We heard it straight from the source. Each year, key organizations that guide fundraising in our region come together at the sold-out Funders Forum, hosted by VOLUNTEER Hampton Roads. I was honored to be asked, once again, to moderate the panel at the April 6 event. In addition, our firm’s executive vice president, Wendy McGrady, led a breakout session on cultivation.
Foundation funders, corporate representatives and development officers shared their experience and advice with nonprofits in attendance. It was clear that, to continue and increase giving, most funders are seeking:
A relationship with your organization. Establishing meaningful relationships is the first step in converting individual and foundation prospects into major donors and positioning your organization as one of their top philanthropic priorities. Panelist Chris Perry told the audience, “It’s important for our family’s foundation to have a personal connection to your organization. We want to understand who’s on the other side of the grant application.”
Evidence you are collaborating with other nonprofits. Panelist Linda Rice, vice president of grantmaking and community engagement for the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, advised, “Take the risk to work together—no one organization can solve an issue alone.” Funders like to see efficiency and smart cost-saving.
An update on their last gift before being asked again. Nonprofits neglect to do this surprisingly often, and it’s a real turnoff to donors at all levels.
To know their gift makes a difference. Don’t just save storytelling for individual donors; grant applications need a soft side as well. “We want to hear about the human experience and the lives you change,” explained panelist Steve Best, chief executive officer for the Southeast Virginia Community Foundation.
An active and engaged board. Panelist Martha Stewart, development director at St. Mary’s Home, shared that “we would never think of submitting a grant application without having 100% board giving and other lead support secured.”
To feel appreciated. Funders expect to receive personal communication such as thank-you calls and one-on-one visits.
What errors do funders commonly see in grant applications? Panelist Toiya Sosa, regional public affairs and community relations manager for GEICO, said, “We want to see outcomes versus outputs. Numbers are great to show in your grant application, but we want to hear your story.” Other key considerations for funders, especially foundations, are the nonprofit’s program description, program objectives and intended outcomes.
Still, nonprofits can’t assume all foundations or corporations think alike. Each organization has their own idea of a good return on their investment, so it’s important to determine the right fundraising match for each potential funder. Forum panelists also emphasized the importance of nonprofits reviewing grant guidelines in advance of submitting their proposal, to first make sure it’s a good fit. Before starting the grant process, panelists agreed, it’s often wise to reach out to the funder to discuss the grant with them.
So, what does a funder want? In short: good management, meaningful connections, maximum impact and appropriate appreciation.