Get the Grant! Your Competitive Edge with SMART Metrics

Amidst a challenging year, nonprofits are zeroing in on the grants that will help them continue to deliver on their mission. As calendars are marked with application dates and deadlines, grant writers have the opportunity (and challenge) of completing a compelling grant proposal – one that will make their nonprofit shine even more brilliantly than the competition.

Although nonprofit teams are stereotypically not the most competitive personalities, the fact of the matter is that financial resources are in high demand, requiring a bit more magic from grant writers to land the grants their organization is relying on. Now, of all times, is the time to boast! Show off the incredible work of your nonprofit team.

Here’s the magic that I urge you to keep in mind as you get to work: tell a story of your past, present, and dream-scenario future. Then, explain with numbers why your numbers back the story of your past/present, and why (with numbers) your dream-scenario future is well within reason.

Nothing beats a grant application that displays both the head (pragmatism), heart (mission focus), and muscle (execution) of your nonprofit. Sounds like a winner to me!

Now the big tip – remember “SMART Goals”?

By this point, you may already have your SMART goals outlined. For example: “In 2021, we will launch 2 new programs across 15 county schools, reaching 15,000 students ages 13-19.”

Amazing! Now implement the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) strategy to share metrics that prove you’re able to accomplish said goal.

SMART Metrics to Prove Your Salt


Show specifically what actions have been taken (or been maintained) and what impacts have resulted. This will be a foundational step to the work ahead, so take your time, and don’t be overly-critical of the first thoughts that come to mind.

Get the ball rolling by simply making a list! Jot down all initiatives and changes your nonprofit has made in the last year (or other relevant time period) in efforts to pursue the mission.

It can help to do this part as a team. Gather a think-tank team consisting of all departmental leaders in your organization. Everyone can chime in on the actions and accomplishments of their respective programs. (Bless the grant writer, who will likely be jotting all of this down and making order of this light chaos.)

Remember: not everything that will be said/thought at this stage will be kept! You’ll need to first identify which contributions are relevant to the grant itself, then workshop each contribution until it is, in fact, SMART.

That said, it’s alright if people start chiming in with general actions and impacts such as “Our clients are much happier with our programs!” – that example won’t make the final cut, but it will get the juices flowing for the team.

By the end, you’ll workshop these ideas to be more specific, such as, “We hired our first full-time event coordinator, which resulted in 3 more programs this year, and 25% better attendance.” (Ok…I’m jumping ahead. Let’s move on to “measurable” now.)


Any metric needs to be measurable. How much, how many, what percentage, what ratio? You can make even the broadest statement measurable if you ask the right questions and do the appropriate data collection.

Let’s revisit the previous example and make it measurable: “Our clients are much happier with our programs!” Get started with questions like these:

  • How is happiness being measured? Attendance? Repeat attendance? Referrals? Survey results?
  • Are you tracking this data? (If not, start now! You’ll have the data at the ready for next year.)
  • Don’t forget the specificity – which clients and how many? Which programs and how many?

By asking the right questions and collecting the right data, you will end up with much stronger metrics, a much more compelling narrative, and an easy setup for a SMART goal. For example:

“Last year, we held 45 programs, of which 70% of attendees had attended at least 1 other program in the last 3 months, indicating strong community confidence in our programs. In the last year, we also welcomed a 12% increase in program attendance. Of first-time attendees, a whopping 80% were referred by someone who had previously attended a program. Word of mouth is powerful, but with a grant-funded community outreach and marketing budget, we will achieve…[insert the corresponding SMART Goal here; now that you’ve built the case for your SMART metrics, your SMART Goal will be a slam dunk].”


These specific, measurable metrics will have already been achieved, which naturally bodes well for your ability to execute on your proposed SMART goals. If you’ve done the work before this step, you’ll easily check the box for “achievable”.

It boils down to the idea, “We’ve done it before and we can do it again even better.”


