Articles by Denise Sheppard

Five Tips for Successful Grant Writing

Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in Fund Raising, Nonprofit | 0 comments

Five Tips for Successful Grant Writing

Grant writing is as much art as it is science

Writing a grant proposal can be either a labor of love…or a nightmare that raises your stress level and keeps you awake at night. To strike a happy median, for all of the proposals that we write, keeping both our passion and sanity, follow these five simple tips for greater success.

First, and I cannot stress this enough, do your research! Foundations, (and the government as well for that matter), have specific priorities and guidelines for the grants they award. They go to great pains to elaborate this information on their website. When we do not follow their guidance, not only do we eliminate ourselves form the pool of contenders, but we also have shown ourselves to be people who don’t follow directions and leave the funders with the question, “can we be responsible with the funds.?”

Second, stress what you bring to the relationship. All grant funding is about partnerships. It really isn’t about you. It is about the lives that will change when you and the funder work together. Create a vivid picture for the funder about the impact they will make working through your organziation.

Third, be brief and concise. Particularly in this day of online grant applications, choose your words carefully and get to the point. Foundations are reporting that more and more people are seeking grant funding which translates into more proposals to read. Include essential information, told through a story where possible. Don’t belabor a point.

Fourth, answer questions thoroughly. This comes from my experience being a “grant reviewer,”(as we were called), for DESE many years ago. State and federal grants all award points to questions and are looking for certain information. Give them the information they are looking for as it applies to your program/organization. If you are unable to do this then this is probably an indication that you are not a good candidate for this grant.

Finally, be positive and enthusiastic. Writing a grant proposal can be lonely, exhausting, stressful and/or a number of other adjectives. Before starting to write, talk with some some of your clients or donors, to get back in touch with why you are doing this work. This shot of energy will renew your passion and focus your writing on the people whose lives you are working to change for the better.

Employee Loyalty

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Leadership, Nonprofit | 0 comments

Employee Loyalty

Volumes have been written about donor loyalty, in fact a quick search of Google reveals that there are 1,650,000 mentions of “donor loyalty” as of this date. A question that has been swimming around in my mind of late is…what are we doing about “employee loyalty.” How do we take care of our employees so that they are not fleeing at the first possible moment? In the nonprofit world we see this in a very high turnover rate that includes both executive directors and development staff

What about the people who stay? What secret ingredients are involved in keeping good people working and thriving year after year? The following posts will explore these issues.

Getting Started in Advancement Resources

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Getting Started in Development…

*** Simone Joyaux
This is the premier resource site. Simone is an internationally known nonprofit consultant and has all the information on her site that you could possible want to not only get rolling in Development but EXCEL. I have heard her speak numerous times and I use her resources from her Free Download Library. I also have her books and refer back to them. If you only take one resource from the list…I would take this one. Sign up for Simone’s monthly “Newsyletter”…you will enjoy it very much.

*** Tom Ahern
Tom is the guru for writing Donor Newsletters and appeals. I have seen him at conferences and workshops. Also, he is funny, enjoyable and VERY knowledgable. Tom also has a monthly newsletter that I read and enjoy. These folks are not only very smart but they both keep up with all the latest data, best practices, etc.

*** Chris Davenport
Chris runs a site called Movie Mondays. it is definitely worth signing up for. Five minute videos on all aspects of development. It is free

*** Veritus Group: Passionate Giving Blog

*** Association of Fundraising Professionals (this is the National site) is the MA chapter is then Rhode Island chapter

*** Grant Professionals Association
This is an excellent resource for any of you who are grant writing (although I know that is a special challenge for religious based schools)

*** The Catholic Funding Guide
probably your best resource for grants for catholic education

*** Foundation Center
This is a subscription based database for grant writing. I use the Foundation Directory Online subscription…it can get very pricey. You are better off sticking with The Catholic Funding Guide

*** Metrowest Nonprofit Network
This is a great resource for any of you in this region. They hold workshops and have speakers in who are excellent…great resource.

