Small and medium-sized nonprofit social service organizations, caught in the squeeze of reduced federal funding and dwindling foundation grants, are enrolling staff members in fund-raising classes, inviting businessmen to join their boards, holding more fund-raising events and hiring professional money raisers.

Many of the city's small community-based nonprofit groups that help the elderly, the handicapped and the poor turned first to private foundations when federal social funds were slashed. But the foundations, now beseiged with money requests, increasingly are giving nonprofits half of the funds they requested and telling them to raise the other half from private sources.

"It's a very, very expensive part of the budget to have a person who is a professional fund-raiser, and a very important part of the budget," said Lawrence Stinchcomb, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington Inc.

"More agencies are fighting for the finite amount of money," he added. "Only the strongest will survive, and those will be the ones who are the best at raising money . . . . You are seeing a professionalization of charitable staffs. They have to if they want to survive."

Underscoring Stinchcombis Savetta Nichols, president of the Self-Help Center for Women, 1329 Ninth St. NW, which helps ex-offenders readjust to community life after prison.

"We have a development specialist, a consultant, who gives us pro bono services," she said. "He Mark Rosenman advises me on budgets, proposals and grant makers -- who the grant makers are and how to apply."

"You need somebody you can call up at 11 o'clock at night and ask a question when you're working on a proposal -- and they understand," Nichols added.

The center usually holds one fund-raiser a year; but because of a budget deficit, the center will hold two fund-raisers this year as well as a yard sale, Nichols said.

The Washington Parent Group Fund, an agency that funds extracurricular programs in some of the District's inner-city public schools, recently hired a part-time development director, not because the agency needed money -- its funds increased from $7,600 to $76,000 during a four-year period -- but rather to insure its continued financial success.

"Ours is a component of our growth and a recommendation of our principal funder," explained Etta Green Johnson, executive director of the fund, located at 1400 I St. NW. "The evolution of the organization requires this. If we are going to maintain this level, we realized we'd have to get professional help."

But raising money in Washington can be difficult even for the most experienced fund-raisers and well-known groups.

Among six metropolitan areas, Washington ranked last in local foundation assets and grants, last in the presence of major corporations, last in giving to the United Way and fifth in per capita individual charitable deductions, according to a report by the Greater Washington Research Center issued in April.

"Washington doesn't have the philanthropic base of large cities like Chicago, Boston and New York," said Dick Taft, founder of the Taft Group, a private company at 5125 MacArthur Blvd. NW that offers nonprofits a broad range of information and services.

He added, "It's hard here for local agencies because of the thinness of the corporation and foundation giving and the absence of old wealthy families."

Danny Wilks, a Washington-based consultant trainee for the Grantsmanship Center, a Los Angeles group that counsels nonprofits in money raising, added, "In some cases, it is a waste of time for little nonprofits to approach big foundations and corporations because these groups are not funding them -- they are funding Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center."

Until five or six years ago, most fund-raisers for small nonprofits learned their trade on the job. Now there is a plethora of books, seminars and workshops on raising money. Seven years ago George Washington University started offering a a one-year program for the "Fundraising Administrator," which costs $2,310.

Diane Strnad, a recent graduate of the GW course, said her employer, Paralyzed Veterans of America, at 801 18th St. NW, offered to pay for the course as part of her benefits package.

"The course was very, very useful to me," said Strnad, who is PVA's development assistant. "As a newcomer to the field, it exposed me to a lot of areas I wouldn't have been exposed to in my day-to-day work."

Strnad said she has been able to apply much of what she learned in school, such as using information from her grantsmanship class to write proposal letters.

"Right about the time I was taking the direct mail class, we were doing our first direct mail letters out of this office," she added.

The average cost of fund-raising workshops ranges from $300 for those offered by private companies to $25 for those sponsored by other nonoprofit agencies.

Nonprofits also are looking for businesspeople to sit on their boards of directors. For example, a year and a half ago the 16-member executive board of the National Challenge Committee of the Disabled, at 1155 15th St. NW, included entertainers, politicians, socialites and heads of major organizations, said exeuctive director Mary Doremus.

But, "enough people weren't helping me do what I knew had to happen. I was getting caught doing everything, so my energies and talents were becoming disseminated," she said.

After consulting Barry Nickelsberg, executive director of the Funding Center, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that advises nonprofits, Doremus said she decided to reorganize the board.

"On my board of trustees , I'll have somebody who is an accountant and somebody who is a public relations person and someone who is a lawyer. Those are all services I'd have to pay for . . . but until I'm able to pay for these services, I'll have people who'll have a staffer give me these services pro bono."