Now that you have the most amazing data, telling the most amazing story about how you’ve done amazing things and can do many more amazing things if you just had the funding…it’s time to zero in on what (in this mountain of amazing-ness) actually matters to those reviewing your proposal.

It’s time to thoroughly trim the fluff. If you are applying for a grant that is focused on certain communities or outcomes, only use the data that correlates and speaks to those points.

Remember – nothing that you’ve done up to this point will go to waste. Data reports can be powerfully repurposed and recycled. Use the data for outreach to the community, volunteers, sponsors, or donors.


This will be another easy check mark, if you’ve done the above work already. Timebox your achievements into quarters, years, decades — whatever is most relevant to your organization and the grant it is applying for. Otherwise, you risk boasting incredible numbers with no context. Without context, the data itself is much less valuable.

Final thoughts

Some of your competition will apply for a grant using SMART goals, forgetting to intentionally comb through the SMART metrics that serve as a foundation for those goals. Use metrics to give yourself the best shot at an easy layup.

It’s possible that your organization is very small or brand new, making it difficult to gather historical data on your organization’s performance. That’s no problem – every organization must start somewhere! Here are some areas you can start collecting data on right away, that will give you more to work with next time you apply for a grant:

  • Number of community served (what is your reach?)
  • Demographics of community served (who are you reaching?)
  • Number of volunteers and volunteer hours contributed
  • Community/client satisfaction (collected via periodic surveys, or by number of returning individuals)
  • ^All of the above tracked within consistent time periods (so that you can measure change, progress, growth.)

Best of luck to you as you prepare to apply for upcoming grants. It can be a tedious process the first time around, but rest assured that the data will build on itself gradually over time, so long as you keep a data management system in place. With time, a data management strategy, and a keen eye, you’ll reveal even more compelling (and SMART) stories about your organization, and funds surely will follow.

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10 Myths About Managing Volunteers

A popular favorite from the VolunteerLocal Blog Archives.

Volunteer coordination is hard work, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what the role entails (and how to be successful along the way). We’re here today to de-bunk some of the most common myths we hear about volunteer management.

  1. You’re on call, 24-7. If you’re passionate about your job, managing volunteers could turn into an all-day, every-day gig. But with established communication protocols and an active team, you can (and should!) unplug. 
  2. You can’t solicit volunteers for donations. Many volunteers see their time as their primary contribution to an organization, but if there are costs associated with onboarding (background checks, etc.) asking them to cover those fees is a good path into the donor pipeline. 
  3. Volunteer trainings need to involve slides and manuals. Sure, you should cover compliance and protocols in an onboarding, but bring the mission to life with role-playing, behind-the-scenes tours or other activities that engage and inspire volunteers. 
  4. You should be happy with whoever you get. That old “beggars can’t be choosers” philosophy could really disrupt your organization. Screening volunteers is critical. They should be a right match for the organization, and placed in a role that maximizes their skills.  
  5. There’s no professional development for volunteer managers. So many people fall into this line of work. Seek out a support system of other volunteer managers who can share best practices through your local United Way, nonprofit professionals network or online forums. They can also recommend conferences and webinars to grow your skills. 
  6. Volunteer programs are free. While a volunteer program can bring great value to your organization, they’re like a garden that needs attention and investment to yield the best results. Don’t forget to build recognition materials, management software and other supplies into your budget. 
  7. Your organization should jump on every Day of Service opportunity or group volunteer request. Saying ‘no’ to someone (or lots of someones) who want to contribute to your organization can seem crazy. But if the activity is out of scope for your organization, a ‘yes’ can lead to confusion and cause more harm than good. 
  8. You’re the only one recruiting volunteers for your cause. Partnerships – with corporations, colleges and universities and other civic organizations – can create productive volunteer pipelines. 
  9. Liability and insurance isn’t your territory. Make sure you are working closely with your organizations’ compliance arm to ensure both volunteers and the organization are not putting each other at risk. 
  10. Measuring volunteer impact is impossible. With proper tracking of volunteer hours and assignments, your organization can put a relative dollar value on volunteer power. And by collecting stories of volunteer initiatives and outcomes, your leveraging powerful anecdotes to support your cause.

