And do I have a lot to get done. (Why are you blogging then, you ask... good question... but now that I've started, I'll finish this entry.)
We've received a number of year-end donations. This is always a good thing. As is thanking donors, and I've got to get letters out.
There's a grant that's due tomorrow. Most of the time, I don't run up against deadlines quite this close, but since this is an online application, I can submit this afternoon and still be on time. (Somehow, this one wasn't on my radar before last week.)
Tonight is the Starfish Christmas party for our Scholars.... I will not be wearing roller skates, but I will have the camera, so photos should be forthcoming.
In the realm of VISTA supervisordom, I've also got to submit my monthly report of what the three VISTAs have been doing since the beginning of December.
Well, enough whining... I suppose I should actually get things done.
Remember how I said at $967,000 it was time to reset the money count for the next year because everything I'd written for during my VISTA year had come in? Remember how I said I just missed raising a million bucks?
I may have spoken a bit hastily.
There was an outstanding $50,000 grant that I forgot about. I wrote it in July. Five-six months ago. It was passing through a bunch of hoops that I didn't have anything to do with and what with the breakfast and becoming a VISTA supervisor, etc., it dropped off my radar.
Until today, and a copy of the $50,000 check was on my desk.
So, the money total now.... drumroll please... $1,017,000.
Yes, that's a "1" the millions column.
I guess this is what that expression about "feeling like a million bucks" refers to.
Just this morning, I emailed off a final grant report to the funder of the first grant application I wrote when I was just learning how to do this last winter.
Likely later this week, or next week, just before the holidays, I'll write a new proposal to this same funder.
Something makes me think round two will be harder than round one was. Granted, our grants officer has said, like every foundation, this one is concerned with the stock market and the downturn and the impact that will have on how much they can give away. This makes me think that every proposal I write this year will have to be amazing to make the cut because there will likely be less dollars on the table and more people going after the same pot of money.
But, what this really reminds me of is though is school. When I was in college, because I went to a smaller school, I tended to have the same profs semester after semester. Yet each semester, there was that learning curve again of remembering how they graded their papers. This reminds me of that feeling, wanting to make sure that whatever I resubmit matches what they want.
Not like there's any pressure or anything.
Last week, Starfish was awarded the capital improvements grant from United Way! No more blue office for Bethany!
This also significantly changes the VISTA year money total. It now stands at $967,000. The capital fund grant was around $370,000 on its own. This grant pretty much closes out the grant writing I did as a VISTA, so the money coming in now is not part of this rolling total. (The counter has been reset to $0... or more like $2,000.)
So, I didn't quite hit the million-dollar mark. There were a couple grants that we didn't get that would have easily propelled me over that bench. But, I have to say, I'm exceptionally pleased with this total. (The prospect of the non-blue-office is quite appealing as well.)
We're meeting with the design and construction team again next week to finalize the design (it's been June since we really talked about it) and figure out who's moving to what offices and finalize picks of furniture, etc.
Hopefully, I'll have pictures to post of the renovations within a few months.
Starfish had three, new full-time VISTA members start yesterday. The other news (which I shared already) is that I'm their supervisor.
All three new members successfully went to PSO and still came to work. (And they came back today for day 2... always a good sign....)
More on them and their projects later. (and hopefully some guest blog posts...)
In little news, we got a $2,000 grant today. In tight times like this, every little bit counts.
Obviously, just about everybody knows that Thursday is Turkey Day, so the Starfish Office is closed for 2.5 days. Since I've got a 300-mile drive to get home, I'm going to not be the office for 3 days. (Who wants to work for a few hours on Thanksgiving Eve, anyway?)
Then -- next week, I'll be in Chicago for AmeriCorps*VISTA training.
But wait -- aren't you done with being a VISTA? you ask.
Yes, yes I am. Apparently VISTA alums make good supervisors for new VISTAs so I'm going to Chi-town for a few days to learn how to supervise the new Starfish VISTA members.
Last year during VISTA training, I was with the rowdy orange-dot table. Something makes me think the supervisors will be more serious than that table was.
This is a quite a change, suddenly being a supervisor. Then again, it does make sense that alums make good supervisors since we have gone through all the VISTA stuff. (No direct service!) We've got a lot of stuff to get set up in the office as well for three new people.
It is pretty exciting to have new VISTAs starting, to continue the capacity-building the four of Starfish VISTAs did last year and the eight summer VISTAs helped with. Starfish has grown so much in the last 13 months and I can't wait to see it grow more.
More on the new VISTA and being a supervisor come Dec. 8.
It's not enough to just get the money -- most funders want to know what you did with their money. Many foundations ask for reports, but some don't. I'm sending reports to funders who didn't ask for reports because I just think it's a good practice.
I think it's a particularly good practice when I hope to go back and ask these same funders for a new grant.
That's not to say all reports are rosy. I think it's good to explain what challenges were faced in reaching a projected outcome. If we missed a target, I'd rather explain why, or what it made it impossible instead of trying to rose-tint the picture.
Also on the writing front is polishing off the next issue of our donor newsletter and producing another scholar newsletter. Best get back to the looming deadlines...
Here is the press release I sent out this morning... it's strange being on this side of the reporting process....
Starfish Initiative wins “Charity of Ethics” award
Indianapolis, IN – Starfish Initiative was named the 2008 Charity of Ethics at the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau “Celebration of Ethics” Thursday.
Presented by the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau and sponsored by Riley, Bennett & Egloff, The Charity of Ethics award honors a charity that goes above and beyond in its service to the community. Starfish also received a $2,000 check from Riley, Bennett & Egloff.
Starfish provides mentoring services to promising students who qualify for Indiana’s Twenty-first Century Scholars Scholarship.
“At a time of economic uncertainty, those who support our organization want to be sure that their funds are being used wisely. We are honored to be recognized as an ethical organization and know that this award will ensure donors that Starfish is worthy of community support,” said Executive Director Joyce Johnson.
In the application for the award, Starfish explained a recent ethical dilemma the organization faced – whether or not to accept students who are illegal immigrants. After consulting with United Way, local high school and college administrators, the Board of Governors and Scholar Committee decided to make Starfish services available to immigrant students who fit the admission guidelines in every other way.
