Seven Ways To Get Friendly
With Foundations

Need a grant?  Wonder how to get one?  Have tried and been turned down?  After a 9-year career as the Vice President of Programs at a large community foundation, I offer you here some “insider” tips to help you get that grant!

Relationships are probably the biggest key to how a grant is made.   This is true whether it’s a relationship that plays out over the phone, the Internet, or over breakfast every other Tuesday.  Program officers and other grantmakers want to develop relationships with nonprofit organizations, especially the ones they might fund or are funding.   Here are seven ideas for how you can start to develop a relationship even if you don’t get that “before-the-proposal” meeting that all the experts tell you is so important.

#1: Ask for their opinion.  Some foundations require a letter of interest before you submit a full proposal.  This gives them the opportunity to tell you whether or not your organization or program fits within their interests. You can, however, send a letter of interest even if the funder doesn’t require it.  In lieu of asking for a meeting, send a very brief (keep it to one page) letter explaining that you would like their opinion on how you fit with their guidelines.  Follow-up with a phone call in a week or so to ask for their feedback. 

#2: Respect their time.  Asking for a phone meeting, rather than a face-to-face meeting, usually gets a more successful result. Depending on a foundation’s funding guidelines, thousands of nonprofits may be eligible to apply for a grant, reducing the likelihood of face-to-face meetings.  It’s easier to say “yes” to a 15-20 minute phone conversation.  Scheduling a specific time to call can be helpful in cutting down on the “phone tag” game. 

#3: Use technology. Don’t forget e-mail. It’s not necessarily a time saver, but it’s here to stay and can be a great way to “introduce” yourself and your organization to a program officer at a foundation, especially if you need a specific question answered.  Be patient with getting a response – program officers get an awful lot of e-mail.

#4: Get out and about.  Foundation staff members, especially the grantmaking staff, attend meetings and events many times a year. You should also.  Go to a pre-application meeting if the foundation hosts one.  Attend workshops that feature a panel of funders.  Go to annual conferences that funders are likely to attend.  Say “yes” to invitations for receptions, annual meetings, or any other events hosted by a foundation.  At all of these events, shamelessly (but politely) seek out those foundation staff members you want to meet and introduce yourself.  At the very least, your personal contact puts a smiling face to the name on that grant proposal they have received.  With luck, you might be able to tell them a little more about your organization. 

#5: Don’t take rejection personally.  Be friendly and open even if that foundation did just decline your last proposal.  Nothing makes a better impression on a program officer than a person who doesn’t take that declination letter personally.  You would be amazed at how few executive directors or development directors take the time to call or write and say “We were disappointed not to receive the grant, but we appreciate the time you took to review our organization and we look forward to working with you on future requests.” 

Unless that foundation has advised you that you don’t meet their guidelines – making it highly unlikely that you will get funding from them – you will want to ask them for a grant at a later date.  Leave them feeling good about you, and Burn No Bridges!  Be courteous when asking a program officer for an explanation about why the proposal was declined.  It’s not a good idea to argue with them about this explanation.  In most foundations, decision-making on grants involves many people and has many nuances.  Respect the right of the foundation to choose not to fund your proposal and continue building the relationship for the next time you will ask for support.

#6: Stay in touch. Whether you do or don’t get that grant, continue to send information and updates about your organization to your contact at the foundation.  Send your newsletter, your annual report, copies of a newspaper article about your organization, invitations to events or meetings, a brief report on a specific program, a special story about an individual program participant – keep your organization on the radar screen, especially when you are not asking for money.

#7: Be persistent.  For heaven’s sake, don’t give up if you hear “No.”  I spent twelve years writing grant proposals and many times I applied to the same foundation for several years before getting a grant. If your organization meets the foundation’s funding guidelines and priorities – try, try again.  Use that time between application deadlines to build the relationship that will grow even stronger after you get that first grant!

 

 

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Spring 2010

 

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