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Make Your Nonprofit Website Shine

With mission-driven work, it can be difficult to stay on top of technology. You want to get to work, boots on the ground, to carry out your organization’s mission!

Occasionally, however, the importance of an organized, well-presented website is overlooked. Your website is the virtual front door of your organization, and you want it to welcome your audience in, whether your audience is the community you serve, volunteers, or donors.

The idea of a website re-design can be daunting, so let’s break it down into smaller, digestible pieces. We identified elements of a website (content, function, design) that make a website particularly welcoming to three major audience types.

The Community You Serve

Make sure your website is most welcoming to the community you serve, or your “target” audience. That is, I’m sure, why you have a website to begin with!

A welcoming website for the community starts before they’ve even reached your homepage. The best websites are the ones that are found easily on the (very crowded) world wide web. To ensure that your website is easy to find, keep a couple things in mind:

  1. Your URL should be the same (or closely related) to the name of your organization.
  2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization): This is a huge topic in its own right, but here are some quick tricks to easily improving your websites searchability and SEO.
  3. Leverage social media to expand your online presence and reach. Remember to use usernames that match your organization name as closely as possible. If an option to link is available, link back to your organization’s website. While social media is amazing for audience growth and engagement, your website should be your organization’s ultimate source of truth/info. Heads up: this is much more effective if you have the time to dedicate to nurturing your social media channels.

Now let’s focus on the website itself. What do community members need to find on the website?

  • Mission & vision: Your organization likely already has this written down and established! Now make sure it is clear on your website.
  • Services offered: This could very easily be its own page on your website, although there should certainly be mention of it on your home page. Depending on the nature of your organization, you could swap out the word “services” for “events”, “programming”, or “our work”. Make sure to include whether these services are free or paid.
  • Hours of operation: This lets folks know when it’s alright to give you a call or drop by. This information is often listed in the footer content along the bottom of all of your pages, along with…
  • Contact information: Give the community a number to call or an email to reach out to in case they have questions about your organization.


Volunteers are the lifeblood of organizations worldwide. Without volunteers’ work, passion, and dedication to your mission, many organizations would not be as successful as they are today. Your website should serve as a marketing/recruiting tool for new volunteers and a practical resource for existing volunteers. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Dedicate at least one whole page to volunteer information! As you share important information with potential volunteers and returning volunteers, maintain an authentic tone of appreciation and passion for the work. Feel free to break the information up into multiple sections or pages.
  • Overview of volunteer opportunities: What kind of volunteer work is available? Who is eligible for the work? What is the commitment required?
  • Volunteer testimonials: Nothing says, “This is an awesome volunteer opportunity!” like an actual volunteer quite literally recommending the work to others.
  • Application (or signup page): Point interested volunteers in the right direction. What is their first step? Often, volunteers are required to complete a volunteer application. (Forgive me, but it’d be silly not to mention it here — in case you’re looking for a way to accept volunteer applications and move new volunteers through an on-boarding process, VolunteerLocal has you completely covered!)


Donors may only visit your website a handful of times throughout the year. However, don’t let that fool you; wowing them is crucial! Donors (consciously or subconsciously) want to donate to organizations they believe in — organizations that they are convinced will stand the test of time and continue delivering on a mission that is dear to them for years to come. If your website conveys that message, you may see more donors, more frequent donations, and larger donations. Some tips to wow donors:

  • Use a professional website builder to ensure your website looks like it was made (or updated) recently. If your website was patched together with very basic HTML and size 12 Times New Roman font everywhere, it might come across as dated. The great news is that there are many easy, drag-and-drop website builders out there for you to design a spectacular, modern website without breaking the bank.
  • Dedicate a page specifically to/for donors. On this page, share the impact of your organization, made possible by donations and by a dedicated team. Include real-life, if applicable/possible. Be specific — tell them exactly how donations are used and what the impacts are — so that they want to donate year after year.
  • Include a “Donate” button or link that allows them to donate on-the-spot. Or, give them instructions on submitting a donation. (Pro tip: if you can, offer the option of recurring donations!)

