One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my grant writing career came during a cold call with a foundation grant officer. At the end of the conversation he thanked me for calling and told me he wished he received more calls from grant seekers. At that point I realized a foundation’s role is to help non-profits serve the community. If an organization is a good match for a foundation, that organization is doing the foundation a favor by reaching out to them. Initiating a relationship with grant-making organizations before applying for a grant can be advantageous. It can all start with a simple phone call.
First Phone Call
Making that first call to a foundation can feel daunting. The truth is many grant officers consider it their job to get to know non-profit staff and would welcome the call. Interacting with applicants helps the foundation make informed funding decisions. Before calling be prepared and do your research. Fully vet each foundation online to verify they fund in your geographic area and fund the type of program you are proposing. Then prepare two or three questions aimed at learning more about their funding cycle and funding guidelines. I will delve deeper into foundation research in a future Grant Helpers blog, with some more in-depth tips on foundation prospecting.
In addition to gathering information about the foundation, have a brief description of your organization ready. This is the well-known “90-second elevator pitch”—it can be delivered between floors on an elevator. Center the pitch on how your program will help the foundation achieve its mission. I like to pepper my elevator speech with quantifiable program outcomes. Grant-makers are increasingly focused on verifiable outcomes when making funding decisions.
Here are some approaches to keep in mind for the first call:
- The purpose of the call is to discover if your program is a good fit for the foundation. Learn as much as possible about the organization. Ask for their questions about your organization and its programs.
- Start the conversation by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions. Listen more than talk. Grant officers will be more forthcoming if their concerns are understood.
- End the call by arranging the next step in your ongoing communication. Consider extending an invitation to visit your program.
Remember, even if a relationship with a foundation ends with the first call, you are no worse off than before the call. On the plus side, a warm response will place you on the track to submitting a successful grant application.
A typical response to a declined proposal is to give up, to search elsewhere. But quite often a rejection is one step toward eventual grant funding. How you respond is key. It is a good idea to call the foundation after not getting a grant. The purpose of the call is twofold: 1) to improve your proposal so it has a better chance of funding in the future, and 2) to solidify your relationship with the grant officer. When exploring the cause of the denial, ask for specific reasons. Here are some example questions you might ask, in your own words:
- How could the proposal have been improved?
- Would it be acceptable to apply again?
- What are the next steps?
- Are there other foundations the grant officer would recommend approaching?
It’s beneficial to remain in touch with the grant officer regardless of whether you will be applying again. Even if a denial won’t lead to funding for one agency, it’s still an opportunity to expand your network of foundation contacts. The grant officer may become a valuable resource for you. I once kept in touch with a grant officer who rejected one of my proposals, and later changed jobs. IN his new position he invited me to apply for a grant at the new foundation, and that application was accepted. There was an excellent quote on the Donors Forum website that sums it up well, “A decline is just one moment in the life with a prospect - it's neither the beginning nor the end.
For insight on communication and grant management after being awarded to build and leverage relationships for more funding, see the blog on Grant Stewardship.
Effective communication is vital to building a positive foundation relationship and requires being thorough and organized, communicating regularly, and being persistent.
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