Tuesday, April 28, 2009

High cost, low return, stimulus fund raising

I participate in an on-line forum that connects some of the leading mentoring researchers in the world. It's hosted by David DuBois of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In one email message this weekend, David wrote, "Mark, congrats on getting the OJJDP app in. I was part of a proposal submitted by City of Chicago here and am aware of at least one other one submitted by a Chicago agency I think the competition will likely be stiff, but not as bad as the NIH Challenge grant competition I also put in
an app for--rumor for it is as many as 30,000 apps for 200 awards--less
than 1% hit rate! "

This does not make sense. This maps shows that there are many neighborhoods of Chicago where comprehensive, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are needed. If everyone of these programs submitted applications, imagine the total cost in time and dollars that would be spent. In the end, maybe one, or two would be funded.

Good for them! But what happens to the others? Do they just close the doors and say "sorry kids, no money."

This is the challenge I have faced every year since 1992 when I and six other volunteers formed Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. I'm a small non profit. I've never had a professional fund raising staff. That means I'm the grant writer in addition to everything else.

With each grant you put emotional resources into the effort to find dollars. Each time you're one of the 99% who don't get funded, but do get a nice letter saying "thanks for your proposal, good luck to you", it take just a little bit more energy out of your commitment to keep doing all you can to assure that the kids are connected to volunteers and the long term result is that some of the kids are finishing college and starting careers by age 25.

Even if I did have a paid grant writing and development staff, with only 1% winners, imagine how much money I'd be spending. This is money that could pay rent, and provide social, emotional, mental health, and/or tutoring and vocational education mentoring to our kids. It's money that we don't have enough of, and that is just wasted when so many of us are writing grants that so few of us get funded for.

What's the answer? Advertising. Public Education. Workplace fund raising. Teach consumers (volunteers and donors) why tutor/mentor programs are important, where they are needed, and how to decide how they can support such programs with time, talent and dollars. Teach them to stay connected once they pick a program, just like they stay connected once they give birth to a child.

Then teach them to shop the maps in portals like the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, so they can pick the neighborhood they want to help, then choose which program (if there is more than one), based on the information on that program's web site.

If we can find ways that as many people think about helping disadvantaged kids each week as watch Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, or NFL basketball, we can generate the dollars and volunteer involvement that would make these programs more available to more kids.

Tutor/Mentor Connection can not do this by ourselves. We can't do what we do without donations. We need leadership from many places.

You can donate to us at this link. Or send checks to Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, 800 W. Huron, Chicago, Il. 60642.

You can provide the stimulus funding we and others needed by your own direct involvement.

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