A recent Gallup poll showed a meager 14% of Americans approve of the US Congress. Though personally you may not be happy with your political leaders’ policy making, contacting staff at your elected representative’s offices can help with grant funding. Politicians—local, state, and national—can be instrumental in supporting your grant seeking efforts. Furthermore, they can connect you with key decision makers, advise you of upcoming funding opportunities, and help facilitate your grant application.
A caveat: some funding organizations look askance at any political intervention. So temper these tips with an awareness of funders’ sensitivities.
To get the greatest benefits, take the layered approach. It’s like making your bed: complete one task before starting the next.
The Initial Contact – The Bottom Sheet
The first layer – let’s call it the bottom sheet – is calling or emailing your elected representative to let them know you’re a constituent and your organization could use their help finding funding. Keep in mind that representatives are elected to serve on your behalf, so don’t be reluctant to call them.
Congressional representatives in all fifty states have an office in Washington, DC and an office in the district they represent. Both offices typically have staff that can help with grant seeking. The same is also true of most state representatives (an office in the state capital and in their district). Make it your goal to identify the appropriate staff contact, in local, state and federal offices, during the first conversation.
Don’t forget the governor’s office when it comes to contacting state officials. The governor’s office has an overview of all state funding opportunities and has also been elected to assist you.
During your initial contact, briefly introduce your organization, state your organization’s funding needs, and ask for a meeting.
The Meeting – The Top Sheet
One prime objective of this meeting, if not already in effect, would be to get a commitment from the elected official’s office to alert you to potential funding opportunities. Another might be to determine other ways in which the legislator’s staff could assist you, and how you can best provide useful information to them. Meeting time will be short, so come prepared. In terms of information quality is more important than quantity. This meeting is the perfect time to use that “90 second elevator speech” I mentioned in my previous blog, First Steps to Grant Funding: Get Started Building Relationships. Be sure to leave them with a packet of information.
Keeping in Touch – The Comforter Once you have established a relationship with elected officials it is advantageous to keep in touch with them at regular intervals. Keeping in touch provides the dual benefit of guiding the support you need while fostering a helpful relationship.Following are three times it can be most useful to give your elected representatives a call:
- Near the end of the fiscal year: Some state fiscal years end June 30; others end September 30. The federal fiscal year typically ends on September 30. At these times, leftover monies may need to be quickly dispensed before they have to be returned to the state legislatures or to Congress.
- When you decide to apply for a government funding opportunity: It’s helpful to let your elected officials know that you’re submitting a grant application. They may be able to provide you with some useful introductions or helpful knowledge about the funding agency.
- When your application has been rejected: Especially in the case of Government programs with minimal feedback, your elected officials may be able to ascertain additional information about why your application was turned down.
Wine and Dine Them – The Throw Pillows
It can be beneficial to host an annual legislative event inviting both the elected official (local, state, and federal) and the contact person in their office. The event can be a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner where you present an overview of your organization, a portfolio of achieved outcomes, and a wish list for programs and services. Impress them with the good you are doing within their district, and demonstrate that your organization has the need for government funding.