*** Center for Nonprofit management @ Stonehill College
Tremendous resource if you are south of Boston. They hold monthly workshops at VERY affordable rates and are a place where you can come in and use their resources if you don’t have subscriptions to all the journals, grant searching data bases, etc. They are WONDERFUL and extremely helpful. (Even if you just have a question, give them a call)

*** Emerson & Church Publishers
This MA based publisher is my “go to” place for development books…paperbacks that cover nearly all the tops you want to read up on. They are fast reads, relatively inexpensive…but gold mines of information.

Philanthropy vs Deep Pockets

Posted by on Oct 28, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

For the past eight years I have been privileged to work in the field of Philanthropy. I have filled many roles during that time as interim development director, development director, grant writer, and ED. During that time, if I had money for each occasion someone said to me, “we just need to find some folks with deep pockets…,” I could have retired by now! My initial reaction to this phrase and attitude is always the same…and I do my best to keep my temper. I am always tempted to say that it is that attitude that keeps people away!

Philanthropy is about engaging people who want to change the world…you have the vehicle to help them reach THEIR goal! I view philanthropy as matchmaking.. My job is to find people who are passionate about the cause I am advocating…listening for what turned them on to this cause, and sharing the story of my organization. If I can tell that story so that it resonates with their heart, we have each found a sole mate who will become part of the mission.

See…deep pockets aren’t necessary

Secret Ingredients of a Successful Fundraiser – Board Members

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Fund Raising, home slider | 0 comments

Secret Ingredients of a Successful Fundraiser – Board Members

Board members are the nerve center and life blood of all nonprofit organizations. While the staff do the heavy lifting of day to day work, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving shelter to the homeless, Board members set the course for the organization. While it should always be with input from all stakeholders, none the less, the Board holds ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the organization. How then can you engage and support these valuable contributors?

  • Training, Training, Training and it must start before they are confirmed. One of the most effective strategies to use is to have a job description that is part of the interview process for all prospective board members. This document spells out the expectations, including number of Board meetings per year and time frame; committee meetings that generally meet in the alternating months; fundraising responsibilities; the necessity for making a significant financial gift; and making this organization one of their top three charities for the duration of their tenure on the board. You will eliminate the most frequently heard complaints from Board members if this information is explained before you ask for the commitment. People can now make an informed decision.
  • Once confirmed the training must continue. It is helpful to take 15 minutes at each Board meeting and educate members on the variety of ways that they can use their skills, talents, and influence to increase the visibility and financial security of the nonprofit.
  • Not everyone is comfortable asking for a donation but board members should be assured that there are many ways that they can assist the fundraising process.
  • An important role for board members is to introduce their friends to the organizations where they serve as a Board member. Your passion for the organization and the work being done by the nonprofit is one of the most important gifts you can share with anyone.
  • Accompany the Executive Director or Development Director on an “ask.” You are there to lend support or influence but you need not do the asking.
  • Use your influence in the business community to suggest possible event co-chairs, friends or colleagues that you know are philanthropic, and would be interested in sharing in the good working being done, by supporting this worthy cause.

Denise Sheppard is a development consultant who loves helping organizations raise money for worthy causes. She provides mentoring for new development staff; grant writing; board development, and thrives on being part of a team that is organizing a fund raising event.  She can be reached at or 617.755.6001

Secret Ingredients of a Successful Board

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Nonprofit | 0 comments

Serving on a nonprofit Board of Trustees is one of the highest callings of community service. You are entrusted with the governance and fiscal oversight of an organization created to serve the common good. Because of your efforts the hungry are fed; the homeless sheltered; the poor clothed; and the uneducated/under-educated given a opportunity to learn skills to better provide for themselves and their families. This responsibility is enormous. What is it,  though, that makes a successful Board member? Over the past dozen or more years that I have served as a board member or worked with various organizations, I have found the following ingredients to be essential:

  • Board members must be passionate about the mission…there are no two ways about it.
  • Board members must know in advance the expectations, both of time and treasure. A job description is a must so that this will happen.
  • Board members must be willing to make a financial “stretch” gift every year they serve. They will also need to support events throughout the years, and share their “circle of influence.”
  • Board members must have time to undertake the committee work that goes on between board meetings. It is never enough to just show up. Woody Allen may feel that 90% of the time that is enough…but he clearly wasn’t a board member!
  • Board members must focus on planning and oversight and leave the nitty-gritty to staff. Micro-managing will frustrate good board members and drive away great staff.
  • Board members need to see term limits as a way to continually bring new life blood to the organization. Keeping a list of potential new members alleviates the stress of departing members.
  • Finally, board members must a have a sense of humor to serve in times of financial uncertainty, knowing in their hearts that they are helping to change the world!

