My program, like many nonprofits, has to continually seek funding sources in order to serve the homeless youth in our community each year. Our community has a high number of homeless teens; last year’s numbers were 322 homeless students, 60 of which were unaccompanied homeless teens. That number seems high for a small town of 12,000. This year puts the homeless students around 400. Why so many?
I have my own thoughts. Part of the problem lies in the lack of industry. The community was built around logging. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the logging industry scaled drastically back to the point of nonexistence in many areas. No other industry took its place. The lost jobs were not replaced with new jobs. Sure, the state had a re-education plan for some out-of-place workers. But it didn’t help the kids who often followed in their father’s footsteps. Logging may not be the best job, but for many, it was a job that paid well. Several of my high school classmates planned on joining their family in the woods if school didn’t work out for them. It was a way of life. Your father’s father did it. When you take away an industry, a way of life, you must replace it with something. Nothing came to this small community. Unemployment, welfare, and government support replaced jobs for many.
Thus creating the need for my program, which strives to disrupt the poverty by supporting students in pursuing their education or technical skills. By having an education or a skill, students become more self sufficient. In order to do that, we have to have funding. If my students could have job skills and a craft, they could market it in the community, make money, and then their income could turn around and support the program. Yet, without education or job skills, students can’t do that. And the mission for HOST (Housing Options for Students in Transition) is not to have students making money, it’s to support stable housing while students seek the skills in life they can use to have a future (to make money for themselves or their families).
So we seek funding sources. I can’t tell you how many times a well meaning person has told me, “Ask them, they have lots of money.” How do you know they have lots of money? How did they get that money? How much should I ask for? And why would they willingly give it to me?
The Gates Foundation has been amazing. They support many communities in the area, and around the world. But I, a noob at grant writing, have to compete with professional grant writers for grants. There are people who make a living writing grants and who can write a grant to pay for their salary and get approved. When I worked for the state government, one supervisor’s main goal was to get federal grants to fund pet projects. They were even going after a Gates Foundation grant. What?? Is this government in the role of taking funding away from grassroots programs serving a need in the communities?
I struggle to get my message heard. I watched the Kony stuff hit the media with such energy. Many jumped on board to support the video and organization behind it. Some asked, “How much really goes to the cause?” People look for a small overhead percentage. I know that a successful nonprofit needs someone focused on it and not simply donating spare hours to the organization when they become available. My nonprofit has one paid employee. The program tried to run without any focused staff and found certain components were missed. We have a slight administration fee because we utilize a nonprofit umbrella instead of having our own 501(c)(3). But the agency is amazing and is only taking the bare minimum possible.
Nonprofits really do have lots of overhead fees to continue functioning as a nonprofit. You have to have insurance (this costs us $1200), you need legal advice (lucky if you can get it “in kind”), you need office space (again lucky if you can get it “in kind”), you need communication (flyers and brochures), technology and support, marketing, and printing and copying of daily paperwork (applications). Then throw in bank fees and you pull more funding away from the program. The bigger your program, the more funding gets pulled from meeting the need that your nonprofit was created for.
So how does a small nonprofit become self-sustaining? Any ideas?