Starfish Initiative’s mission is to cultivate promising, economically-disadvantaged, high school students into college-educated leaders by providing them with individual mentors, leadership training, and community service opportunities to instill in each student the desire to contribute to his or her community. Today, Starfish Initiative serves nearly 200 high school students in Marion County in more than 30 schools. Each student is matched with a volunteer, adult mentor.
For more information on Starfish Initiative and the Charity of Ethics award, please contact Director of Advancement Bethany K. Warner, 955-7918 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm still counting this in what I raised during my VISTA year because it's related to the breakfast which happened then.
Today, I got my first paycheck. I don't want this to come off as sounding materialistic, but WOW, is it nice to have a check that will let me buy more than rent and some groceries.
What's been more worth it is coming through this experience with a set of skills that let me have a job. Granted, I stayed here at Starfish and didn't have to go through a long job hunt, but even if I'd had to do that, I'm sure I have the skills in development now that would have helped that to happen.
Here's the full scoop:
INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 28, 2008) — More than $500,000 is being pumped into local programs that help students find success in the classroom and prepare for life after high school.
The gifts come from the College Readiness Fund, created earlier this year through a $2.6 million grant from the Lumina Foundation as a way to improve access to college, help students prepare for continuing education and enhance college success.
The Fund administrator, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), announced this week that 10 local organizations would be among the first to receive grants, which will be used to reach out to Marion County students and their parents, particularly minorities, low-income families and students who are the first in their families to attend a two- or four-year college.
“Many first-generation students have not even considered college as an option,” said Roderick Wheeler, grants officer at CICF. “We’re working to break down those kinds of barriers with this program. Our message is simple: College is possible for all students.”
Two organizations received $100,000 gifts. The Center for Leadership Development will use the funding for its College Prep Institute, a program designed to equip African-American college-bound students and their parents with the necessary tools to succeed in college. Starfish Initiative, which works with at-risk and economically challenged high school students, will use the funding to continue to provide and build its one-on-one mentoring programs for youth.
“We are thrilled and sincerely honored the College Readiness Fund has selected CLD as one of its collaborating partners to help the students of our community excel in high school, college and life,” said Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development. “This tremendous grant affords CLD a powerful opportunity to help prepare hundreds of youth throughout Indianapolis for the highest academic, college and career success. Along with other community partners who care deeply about the academic crisis we face, we can begin to lay a foundation for establishing within our city and state, a culture of academic excellence where high school and college achievement is the expectation and norm.”
The College Readiness Fund will provide grants annually to nonprofit organizations with programs focused on reducing the high-school drop-out rates, increasing college readiness skills or increasing college attendance rates.
“Most students understand that going to college is important, but they don’t all know how to take the steps to make it possible,” said CICF’s Wheeler. “The College Readiness Fund will help provide additional resources, so professionals dedicated to helping youth succeed can show students and their parents the steps they need to take.”
An important partner in the College Readiness Fund is the 21st Century Scholars, a publicly funded program that facilitates training and provides scholarships to students who wish to attend a two- or four-year public college or university in Indiana. The 21st Century Scholars program registers participants in grades 6 to 8 and leverages additional financial resources for College Readiness Fund participants and their parents.
College Readiness Fund grants awarded to 10 organizations
Center for Leadership Development: $100,000
Starfish Initiative: $100,000
Indiana University’s University College: $70,000
Encouragement Services, Inc.: $50,000
YMCA of Greater Indianapolis: $60,000
LaPlaza Inc.: $40,000
College Mentors for Kids: $30,000
The Indiana Partnership Center: $25,000
Indiana Youth Institute: $25,000
College Resource SAT prep: $10,000
Total grants awarded $510,000
Earlier this week, one of our founding board members passed away. My heart goes out to his family and aches some for what his loss means to Starfish; he was such a big thinker and so excited about what we do.
Because of his long commitment to Starfish, we have been designated as one of the organizations where gifts can be sent in his memory. Suddenly, I'm learning how to do tribute gifts in the donor database and writing a very different kind of thank you letter for those donors who make memorial gifts.
While I guess it's important to have to do this (I don't grow as a person or as a development officer without doing things that are hard and unpleasant,) I must admit, this is one thing I'd rather not know.
My last VISTA monthly report has been turned in. I have a little bit more of my sustainability report to write, but it's mostly done.
I feel like I should have profound thoughts about what being a VISTA has meant this past year. Honestly, all I can think about right now is the fact that tomorrow I start earning a real paycheck again. My savings account will be very grateful.
I'll probably post some other thoughts over the next couple weeks as I transition. I hope to keep this blog going somehow, but I'm guessing it too will need to be adapted. Into what, I'm not sure yet. Stay tuned.
And thanks for reading this year.
I just got a phone call about a grant. A really good phone call. The kind where the grantor tells you that you've been awarded the full $100,000 you asked for.
I was really hoping to crack that 100K mark in a single grant during my VISTA time and with four-and-a-half days of service left, I got my wish.
So, the grants-only total now is $312,000.
If you add to that what we raised at the breakfast, my total now sits just $6K short of the half-million mark, at $494,000 and some odd change.
I'm guessing there will be an official press release coming out about this grant later and when it hits, I'll post it here. (I'm not sure the announcement of grantees is public knowledge yet, so I don't want to post about who funded this and spill the beans.)
Don't mind me smiling while I sit here working on our Scholar newsletter and my sustainability report.
Today was thank you letter day. I had the foresight to get the letters written before the event, so all I had to do was the mail merge and then stuff envelopes. I'm not quite sure how many letters it was, but I feel worse for the Ex. Dir. who had to sign them all.
We're also making follow-up phone calls to everyone to thank them for being there. I used to be on the phone all the time in the old reporter job, but it's been odd to be on the phone this much for these thank you calls Friday and today. What's really amazing is how stunned people seem to be that we're calling to thank them for coming. It's really not that much work, or that hard of work, just to express gratitude. Hopefully, it makes an impression.
End of VISTA service countdown: 8 days.
Today's top job: Find the surface of my desk.
#2. Put all the breakfast planning material in a folder for next year.
#2.5 Write a press release about the breakfast.
#3. Make a to-do list for next week of all the things that haven't gotten done because of the breakfast.
#4. Make thank you/follow-up phone calls to guests who attended yesterday's breakfast.
#5. Send thank you letters/receipts to all new donors from the breakfast.
Oh -- and I have less than two weeks left as a VISTA now.
Everybody who I talked to said they loved it (that's including people who had no idea I was planning it.)
We're getting ready to count the money.
