Last Thursday, we attended the VOLUNTEER Hampton Roads 2013 Funders Forum. Our president, Keith Curtis, served as moderator for the panel discussion comprised of five regional foundation leaders: Bert Davis of Capital One’s Community Relations; Katie Fletcher of the Norfolk Southern Foundation; Chris Perry of the Perry Family Foundation; Leigh Davis of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation; and Alan Gollihue of Portsmouth General Hospital Foundation. These decision-makers representing large corporate foundations, a private family foundation, a community foundation, and a health care foundation, provided insight and personal anecdotes on how they measure a successful grantor-grantee relationship.
Keith asked the panel a myriad of interesting questions, some he prepared and others submitted by the audience. It became quite apparent early on that each foundation evaluates proposals, examines potential partners and measures their investments’ results differently. It is therefore vitally important for nonprofits to do the research and understand the unique qualifications and outcomes a foundation is seeking before applying for funds.
Here are some other tips the foundation leaders offered:
1. Do the research. Review our guidelines and be sure your funding requests are in line with our funding priorities.
2. Be realistic in what your grant can accomplish and ensure the funding amount is in line with your annual operating budget. Outcomes are important to explain, but they must be honest and achievable. And do not ask for a grant that is two times or what your nonprofit raises in an entire calendar year. (Yes, most of the foundations had seen this quite a few times.)
3. Check the guidelines on whether a visit is possible before applying. Many foundations welcome brief in-person meetings with potential grantees prior to receiving a proposal. (The key is to do this well before the submission deadline. Last minute requests for meetings do not send the right message.) Again, it is important to read the specific foundation’s guidelines on how they’d like potential grantees to communicate. Many larger corporate foundations do not have the ability to meet individually due to the number of in-bound requests.
4. Be the subject expert. Tell a compelling story and tell it well. The nonprofit’s executive director, who should be one of the two to three people meeting with the foundation, (in addition to a program head or development director and a board member), must be a good storyteller and an expert on the community issue the nonprofit is addressing. Explain the impact in a comprehensive and knowledgeable way. Why does your nonprofit deserve funding to address the issue? Be sure to answer this in both your in-person meeting and in your proposal.
5. When reporting results to the foundation, don’t be afraid to share lessons learned, in addition to success stories. Foundations understand nonprofits won’t always get it exactly right every time. Explaining what you’d do differently next time to improve the program shows you are solution-driven and sends the signal that you are committed to achieving success.
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