February 27, 2014

When Diane Johnson was director of Metro Ministry (now Shalom House) in St. Louis, she partnered with the city of St. Louis, three universities and a shelter for men, and was able to leverage that partnership to receive a grant for $2.3 million, $1.1 million of which went to Metro Ministry.

“Shalom House is still thriving, growing and changing lives,” she said. “Funders want to see that what you are doing is sustainable, and that you are networking, building and sustaining projects. Donors need to know that differences are being made in the lives of families in need. Your proposal should cause donors to be happy about giving you money.”

Johnson, a member of Union Memorial UMC in St. Louis, was speaking on a panel at the Shift Happens: Hope in the Midst of Transition conference in Houston. Since 1997 she has worked for the General Board of Global Ministries. Part of her work there was on a funding committee, which distributed millions of dollars for ministry.

“I intercepted many worthwhile but poorly written applications and re-wrote them,” she said. “For many people seeking funding, increased time and effort must be put into proposal writing.”

The problems weren’t just on the proposals themselves. When Johnson was reviewing a proposal, the first thing she would look at was the organization’s website. She found many websites were out of date, or such a mess that they really needed to be started over.

“Look at your website, and ask yourself, would a donor want to support this ministry?’” she said.

There were also issues with late applications, questions not being answered and generally not following directions. Sometimes an application letter that was several pages long really needed to be edited down to one page. On that one page proposals should engage the reader, be persuasive, offer value and solutions, and encourage decision makers to choose project to funding.

Johnson recommended getting to know the funder or donor, and making a personal connection.

People seeking funding should know the funder’s mission and goal and let the funding source learn about how much impact their gift can have to a non-profit in need.

Will Dent discussed how his church in Canton, Ohio, has established a non-profit community development corporation called The ABCD that provides social services, much of which is supported by federal grants. He specifically discussed how the organization has acquired vans through the Federal 5310 program, and contracts the vans to other agencies.

“If your church has a van that you only use on Sunday mornings, you’re not using what you have,” Dent said.

ABCD contracts their vans for human services to go to areas that public transportation doesn’t reach, or at times that public transportation isn’t available. They transport people to dialysis, people who have just been released from prison to jobs and veterans to health care. They now operate 20 vans, 14 of which they obtained through the 5310 program. The contracts generate $60,000 per month.

“In every community there are gaps in transportation, and you can help meet that need,” he said.

Joe Connelly discussed how churches can establish nonprofit agencies. He said it is easy, and involves $100 to the state to files articles of incorporation, and takes less than 30 days to go through.

“With a phone call and a fax to the General Council on Finance and Administration, you can avoid the $1,000 application fee,” Connelly said.

The non-profit must have a board that functions independently from the church. GCFA requires 51 percent of board to be non-church members.

Johnson closed the panel by cautioning that when a new ministry is being launched, it is important to first assess the real needs in the community.

“Be careful about creating something that you might want to do, but it’s already being done and you would just be replicating a service already available,” she said.