I'll update with more info, hopefully later this afternoon. If I can stay awake. (it was an early morning...)
3:20 p.m update:
We've counted the money and the pledges and have a preliminary total.
Drum roll please...........
We raised more than $200,000.
We know there are guests who said they would mail in a donation later, so it's hardly a final total yet.
But, adding the breakfast donations to what I've raised this year in grants, the money total is now $412,000!
With a few outstanding grant applications still out there, I'm still really hopeful that I'll cross the 500K mark before the end of my VISTA service.
Nevertheless, the point remains.
I am completely busy with this.
If you look at the bottom page, in other countdown news, I apparently only have 16 days of VISTA service left.
Here they are now.
My new(er) computer at work is so very much better than my old one. The old one would, sometime between 2:30-3 p.m. each day, get so bogged down in its processing that the whole machine would lock up. I couldn't run Publisher and a photo program at the same time. If I got an e-mail with an attachment, the whole system would get sluggish until my Outlook dinged at me that I had a new message. After two days with the new computer, I haven't had any of these problems once I got my e-mail up and running again.
Our big fundraiser breakfast is in a week. Technically, by this time next Thursday, the breakfast will be over. (It's only one hour, from 7:30-8:30 a.m. The rest of the day we'll be counting up money!)
Anyway, with the event just a week away, I am doing little else but prep work for that. (Save for writing a short grant that has to get done too!) I'm putting guests at tables, I'm printing up pledge cards, I'm making table tents, I'm making the PowerPoint recognition slides. I have a seating chart on my wall, with 45 tables drawn in marker. I'm fairly set on about 22 of them (only 23-28 more to go, depending on numbers.)
It's a huge amount of work. I sort of understand why brides turn into bride-zilla when planning this kind of a large event. The pressure to make it perfect is intense. I quipped to a friend that I was turning into fundraiser-zilla...
It will also be the day my job title changes from AmeriCorps*VISTA member/Resource Development Associate (which is a bear to type, by the way) to Director of Advancement for Starfish Initiative.
Other than the title changing (and the addition of a paycheck so I can earn real cashy money ), not a whole lot else will be different on Thursday, Oct. 23 compared to Wednesday, Oct. 22.
The job I've been doing as a VISTA for the last 11 months will be much the same as what I do as the Director of Advancement. I will still write grants; still fund-raise, still do newsletters.
I had no idea when I started this year that this would be what I would be doing a year later, full-time. I thought I was interested in development/advancement. While I was pretty unhappy with where I was before VISTA (too far from home, frustrations with trying to get involved in the community, long/terrible hours), I wasn't really sure if I would be able to get the "ink" out of my blood. (There are days when I miss journalism terribly, but not enough to go back full-time.)
So, I'm going to keep going with this fund raising thing as a career.
It's been a good year.
$20,000 more just came in with another grant award.
I may only have another month left, but with the pending applications, I'm still hopeful I'll hit a minimum of $250,000 raised this year, if not $500,000 (there's that much money on the table yet that this could happen...)
I know it's a month away, but getting this paperwork makes it really official that I'm almost done with my year of service.
I cannot believe I'm that close to the end. This has been quite the year.
I'm hoping to have time to reflect more on this year in the coming weeks, but for right now, all I can say is that I'm far busier at this point in my service than I was back at the beginning.
WHEW! I feel like I need a victory lap for being done with this job.
Let me back up and explain.
This spring, we got an online donor database system. Only when we ported our data over, it didn't translate well.
For the past, well, months now, I've been going through our donor records making sure all the gifts and donations and pledges were all entered correctly. The database system allows for quite a few complicated queries and reports to be generated, but without the data in right, the queries don't work. Fixing the records meant going through hundreds of paper files, making sure that what was in the database matched the paper trail. Sometimes they were perfect... other times, not so much.
So -- talk about a big sustainability leave-behind. Having the donor data in order is huge. It's especially important that it's done now as we approach our next fundraiser in a month. A month from today. Oh, gasp. (I could have another post here freaking out about how much work is left to get this sucker ready, but I'm going to refrain. And breathe deeply...)
Now that all the data is in the database, I need to go back to watching online training modules to learn how to use all the nifty features available to me.
Still, I'm celebrating getting done with this part of the job!
Who knew a year would go so fast? My schedule is jam-packed for these next seven weeks as well, so I'm sure the end will go by in a rush as well.
Since I'm coming up on the end of my service, I'm working on my sustainability report and plans. This is a big part of VISTA, making sure the work done over the past year can be carried out by the organization when the VISTA leaves.
Doing this sustainability report is a huge look back at everything I've done over the last year. I spent time this afternoon updating a spreadsheet of deadlines for interim and final grant reports and when we can reapply for funding. Back when I started my service I was constantly updating this spreadsheet, but sometime around March I lost track of it in the press of everything else. When I went to look for the file this afternoon, I couldn't even remember where I'd saved it... or what some of my notes meant.
So I started a new file and will work to update it more over the next few days.
I've also got a section in the report about the newsletter I do, including production schedules for the next year.
There's more I want to put in this report, and I'm guessing there will be some long evenings to get everything on my VISTA workplan accomplished before the end of my service.
But the end is in sight!
This one is for $100K and it's due on Friday at noon. Since I'm taking off for a long holiday weekend on Friday that means it's due by EOB on Thursday. (EOB here is used loosely... I'll be here Thursday until as long as it takes to get done...)
I think it's really sweet that she brought me these flowers since I've spent all week in my office. (9 hours monday... 8.25 tuesday... ??? wednesday).
We should be a good fit for this grant. A really good fit. I think that's making me more stressed than when I go after a more long-shot funder.
Also brewing in the background still, the Capital Funds grant to the United Way which could make my office a color other than blue, goes back to the committee tomorrow. Still keeping my fingers crossed on this one because I would much rather have a gray and teal? gray and lime green? office than this blue that's here now. (All our offices get feature colored walls in the plan... I don't know how to pick which accent color I want if we get the money...)
Back to work...
4 p.m. update: The money total now stands at $202,000.
It's the bad quiet because they brought a level of well, fun, to the office. It's not that the rest of us aren't fun, it's just we're all pretty focused on what we're doing. The summer VISTAs did things like send out memos declaring it Hawaiian shirt Fridays. Now it's Friday again... and no Hawaiian shirts.