In conclusion, identify your website’s audiences, then design an experience around their needs and expectations. Keep the design modern, clean, and uncluttered. Read over the copy/text you’ve generated to ensure it’s on-brand with the “voice” of your organization. Short, sweet, and concise usually does the trick, but you’re certainly encouraged to add your own flair to it! Have some well-informed fun building the virtual front door of your organization, and your audiences will surely appreciate it.

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Creating a Great Mission Statement

Your mission statement is the written vision of your organization. A solid statement can tell volunteers what you do and why you do it. A not-so-great mission statement can be a convoluted paragraph of cliches that don’t actually explain anything. When writing out your statement, we think it’s best to follow this simple checklist. 

Why Do You Do It?

Every mission statement should start with the why of your organization. What in the world lead to its creation? Maybe you wanted to bring running enthusiasts together, get good music to the masses or raise awareness around a certain cause. There’s always a reason for your group’s being and understanding it will inspire and empower volunteers. 

How Do You Do It?

This is where you start luring in the type of volunteers you want. If you need energetic people ready to get out there and spread the word of your cause, be sure to mention the boots-on-the-ground mentality that drives your outreach. If you’re looking for people with connections to help grow your group, point out that you strive to find ways for professionals to give back to their communities. Don’t hesitate to directly reference the kind of people who make your volunteer base what it is. 

Whatever It Is You Do, Do You

There’s no need to fall into the trap of sounding like a mission statement. Keep things in your own words to truly get the sound and feeling of your team across. Volunteers aren’t looking for a tailored blurb, they’re looking for an honest representation of your mission. 

Of all of these tips, perhaps the greatest to remember is to keep it short. Your statement should be a quick and easy way to get an understanding of how and why your organization exists. Lay out your philosophy, how and why you make change, and what kind of people you need to help you make it. 

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Operation: Make a Difference

Photo cred: Far Reach Blog

Calling all nonprofits! Far Reach, a software, web-design and internet marketing company is hosting a contest for one nonprofit to win a free development project (website, software, or app) – custom-built and lightning fast. “Make a Difference is the first of our company’s eleven core values,” says Megan Horn, Marketing Specialist at Far Reach. “We decided it would be awesome if we could take one project and do it – from start to finish for a nonprofit organization in need.”

Interested nonprofits can submit their applications for consideration via Far Reach’s Facebook page. Applications are due by Sunday, January 26. Far Reach will choose up to five finalists, based on information submitted in the application, including project scope, potential impact, level of need, and more. Those finalists will collect votes to determine the final winning project, which will be announced February 17.

“The community gives to us and we want to give back.” – Megan Horn, Marketing Specialist, Far Reach

“It’s really open,” says Horn. “We purposefully didn’t put a lot of limits on what we’re willing to build. We want to see what’s out there and what people need.” Whatever it may be, the Far Reach team will attempt to finish the winning project in one weekend – a feat that touches on the company’s second core value: We’re a Team. “The weekend project is going to be a true test of that,” laughs Horn. “There’s no room for picking up slack!”

Operation: Make a Difference isn’t a surprising endeavor for those who are familiar with Far Reach and the active role this company takes to support and empower the greater community. Far Reach is a sponsor of the Technology Association’s networking event, Tech Brew, and many of the company’s employees participated in a kick-ball league last year. Horn adds, “a lot of our business is local, too.”

Want to apply? Throw your name in the hat before the January 26th deadline! And from all of us here at VolunteerLocal, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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