Denise Sheppard is a development consultant who loves helping to raise money for worthy causes. She provides coaching for leadership; mentoring for development staff; and writes grants.  She can be reached at or 617.755.6001

Secret Ingredients of a Successful Fund Raiser – The Gala Event

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Fund Raising, Nonprofit | 0 comments

Spring is in the air and with it comes the onslaught of Gala events. I have found the following ingredients to be necessary in order to create a successful fund raising event.

  • A dedicated committee… With a dedicated and passionate group of like minded folks, the sky is the limit on how much you can raise! Without a dedicated committee, fold your tent now. You will save your organization and yourself lots of aggravation.
  • Make a budget and stick to it… but always include 10% as a contingency fee. Just like home projects, things always end up costing more than you planned!
  • Guests to invite…while this may seem fairly obvious, it isn’t if you have ever sat at a Board meeting when members did not want to send pricey invitations to their friends, relatives and coworkers!
  • Know your goal…is it “friend raiser” or “fund raiser?” While everyone who puts on an event desperately wants to cover their costs and raise money, some events have as their goal to expand organizational awareness in the community. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, that truly is a valid reason for an event!
  • When your goal is “Fund Raising,” set a financial goal based on past experience and level of commitment of Board and Staff. Having a mutually agreed upon goal is the challenge that will bring out the best in everyone and have people stretching for those last dollars!
  • Get your community involved through local corporate sponsorships and provide them recognition in your newsletter, on your website, and/or at your event. Show them that you really do understand “partnerships.” They are not ATM machines.
  • Work your network, including Board & Community, to get as much donated goods and services as possible. This will keep your costs down significantly.
  • Remember, it is not about you…it is about your donors and the work that you do on their behalf!
  • Finally, the night of your event…have fun. It is too late to stress anyway and it will all work out in the end!

Denise Sheppard is a development consultant who loves helping to raise money for worthy causes. She provides mentoring for new development staff; writes grants; and thrives on being part of a team who is organizing a fund raising event. She can be reached at or 617.755.6001

Leadership and Personal Development

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Inspiration, Leadership | 0 comments

We have all traveled enough by now to know by heart the lesson of “put your own mask on first before assisting others with theirs.” Most of us tune it out and hope we will never need the advice. As leaders, however, we ignore this bit of wisdom at our own peril. Strong and successful leadership is intimately tied to whether or not we constantly have a reliable source of oxygen in our life. Where is our energy coming from? What feeds and nourishes us? We are unable to lead others if our own passion is missing.

Effective leadership in any organization is never about telling people what to do but rather showing them by our example.

Life is NOT About…

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in home slider, Inspiration, Leadership | 0 comments

Life is NOT About…

“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.”

These inspiring words from the Buddha need to be a morning mantra of all consultants today, especially those working with the nonprofit sector. We are bombarded on all sides with messages of doom and gloom. Word is that the economy, while recovering, still could take ten years to reach previous heights. The media is constantly sending messages out that donor dollars are fewer this year as the economic crisis has caused people to hold a little tighter to their discretionary cash. Government itself is adding to the “black cloud” by threatening to limit tax deductions on donations to charities.

What is a consultant to do? This my friend is our time! We ARE the voice that steadies the Executive Director and Board of Trustees. With words of confidence, and charts and graphs of course, we assure them that their donor development plans of engaging donors in the mission and activities of the organization has been right all along. These loyal supporters, that some call “donors,” are friends of the organizations and will stick by them, increasing donations to make up the shortfall where others have fallen. These long term relationships have been investments from both parties, and it is the consultant, with eyes and ears beyond the organization who provides the wisdom and encouragement to the Executive Director to step up to the challenge of asking for the needed support that will allow the organization to bounce and to remain strong in this economy.