I also miss their enthusiasm for tackling projects. There's so much we need to get done right now, we could really use the extra help. I won't even begin to run down my to-do list because it's overwhelming.
One piece of good news -- we got the capital projects request resubmitted yesterday so that's off my plate for the second time. (Hopefully, the second time is the charm.) I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for getting the Blue Office to be a color that's not blue and to have new, unbroken furniture and workspaces in here before my official VISTA time is over. (Two months and one week left...so says the ticker at the bottom of the page...)
Anyway... in a break from routine, earlier this summer I joined some of my fellow VISTAs for a fun video spoof project of the The Office. Click here to watch our short film.
Not for lack of trying, mind you, but things in the grant world are sort of between cycles and I've been doing a lot of planning and organizing for other things (United Way campaign, fundraiser breakfast, donor and Scholar newsletters, etc.)
Anyway, it's time to update the total.
Last time I reported in, I said I'd hit $250,000. This is just another example (ahem) of I'm a writer and not an accountant because accountants don't count the same grant more than once.
The actual total right now stands at $187,000.
Yes, it's less than $250,000 ($63,000 less, I know) but I'm still darn proud of that total. If I added in everything we've brought in this year including in-kind gifts, sponsorships, and individual gifts since I've been working on things, I'm sure the total would be very close to $250K.
The latest grant that came into today was a small one, just $1,000. Still, as my office mate said, "$1,000 is more than zero" and she's absolutely right.
I'm also proud of this one because it's a to a new funder -- a small foundation that's never given us anything in the past. I thought an application to them was a bit of a longshot, but it turns out, it wasn't! With their support, we can pilot a new program, which is always a good thing.
I've got about 2.5 months left on my year of service (WOW, does time fly!) and I'm still optimistic that I will cross the quarter-million mark before Oct. 22. In current outstanding proposals, there's more than a quarter-million dollars that we could get from things I've written, so I don't think my hope is misplaced.
For weeks now, my cell phone hasn't been able to call into the desk phones here at the office. This started a long time ago after we switched over our phone service provider for Starfish.
It was a weird problem ... some of us with certain cell phone companies could not call into any of the work numbers. After a lot of test calls, calls to our old provider, our new provider and our cell phone companies, it seems to have been resolved. YAY!
Of course, this just means I have the ability to leave myself messages when I'm not at work....
We've got about a week and a half left with our awesome summer VISTAs before they head back to college this fall. They have been amazing and gotten so much great capacity-building work done.
Also, in about a month, we'll start having regular homework club again meaning we'll have Scholars here on weeknights which can be fun.
I'm back to proposal writing -- turned in one yesterday and working on another preliminary proposal that needs to go out by the end of this week. Also I'm busy with the planning for our fall fundraising breakfast. Things need to be in motion for that now to make sure we have a good event later.
Also, I'm doing some revisions to the capital grant to help that process. It's not dead, just tabled and I still have high hopes for this office not being blue for my entire year of service.
And the final tally of people who called in and made verbal commitments to be mentors during the 48 hour stunt is......
We are completely blown-away by this response from the community and the amount of media coverage we received during the past two days. All of us are a bit bleary-eyed this morning from two days of crazy work hours, but it was worth it.
And the brainstorming for next summer's event has already begun... the leading idea? Survivor: Starfish Roof.
The story is technically what would likely be known as the "secondary centerpiece," but half of Bob's head is above the fold of today's Metro+State section of the Indy Star.
Here's the link to the whole article.
Right now, we've got WTLC out in the parking lot with a booth, prizes and a live broadcast. Other staff has the camera, but more photos to come later.
Yesterday afternoon, I got busy and never had a chance to post these photos. These are mostly the summer VISTA crew (along with yours truly occasionally). Without their help, this event would not be going as well as it has been. They've also just been very cool and helpful all summer long.
So far, the camera has been passing from staff to staff, so I can't claim that all these photos are mine, but here are some further glimpses of life on the roof for Bob.
Up with him on the roof, Bob's got his laptop, a table and chair, his cell phone, a very long extension cord to plug his stuff through the window upstairs, a tent, sleeping bag, umbrella, pillow, cooler, and, um, bucket. I don't think I need to elaborate on what that's for.
We've gotten a number of calls from people who have stopped by on the street or saw him live on TV this morning. The current count for potential mentors is ..... drumroll please.... 30!
48 in 48 should be no sweat!
Here's what we're up to at Starfish right now...
This is the actual press release we've been sending out. Want more details? Drop me a line in the comments. Or call Bob (his contact info at the bottom) to learn about mentoring.
Local Mentoring Organization to “Raise the Roof” on graduation rates
Staff to live on roof for 48 hours to bring awareness and recruit volunteers
Indianapolis, IN – Starfish Initiative Mentor Services Director Bob Goodrum will live on the Starfish Initiative roof for 48 hours to “raise the roof on graduation rates” in Indianapolis. At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23, Goodrum will ascend to the roof where he will stay until 9 a.m., Friday, July 25. While on the roof, Goodrum will be recruiting volunteer mentors and drawing attention to the need to improve graduation rates in the Indianapolis area. His goal is to recruit 48 new mentors in 48 hours.
Starfish Initiative’s mission is to cultivate promising, economically-disadvantaged, high school students into college-educated leaders by providing them with individual mentors, leadership training, and community service opportunities. In so doing, it is their aim to instill in each student the desire to positively contribute to his or her community. Today, Starfish Initiative serves nearly 100 high school students in Marion County in more than 20 schools. Each student is matched with a volunteer, adult mentor who serves as his or her “college coach.” Starfish Initiative is adding 100 new students to its program before the start of the 2008-09 school year.
To provide services for 100 new students in the upcoming academic year, Starfish Initiative also needs 100 new mentors. Forty-eight new mentors in 48 hours is the idea of the “Raising the Roof on Graduation Rates” campaign.
“The possibility of a Scholar going to college becomes a real probability when an adult invests five hours a month in them,” Goodrum said.
Studies show that students who have support from adults are more likely to succeed in their academic work and less likely to drop out of school.
To learn more about becoming a Starfish Initiative mentor and the “roof-in” event, contact Mentor Services Director, Bob Goodrum at (317) 955-7912 or email@example.com. www.starfishinitiative.org
Currently, the work load has me overwhelmed. Too many projects, too many things going wrong at the moment. It's all very frustrating and VISTA doesn't pay enough for this much stress.
