By Katalin Wishart, Senior Grantwriting Associate at Joining Vision and Action
Fundraising is all about communication and relationships. As a grantwriting consultant, I sometimes think grantwriters see their job as different from those of other fundraisers—you know, the kind that call potential donors to chat or schedule lunches so they can connect.
Grantwriters love writing, researching, gathering information and crafting persuasive arguments. We don’t necessarily think about the importance of calling foundations or establishing relationships as much. But the truth is, reaching out and connecting with funders is just as important to grantwriting as hours of research!
From my experience working with incredible nonprofits across Colorado, here are some tips to help you connect more effectively with grant funders.
Foundations often give to build relationships. Approach each foundation not as if you are seeking money for the short term, but as if you are seeking a long-term partner. Yes, you will eventually be applying for funding, but reframe your approach when connecting. Think of it as seeking “support.” Support encompasses much more of what your organization needs than just dollars. Good relationships provide support.
Research before you reach out
Introducing your organization to a new funder is the hardest part of building a relationship, so where you do start? Obviously, start with the foundation’s website if it has one. Is there contact information or explicit instruction on how to contact the foundation? If so, follow the foundation’s instructions. If you need clarity on the instructions, feel free to contact the foundation, but be clear that you read the instructions first so staff members don’t just point you back to the website.
No website? It’s an IRS requirement for tax-exempt organizations to make their three most recently filed Forms 990 available to the public. For Colorado foundations, you may be able to find them on the Colorado secretary of state’s website. And Foundation Directory Online has a lot more on its website for free.
Start with a phone call. As a consultant, I don’t call foundations on behalf of clients for the purpose of relationship-building, although I will call to determine if contact information is up to date, who the correct staff member to contact is and how they prefer to be contacted. Remember, your initial phone call is NOT a sales pitch. You’re calling to establish the appropriate procedure for introducing your organization. You might get lucky and get someone on the phone who is interested in learning more about your organization, so be prepared to talk about your programs. But don’t assume that will be the case.
Communicating with websites
Speaking of websites, not all websites are created equal. Some nonprofits and foundations have beautiful, well-functioning (i.e., not frustrating) websites, but some seem to keep you clicking in circles. While foundations can afford to have minimalistic or no website, your nonprofit needs to have an online presence. If a foundation is considering supporting your organization, it will Google it.
So what can you do if you don’t have the budget to build a beautiful website? It’s OK. Foundations care about impact and program sustainability, so help them understand these aspects of your organization. A few easy things to do: link to any articles about your organization that highlight its work in the community, put your annual reports online, and link to any newsletters you create. Even if your organization is on a shoestring budget, make sure your messaging is consistent and effective.
Keep foundations informed
If you succeed in establishing a relationship and receive funding, congratulations! But maintain the communication and practice stewardship. It’s easier to maintain a good relationship than to try to build a new one with another funder.
So, be sure to THANK the funder profusely, keep the foundation updated on your programs throughout the year and, if something unexpected happens, do not wait until the report to let the foundation know. Explain any issues your organization ran into and seek the foundation’s advice. Remember, the foundation is your partner and is invested in your organization’s success.
Need some foundations to contact? JVA conducts funding research on a weekly basis, so check out the latest opportunities and start building those relationships! We can also do a customized funding research project for your organization. Contact us to find out more!
Check out more blogs by Kat!