One of the best tips for grant funding from foundations is to build relationships with the funders, i.e. the key personnel making the funding decision. And just how do you go about building those relationships to improve your chances of getting your grant funded?
Fundraising consultant Tina Cincotti, founder of the consulting group Funding Change, explains how to build those key relationships in this guest article. Read more below where Tina explains how important it is to build relationships, even when your grant proposal has been turned down.
How to Build Relationships With Foundation Funders
Most development staff and volunteers understand that individual fundraising is all about relationships. People give to people, as the saying goes.
Although different in some ways, the same is true for foundations. Their funding decisions are also often based on relationships.
Many organizations spend days, weeks, or months meticulously editing a grant proposal, but never make an effort to build a relationship with the program officer at the foundation.
In case it’s not obvious why these connections are worthwhile, let me explain…
- Building relationships with foundation funders can help you understand if your project is genuinely a fit for their priorities, how to frame your work in your proposal, how much funding to request, etc.
- Personal contact also enables you to advocate for your cause with the passion that can’t always be captured on the page, understand their decision-making process, and get a heads up about any changes coming down the pike.
So, now that you’re sold on the importance of cultivating these relationships (you are, right?), here are some ideas for how to do it – at all different stages of the grantmaking process.
Before you make a call…
- Do your research. Read their guidelines carefully, as well as their list of previous grantees. Does it look like they are taking on new grantees? Are their priorities shifting?
- If you have relationships with any of their past or current grantees, reach out to them and ask what their experience has been like with the foundation.
- Look at who makes grant decisions – program officers, Presidents or Executive Directors, boards of directors, boards of trustees. Shop this list around to your staff and board to see who knows who. Maybe someone can make an introduction for you!
- If you use LinkedIn, look up decision makers and see if you or other staff in your organization has connections in common. You can use these connections to help facilitate a relationship, where appropriate.
** And after any conversation, be sure to thank the person for their time – via email, a handwritten note card, or whatever feels appropriate given the circumstances.
Questions to ask prospective funders – only after reading guidelines!
- Open with: “I’ve read your fundraising guidelines/website/etc… and was hoping to ask a few questions. Is this a good time? Would it better to set up an appointment?”
- Ask: “Have there been any changes or new directions in the interests of the foundation?”
- Explain the work that your organization in 2 or 3 sentences. If there is a particular project that is most relevant, focus on that. Ask them, “Would it be appropriate to apply in the next cycle?”
- And… “Can you give me any guidance around what an appropriate amount to ask for might be?”
If you get funded…
- Call to thank them and tell them how excited you are to have their support, what a difference it will make, etc.
- Ask how they would like you to keep in touch with them. How often do they want to hear from you? Do they want to be on your email list? Receive appeal letters or your annual report?
- Be in regular contact. You want to be a resource and a partner to them within your field of expertise. You also want to be able to have a relationship when renewal time comes so you can ask about the likelihood of continued funding, if they are expecting cutbacks. Open lines of communication also make life easier if there’s a part of your grant agreement that you’re not going to be able to fulfill for one reason or another. A trusting partnership makes it more comfortable to have a conversation about the issue, and deepen the relationship by being transparent and honest.
If you get rejected…
- Call to find out what you can about why. You can say: “I wanted to get your critique of our proposal, if you have time. I’m hoping to get your insights around what we can do differently next time. I’m happy to set up an appointment if this isn’t a good time.”
- You can focus on two specific areas for feedback:
- The writing. “Did you feel the proposal was clear and well written? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal? What areas need improvement?”
- The concept. “How was the concept presented? Was the project well conceived? What did they see as the strengths and weaknesses?”
- Ask: “Would it be appropriate to submit a proposal again in the future?” If they encourage, this, keep in touch and certainly call again to touch base before application deadline.
- You can also ask: “Are you aware of any other foundations that it would make sense for us to approach to raise funding for this project?” If they suggest a specific foundation, ask “Is there a specific name of a program officer or staff person that I should reach out to in particular?”
If you get reduced funding…
- Call to find out what you can about why. “I was wondering if you could tell me anything about why our funding was reduced this year? Is there anything we did as an organization to cause you to reduce your gift? Is there anything we could have done differently, or should do differently next time?”
- And you can also ask: “Are you aware of any other foundations that it would make sense for us to approach to raise the rest of the funding needed for this project?” Again, ask for a specific person’s name.
Call mid-cycle to check-in…
- You want to be in regular contact with your funders. At a minimum, you need to be in touch with your program officer at least once during the grant year.
- Just like with individual donors, you don’t want to be in touch with the foundation only when you’re asking about funding. You can call to get their advice on something. Or to update them on how your project is going. Or to invite them to an event or presentation.
- The choice is yours. But pick up the phone. This contact can also be an opportunity to ask about things at the foundation and possibly get a heads up on any changes afoot.
Call before re-application process begins…
- This is similar to the questions you’d ask a prospective funder – you want to take every opportunity to ask about changes or new directions in the interests of the foundation, as well as briefly mentioning successes and changes in your organization.
- You can also ask if it would be appropriate to ask for a larger grant, if they would support that request and advocate for you, etc.
By engaging foundation funders in this way, you’ll increase the likelihood that your organization will get funding, you’ll keep them better informed about what their grants make possible, and you’ll secure valuable feedback about your project.
About The Author
Tina Cincotti, owner and principal consultant of Funding Change, is a fundraising consultant, trainer and coach. She is committed to helping organizations raise more money by building stronger relationships with their donors. Tina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 617-477-4505 or or follow her at twitter/TinaFCC. To get more expert fundraising advice, sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter at https://fundingchangeconsulting.com/.
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