With the holiday weekend and the subsequent digging out/catching up from that, I've been very busy here in the blue office.
But time for some updates on a few things and what's occupying my time and head-space.
1. The major capital grant. We didn't get a "yes" or a "no" -- rather the committee tabled our request until we can come back with some more information in August. Round two of meetings for this is beginning next week as we meet with some other vendors and get some new quotes on furniture and construction pricing.
2. Being a United Way agency.
Yesterday we attended our first ever United Way agency fair for a campaign through the local office of a major company. We learned a lot through this first one and talking to other agencies also there. This is an exciting way to get our story out into the community.
Also, in two weeks, I've got training to learn how to be a United Way Torchbearer. This basically means that I will be giving short speeches at United Way campaign events, talking about Starfish and how being a United Way agency helps us. And it gets me out of the blue office... I hope they schedule me a lot. One of my goals for 2008 was to help coordinate our first year as a United Way agency and I'm doing a lot of scheduling right now to make this all happen.
3. "Raising the Roof on graduation rates: 48 mentors in 48 hours"
More info coming on this soon, but we're planning a crazy event here at Starfish to recruit more mentors. It involves our mentor services director, our roof and lots of PR.
4. 3.5 months of service left. YIPES. This year has flown by. Yesterday at the United Way fair, there were several other VISTAs and/or VISTA alums. It's fun to meet them and talk about doing service.
5. Grants, grants, grants. The deadlines don't stop coming and next week, I'm taking two days to do a proposal writing workshop put on by the Fundraising School. Obviously, I've been having some success at this writing thing, but I'm convinced I can always learn more things to make my proposals even better.
6. Dictionary Drive. Have $20? For that, you can buy a dictionary and thesaurus set for Starfish scholar who otherwise doesn't have reference books to help them with their school work. Maybe it's just the writer in me coming through, but I love this campaign and can't wait to get these letters in the mail to donors. I know I don't make much as a VISTA, but I am giving serious thought to donating a set because it means that much to me.
As you can see, there's a lot going on. I will try to update more on some of these initiatives/campaigns as I can.
2. Because I don't like math
This is why I can't get the numbers in the grant application budget I'm working on to add up right now. They add up on one form, but not the other. The SAME numbers. I don't know what I'm doing wrong.
UPDATE -- July 3, 10:38 a.m.
The budget now balances.
The problem? I was trying to make $5,000 + $6,000 = $13,000, when in reality, it equals $11,000. Hence, the missing $2,000.
Now, it all adds up.
As I posted before, it's been a learning experience to be without it. It's good it's back though, because there are online grants I need to submit next week. :)
It's nice to rejoin the technological age, and I hope next week to have more blog posts to get caught back up.
It's a huge wake-up call to see how dependent on technology we are. It also makes getting things done more complicated so this morning, I'm camping out at the public library with my laptop and using their wireless to blog, check work email and get some Internet-based things done.
We know that a lot of our students and families don't have Internet, but what a wake-up call these past two days have been for what that really means for them. I have felt completely cut off from the world, not having e-mail and not being able to read the news. (There are some parts of being a recovering reporter that I may never get over and reading several newspapers online is likely one of them.) But I also can't do research, can't look up contact information in our donor database, can't file online applications.
It makes me think about how hard it must be for these families to do things since they aren't connected to the Internet. How do you look for colleges and scholarships and do your homework without an Internet connection?
We're supposed to get ours back at Starfish today *fingers crossed* but I hope I don't forget what I've learned without it.
Amazing. Go out of the office for a day and a half and come back to see copies of checks totally $30,000.
My money raised total is now sitting right at $250,000.
Yep. A quarter million. I can't believe it.
One of these grants is the first one I ever wrote. We got the news awhile ago that they were going to fund us, but now we have check in hand. I'm still rather stunned that we got it, given my inexperience in grant writing.
I don't think I really thought about how much money I might raise during my VISTA year, but I have to say, $250,000 is way beyond what I think I might have imagined.
It's so wonderful to get checks in the mail after the hard work of writing grants.
Even though it seems like I'm having success with the grant proposals I'm writing, I signed up today to take a two-day proposal writing workshop through the Center on Philanthropy. The workshop was free and I figured there's always something else I can learn about how to write better proposals.
With Starfish growing, we've expanded into the back half of our building and with the help of a designer, put together an AWESOME-looking remodeling/renovation plan. No more blue office!...
At least, no more blue office if this request gets funded.
Anyway... the cool part of the story. Shortly before 3, the executive director and I hand-delivered our application to the funder since it was due by end-of-business today. Just a few minutes ago, she got a call from the grants manager that we are on the agenda to present our plan to the grant committee in about two weeks.
This is a great hurdle to get over so now we know we're on for sure!
I'll post more about the project, cost, status of the grant, etc, as it goes along.
I wouldn't say it's quite a tortoise-and-hare scenario (ie, slow and steady wins the race). I am thinking more like fundraising tends to mean you're in it for the long haul. Grant cycles are slow. It takes time to cultivate relationships with donors. Even special events take a long time to plan to be successful. Bottom line, you can't make a quick fundraising buck.
That said, this week has been a flat-out run and will stay that way till through a big deadline next Tuesday.
I hope this doesn't come off as whining. I'm not whining, I'm just ... explaining.
Here's the list of things on my plate:
1. $50K grant application... would have been better to have gotten this one done in May. Others are waiting to read it.
2. $????K grant application for a capital project. Waiting still on numbers from the construction folks. Due on Tuesday. Expect gnashing of teeth Friday-Monday-Tuesday to get this puppy finished. Also, don't expect to see me those days.
3. Donor newsletter. Gotta keep folks informed.
4. Scholar newsletter. See #3.
5. Summer direct mail campaign. We've got a cool campaign we're launching... letters need to go out in two weeks from tomorrow. I'm still on draft #1.
6. Donor database. We got a new donor database system this spring. After a bunch of online training, I'm now making sure our paper records jibe with what's in the database. Last names beginning with "F" and "G" should get done by the end of the week...
I'll hopefully come up for air next week and let you know what progress I've made.
On to the good news:
We got the call today from the very first foundation I wrote a grant to this fall as a brand new VISTA and grant writer. The board approved $20,000 for us.
