third of nonprofits fail after 10 years, half of all new nonprofits shrivel up after only a few years. If your organization has weathered economic downturns and Covid lockdowns, you’re doing just fine.


But simply saying “guess what, we’re still alive” is not a compelling theme for a persuasive proposal. What makes it compelling is what you’ve DONE with your longevity; what accomplishments and outcomes and impact you can point to as markers along your journey.


The situations or problems you’re addressing have probably changed since you started working on them. How have you reflected and incorporated a recognition of those changes in your work? How has your organization grown, not just in size, but in awareness and alertness to the communities you serve? For example, larger numbers of new language or cultural groups. . . shifting patterns of work. . . an aging target population.


Along the way you’ve probably adjusted your methods to address those changing conditions. How have you amended, modified, improved, sharpened your approach? NOTE: “We’re doing our work like we’ve always done it” is probably not a strong position to take if you’ve been at it for many years. Dig deeper with your program staff, ask them to help you articulate the ways you have gotten better at what you do.


A nonprofit that has been in business for more than 10 years needs to be able to talk about what difference you’ve made in your community. What impact have you had on the issues or circumstances that brought you to the work in the first place? If you’ve been working to improve student performance, did it improve? If you’ve been pushing for increased diversity in hiring, how has the workforce changed? A brand-new nonprofit, or a very young organization, can’t be expected to demonstrate widespread changes. But a mature organization certainly needs to address those expectations.


The French philosopher Montaigne said, “the value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them.” It’s a good measure of a mature nonprofit’s request for support.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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