Foundations and corporations are the same as other major donors—except when they aren’t. All should be cultivated and stewarded in similar ways, with consistent work to build a relationship. But while you communicate directly with major donors, you must go through representatives when dealing with a grant funder. What can you do to ensure your request reaches (and motivates) the final decision makers?
A panel of current funders shared their advice June 7 at the Volunteer Hampton Roads Funders Forum in Virginia Beach. Moderated by Curtis Group President Keith Curtis, the panel discussion gave nonprofits the opportunity to ask questions and learn behind-the-scenes tips on how grant decisions are made. The panelists were:
Judge Richard Bray, Beazley Foundation
Anne Conner, TowneBank
Elena Montello, Hope House Foundation
Amy Nisenson, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation
Dr. Linda Rice, Hampton Roads Community Foundation
Top Takeaways from the Panelists
1. Remember that foundation reps are your best advocates.
Meet with them to improve the quality of your grant application and increase your likelihood of being funded. They can help guide the amount you should apply for, the outcomes the funder is looking for, etc. “The saddest thing for a funder is when an organization has a great idea that they would support, but because they didn’t seek guidance on their application, they won’t get funded.”– Dr. Rice
2. Demonstrate these essential qualities:
- Financial strength
- Strategic vision
- Board involvement
- Collaboration with other organizations (not duplicating efforts)
3. Follow the application instructions.
This seems obvious, yet many applicants miss the mark. Be sure to do your research so your package is as strongly supported as possible.
4. Use board members to engage funders.
Keep board members informed so they will be prepared for conversations that might arise with foundation leaders or representatives. Be strategic in how you involve your board members—don’t ask everyone to do everything, but only when it will make a difference (ie. partnering on a specific ask meeting where they have a connection).
5. Maintain the relationship.
Continue to cultivate and steward the foundation after receiving grant money. Funders can help in other ways besides dollars—expertise, contacts, sharing resources.
6. Report back.
Send updates, pictures and stories about what you were able to accomplish.
“The Beazley Foundation requests that recipients report back a year after funding, and it’s amazing the number of organizations I have to follow up with to get this.” – Judge Bray
7. Don’t make these mistakes:
- Assume you’ll get funding if you’ve received it in the past.
- Wait until the last minute to apply or call the funder the day before the application is due (instead, plan ahead and be in communication with them in advance).
- Communicate with the funder only when you’re asking for money.
- Delay telling the funder you won’t to be able to fulfill the original purpose of the grant (instead, communicate with them early so they can work through it with you).
Amy Nisenson led a breakout session on using board members to engage funders (#4), and Curtis Group Vice President Victoria Dietz led one on nonprofit trends—but to find out the very latest trends, go through our write-up on Giving USA 2017, released on June 13. This long-running report reveals how much Americans gave in 2016, which sectors saw increases and declines, and best of all, how to use this data to improve your fundraising.
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