While I've applied for and had other grants funded in a shorter time span than this one, I was really still holding my breath for this one because it was first. I think I've gotten better at grant writing in the past six months, but the first one of something new you do always carries with it some bit of trepidation. Getting the grant award is huge to me because I think it validates, in a way, everything I've done since then.
The total grant dollars raised YTD now stands at $213,500. $213,500!
I'm a bit stunned at that myself. I have a hard time imagining $213,500. I know I've seen the checks for it come in, so I know it's really happened, but still. When I was a reporter, I covered projects and things that had much higher price tags (multi-million-dollar construction projects, airplanes that people shelled out seven figures for). I guess it's different in covering big bucks than raising the bucks.
The next milestone I think will be getting a grant in a lump sum of $100,000 or more. I've got one application out that would meet that criteria. Stay tuned in September to see if it's funded!
We have nine more people who are spending their summers doing national service and helping with projects here. It's very exciting!
Here's the new crew (minus one, who's a teacher and doesn't start till later after her school year ends):
This is a huge plus for Starfish to have this group for the summer to help with a variety of projects.
And, it's fun for us VISTAs to have more poverty-fighters working along with us.
For people who spend a great deal of time at the keyboard, this style of keyboard is much better. Every time I go back to one of these, my typing accuracy improves and it's just so much more natural because it keeps your hands angled instead of turning your wrists in.
I guess it's silly that a keyboard and meeting three deadlines would make me happy, but it does!
If you recall, back in November and December, I was churning out about one proposal a week. Everybody, it seemed, had deadlines between Nov. 30 and Jan. 15. For a while then, the grant proposal writing slowed down.
Until now. Now I am deep in the throes of the spring grant cycle. Everybody wants stuff between May 15 and June 30 for the summer funding cycle. On my to-do list for this week, there are no less than four grants that I should work on. The goal is to write two and save the other two for next week.
The problem with the non-stop grant writing is the chained-to-my-desk feeling. I eat lunch at my desk. I sit at my desk and write all day. Not too many meetings, not even pestering other colleagues for information or data. I've done that already. Now comes just the sheer task of putting words on paper, one after the other to form coherent, compelling sentences.
In the applications that I'm writing and submitting this month alone, we're talking total funds somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000. That's a quarter-million. All in one month.
Never mind the two newsletters, database work, photo editing and prep work for our summer VISTAs coming next week. (more on that later...)
Add to the grant writing I'm doing the things I'm doing in real life (launching a writers group, teaching a four-day writers workshop, working on my own book, planning a trip in June, etc), it's pretty clear why I'm feeling a bit whelmed by all this. (Note, not overwhelmed, not yet anyway... just whelmed.)
So, I guess I should stop blogging and get to the grant writing. Maybe that would make this all feel a little less hectic.
Killing your darlings. It's a phrase that many writers have heard, a description for how ruthless they need to be in revising their beloved pieces. No matter how great a turn of phrase, or a scene might be, if it's not working for the piece, it's gotta go.
The same holds true with grant writing.
I've got a Thursday deadline to meet for a big grant. I spent all day yesterday working to craft this puppy. I wrote a great needs statement.
Except it's not a great needs statement for this grant. So I did it; I cut 291 words -- darling words, and a great quote from a respectable researcher. I put in different words (not sure how many.) I got rid of the great quote from a respectable researcher and put in other quotes for perhaps less flashy sources but ones that better illustrate the point that needs to be made.
Grant writing is a mix of tugging on heart-strings and appealing to the intellect. I think my original needs statement was a little intellect-heavy. Were I writing an academic paper, the argument would have held up well. But for a grant, there's an element of inspiration that needs to happen as well, helping a funder catch your vision.
I guess I'll know if my revisions worked come September and we get the word on funding decisions.
Quite literally, the entire afternoon. In fact, I had no idea it was 4:45 p.m already. The fact that people were leaving the office should have been a clue, but it didn't sink in until just now when I looked at the clock. (My first thought was, "My clock is wrong!" that's how absorbed I was.)
Starfish is having a reception about a month from now at the home of one of our donors. More than 80 invitations are going out for this reception and they are all hand addressed.
I could have been done with this project already, I suppose, if I'd done labels. But even with a nice font, a label (or printing on to the envelope), still looks like a label.
Who doesn't like to open a hand-addressed card?
Direct mail studies have proven that a handwritten address will get your mail opened more often than pieces that look like bulk mail (aka, junk mail).
So this afternoon, I put aside the grant writing, picked up my nice Pilot V5 Rolling Ball pen and remembered how to write in cursive. At 60-some done, I'm calling it a day (and going home to ice my tired hand... kidding).
But maybe I could recover from my year of no-money-with-VISTA by freelancing as a wedding invitation addresser...
The score is 9-4 (grants funded vs. grants rejected).
Total dollars raised is $193,500.
I'm really looking forward to the grant that pushes that total over the $200K mark.
A week ago today, I crossed into the second six months of my year of service, meaning I'm halfway done.
They say time flies when you are having fun. I guess they (whoever "they" are) are right.
The first six months has been a lot of things. I can't say "fun" would have been the first word to pop to mind. I think I would have picked things like "educational," "eye-opening" and a "good experience." If you asked me this question face-to-face and we continued talking, I probably would have also listed words like "stressful" and "frustrating" at times.
The key question I can answer at this point is, "If you could rewind time, would you choose to do AmeriCorps*VISTA again?"
I can definitively would say yes. For all the things this experience has been so far (including getting to try out the wonderful health benefit this week...), I would make the same choice. It's been a lot of sacrifice, leaving a "real" paycheck and good friends in another state, but on the other hand, I've gained a lot too. A lot of hands-on experience, the chance to see my work is making a difference and I've met new friends here in Indiana, both VISTAs (a shout out here to my PSO crew and others who I've gotten to know) and non-VISTAs who are wonderfully understanding about why I can't do social things that involving the spending of much money.
So while maybe I wouldn't have picked "fun" at first, it would be an oversight to leave it off the list.
Here's hoping the second half is as good as the first.
This is currently making it hard for me to figure out where to start. Yesterday I did all the jobs that had definitive ends. That was nice; makes me feel like I'm making progress. The jobs left on the list have ends (eventually) but they seem farther off or harder to get to or just nebulous. They are also less fun.
(And the weather for the third straight day is gorgeous outside. And I'm in the Blue Office with the hyperactive air conditioner that is determined to freeze me out of here.)
None of the things on the list is from the fundraising class I took a few weeks ago. I really want to get to that stuff, but the in-between stuff is making it hard to get to those big picture items.
Enough whining. Letter writing. I can get that job done.
I was testing the digital camera and my desk made a good test subject.
Luckily at this angle, you can't see all the piles of papers and folders behind the books. Trust me, they are mounting.
The big piece of chart paper (the E-Tapestry To Do List) also has a few more items on it. This whole list is a blog entry for another time.
In the mail yesterday, Bethany opened a letter from a foundation funding one-half of a new Scholar Specialist position.
A. What is $25,000?
Circle City residents were rocked awake at 5:39 a.m. by this geologic occurrence. Bethany thought first it was a thunderstorm, then realized later that thunderstorms don't make the lamp on her nightstand rattle.
A: What is a 5.4 magnitude earthquake?
From school, I now have a four-inch thick binder of materials, worksheets, reference guides, bibliographies and other helpful tools. Basically, this binder means I now know what I'm doing. (cough. cough.)
Trying to explain everything I learned last week would take up way too much time on Blogger and be a post so long that nobody would want to read it. Suffice it to say, I learned lots. Tons, even.
I keep reminding myself that I don't have to implement everything I learned last week today. I don't even have to have it all done by the end of the week. Much of this will take time. Much of it also will need the OK of the executive director and board chairman to implement.
While it's a lot to do, it's also invigorating, learning the best practices of the industry. It was also nice to be in a class for a week with many other folks who are new to the fundraising profession. It was a definitely a place where there were no dumb questions.
There was a group picture taken, but so far, the zip file of it isn't cooperating.
If/when I can get it in a usable form , I will post it.
Through a wonderful scholarship (thank you Third Millennium Initiative), I get to go to "Principles and Techniques of Fundraising" and learn how to do what I've been attempting to do for the last 5 months.
My executive director has taken this class in the past and says it's a great crash course on many aspects of fundraising from grants to major gifts to capital projects and planned giving.
Having not had any official schooling on fundraising (save for a few conference sessions) this is a cool opportunity.
It's going to likely be a long week. I haven't sat in a classroom literally all day since, oh, high school. Nevertheless, I've got my pre-class reading to do this weekend and I am armed with highlighters and pens, etc for note-taking.
I'll be back to blogging sometime the week of April 14 and let you know how it went.
This afternoon, the mock file was for one "George Weasley."
It was definitely a nice chuckle moment after quite awhile of sitting here watching online training.
I'm sort of surprised they haven't used all sort of fictional personas for their examples... maybe the fundraising training should be redone to include Harry Potter, Mr. Darcy, or Jay Gatsby as top donors?
After two days of sitting in workshops, I'm still sort of in conference coma. I think hotels must pump something into the air or use special light bulbs or some other nefarious means (like in the pitchers of water always on the tables) by which to keep people at a conference placated and docilely moving from one workshop to the next without a major revolt. Maybe like general anaesthesia it has some lingering effects...
Anyway, today I'm back in the blue office, trying to get projects done and figure out what it was exactly that I learned at this conference.
The high point of the conference was one session on program development. I'm not a program development person, per se, but in the grant writing, I write program descriptions all the time. I also write goals, outcomes and objectives and now, finally, thanks to this workshop, I understand the difference between the three.
I put my new-learned definitions on the dry erase board in the blue office this morning, just to help myself remember them and to have them easily visible when I'm writing grants.
Aside from that, I went to 7 other workshops, many of which were outright duds and some of which were only somewhat helpful. I think other people in my office had much better success in the workshops they picked, so I guess the conference wasn't too bad as a whole.
Also, there were tons of VISTAs there, including folks I hadn't seen since PSO in Chicago in November. It was very fun to catch-up with them and hear how their projects were going.
Now, it's nose to the grindstone to get a newsletter and a postcard out pronto.
Last time, it turned out the furnace wasn't connected to the gas line so it wasn't possible for it to run. Such cannot be the problem a second time.
We have the HVAC guy coming some time this afternoon. Meanwhile, I can't attest to the quality of the newsletter I'm producing when I can't feel my fingers! (The solution here could be to just go home and run up and down five flights of stairs in my apartment building where the elevator is also on the fritz. I'm sure I could warm up doing that...)
Not having heat for a morning is really pretty insignificant compared to the situations of those living in poverty. We have shelter from the incessant rain outside. Even with no heat, the thermostat still says it's 64ish (though falling) in here. We have lights, clothes, water, food. Ditto about my apartment; the elevator may not work, but really, the five flights of stairs aren't bad for me, just inconvenient.
So while I'm cold, I guess I have a lot to still be grateful for.
Yesterday was the first day back and I felt like I bounced back and forth between a number of projects, including starting into a new grant proposal.
The grants count yesterday changed to 5-4, as we got another rejection. They say you're supposed to call the funder who rejected you and ask them why you were turned down. I did just that and came back with no helpful information.
But yesterday I also had an application waiting for me on my desk from a foundation I sent an LOI (Letter of Inquiry) to in early February. This has launched me into a new grant proposal that involves research and a whole full proposal that's mostly all new information. It's sort of exciting because it involves writing new material instead of cutting and pasting together parts of previous applications.
And planning for the fall fundraising breakfast is moving forward. We're close to officially having a location for this. I announced it internally yesterday but embargoed that information, so I had best play by my own rules and wait until the appropriate time to release it.
After getting the newsletter in the mail yesterday, I spent some time today turning the publication into a template so the April edition will go much more smoothly when it comes time for layout. In college, I used to do design work weekly to get our campus paper to print. Granted, then I was using QuarkXPress and here I'm using Microsoft Publisher, but the basic principles of design are still the same. So are techniques like setting up style sheets so that all the headlines and body text in subsequent issues look the same.
What I can't figure out to do here is how to post a screen shot of the newsletter. Trust me that it looks snazzy.
In wearing my other hat of event planner for our fall fundraising breakfast, I am getting closer to having a location nailed down. It's down to the top two. This morning, I called up the most expensive location (which was holding the room for us) and told them they were too expensive for our budget.
Hanging up the phone after leaving this voicemail message, I turned to my VISTA office mate and said, "I feel like I was breaking up with them."
I think it'll feel worse when telling the runner-up because our top two contenders are both working hard to come up with a plan that fits our needs. I know it's just business and it's not personal for the event planners at the venues either, but still. Breaking up is hard to do.
Oh and I'm setting aside the VISTA hat for a few days of vacation until next Tuesday. Look for posts to resume some time next week.
They didn't pick us for this one.
It's ok, honestly. Some things have changed a bit internally that would have made how we wanted to use the funds more complicated (but not impossible.)
So, I think that brings my grant count to 4-3. Almost sixty-percent success isn't bad, I know, but it's still disappointing to read the "no thanks" letter.
Like even writing this blog. I wrote that first sentence and then went to an Excel file for a few minutes to make pie charts. Now, back to blogging. And in a few minutes, I'll likely go read the Indy Star online because I haven't looked at today's headlines yet.
I don't know why or how I developed this habit. It's likely a throwback to the newspaper world where there was never just one thing happening at a time. The way to get all the work done there was to work on severl things at once.
Sometimes that strategy works for this development work. Sometimes... well...
Today, I realize what I need to do is actually finish some projects I've been chipping away at all week. Instead of leaving half-done drafts of several things, I need to buckle down and get some of the projects crossed off my to-do list.
First up, our new fact sheet. This has been a good project for me as a former reporter. How do you tell the story of your organization in one page that's not just margin-to-margin gray? What short facts best illustrate the need and the solution? (And here was the break for headline-skimming...)
And now back to the fact sheet to try to get this draft done.
It's time for Starfish to start planning out fall fundraising breakfast and to get started, we first need to find a space to hold it. I've been on the phone most of the morning with conference centers, hotels and other venues here in Indy, trying to find the right location for space, price, menu options, parking availability, etc. for a breakfast of 500 people.
This is actually more complicated and time consuming than I would have expected. I've never be part of the planning before for an event with 500 people coming, so my expectations were completely unfounded. It's quite the industry, it seems, this convention and meeting space and catering business. Anyway, onward to review some information that I received about one possible venue via email.
When I can update on details, I will
Last week we got another no and then this morning, another yes.
Total grant dollars raised so far is $13,500.
I shouldn't just count grant dollars funded, but it's the easier rolling number to keep track of. I know other things I'm doing are adding to the grand total -- bringing in matching gifts from donors' employers because we sent them a reminder letter that it was their responsibility to process the match. Trying to get donors to make good on the pledges they made at our annual fundraiser last fall.
But the grants are the things I see most closely as living or dying based solely on the quality of my work.
The big grants are still outstanding. *Finger crossed*
So in a moment of self-depricating humor here...
Moments ago, I just answered the phone telling the caller on the other end that they'd reached the newspaper where I used to work. My office-mate started laughing, I started laughing and trying to apologize to the caller.
I'm glad it wasn't a grants officer on the other end. Of course, the call was still serious and I feel like a total heel.
Ever since October, I've been worried I would make that mistake. I guess now that I've done it, I can stop worrying about it.
At a workshop I attended this fall, the speaker said if you weren't used to asking donors for 5-figure amounts, you should practice. Ask yourself in the mirror, ask your friends, your dog, whoever, just to get used to saying the words. Apparently, I need to take a step back and practice my phone greeting.
"Starfish Initiative, this is Bethany."
Monday I was walking home from work as I always do. About two blocks from my apartment, I'm stopped on the sidewalk by a man going the opposite direction. He's a middle-aged, African-American guy, dressed moderately -- nothing flashy, maybe a little worn-looking, but nothing that says "homeless guy."
He asks me if I can spare some money for food for his kids. He then proceeds to tell me how he lives in an apartment building a few blocks over (it's a legit building) and how he's been laid-off from his former job and needs to feed his kids and could I spare a few bucks. He's well-spoken and my old reporter sense (maybe this is like Spidey-sense for journalists?) is telling me his story is true.
In my head, I'm thinking Well, I have a few bucks in my wallet, but I'm a VISTA so a few bucks really is it. And these few bucks have to last me through this weekend because I'm a VISTA and I'm living in poverty too. I asked the man if he'd stopped at the church up the street. It's where I attended and I know the deacons there try to help people when they can. The man said he had but that the pastor wasn't there. And I'm still thinking I could get out my wallet, but how do I know this guy's not going to rip the whole thing out of my hands. I've got credit cards. I've done the identity theft thing once and I'm not so keen on doing it again. And, really, I'm a VISTA! I'm living in poverty too. The fact that I'm dressed nice is a front! Really, I'm not as well-off as you think I look like I am!
I blow the guy off and eventually start walking away, shrugging that there's nothing I can do. Of course, I turn the corner and start thinking about what I could have done. I could have asked him to wait, gone up to my apartment, got the loaf of bread out of my freezer and my jar of peanut butter, or the package of spaghetti and jar of sauce I had and brought it back to him if he needed food for his family that badly.
And yeah, I'm a VISTA. I may not be as well-off as I wish I were, but I could have given him $4 worth of sauce and pasta and replaced it at the store the next time I shopped and not felt the pinch of my budget doing it.
Maybe he wouldn't have wanted that. Maybe my reporter sense was off and he really did just want cash for booze or drugs or something. Maybe he's got no hungry kids in an apartment a few blocks over.
Maybe the score after this round is Poverty: 1 Bethany the VISTA: 0.
When I cook that spaghetti this weekend, I doubt it will taste as good as it should. I wish I could find out what happened to him and his family. I wish I could rewind time and do something different.
I've been doing this for three months already.
It feels like it's been that long and like it's been no time at all. (Yes, it can feel both ways at once.)
I'm getting ready to write my next monthly VISTA report which always gets me thinking about what it is, exactly, that I've done in the last month.
Written grants. Check.
Been staff photographer for events. Check.
Worked on next donor newsletter. Check.
To use the hated phrase... made a difference..... er... check?
This is where it gets hard as a VISTA. Since we're not doing direct service, there are days when it feels like what I'm doing doesn't really impact the students we serve. I know that's completely bogus, but it feels like it nevertheless.
I guess maybe this feeling is partly because yesterday afternoon most of what I worked on was a postcard to donors about whether they wanted to get paper or electronic copies of things like newsletters. I know this is a good thing, but it took time to print the postcards, fold the postcards, run them all through the stamp/meter do-dad.
Today, much of my day will be spent at the library doing research through their Foundation Center database. It's good work, but it's solitary and isolated from what we really do.
This will pay off in the end, I know. More funders, hopefully, to support the heart of what we do. But in the meantime...