By Mark Larimer, VP of Marketing and Client Services, Foundant Technologies
Where is Your Fundraising Focus?
When building funder relationships, one of the greatest mistakes is to focus exclusively on how much a funder can give. For better results, stop looking at funders as if they are dollars and start learning about your funder’s objectives. The results can be dramatic. When you are truly aligned with a funder’s mission and objectives – and position yourself as a partner in achieving them – you might just see your funding increase with easier renewal processes going forward.
This advice comes from our experience with almost 900 grantmakers across the country. Foundant Technologies’ customers are mainly small to medium grantmakers who give 10K – 100K grants. Our experience comes from working with private foundations, community foundations, and local government offices – so this advice may not apply when working with large government grantmakers. Foundant helps funders set–up and maintain their grants management systems. Through this process, we learn what the funders are hoping to accomplish with their funding. We hear what they like and what they don’t like. We also hear many good and bad stories of how they have been approached for funding. I’ve outline some thoughts below on why it could be more beneficial for you to focus on how to make your funders more successful, rather than just on the dollars they represent.
Understand What is Important to Your Funders
By far the most common complaint we hear from funders is, “I just wish applicants would really read our guidelines and instructions.” The fact is, most nonprofits do read the guidelines and instructions, but they may not take time to fully understand them or interpret them. This is a huge mistake. A grantmaker’s guidelines and mission should clearly state what they fund and, most importantly, why. If the ‘what’ and ‘why’ are not clear after you read the mission and guidelines, or if you can’t find them, ask the foundation staff for guidance. If the funder is not willing to spend time with you before you submit a grant application, your chances for funding are probably limited. A better use of time is to find funders who are interested in working with you and working together to fulfill their mission.
Foundation Staff are More Like You Than You Think
Most staff at grantmaker organizations have had prior careers within a nonprofit. Usually it’s a nonprofit that served the type of work or region the foundation is focused on funding. What this means is, your funder contacts most likely care as much about your cause as you do – and may even have expertise in the subject area. Treat them this way! Get to know these people! Ask for and listen to their advice. Communicate with them about what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your challenges. The grantmakers we work with are passionate about what they do, and they represent so much more to your organization than just a funding source. If fully engaged, their help could be far more valuable than their funding alone. Build these people into champions within the foundation as well as within your community. Keep in mind they know many other funders who may be good funding partners for your organization as well.
Land and Expand
Once you have successfully converted a staff member into your champion, do not stop cultivating the relationship. Foundations tend to attract people who have similar passions, expertise, and interests. Don’t stop at just meeting one of them! Invite the organization to site visits or to participate in a program you are running. Ask for the help of your champion to meet the right people within their organization. Understanding the expertise and interests of the different people at a grantmaker organization will allow you to write better proposals that create excitement throughout the funding organization. The final reason to spend effort getting to know more people at the organization is to protect your funding stream if your champion leaves. With the current turnover rates within the nonprofit industry, you cannot afford to have just a single contact.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is more than just informing your funder what it is going on. Good communication also means asking questions and, most importantly, listening. It is crucial you do all three well. Quick, personal emails to your champion sharing a recent accomplishment or sharing a story from the field makes the foundation staff’s day. Your email has a great chance to be shared throughout the organization. This type of exposure with board members or executive teams helps to make you and your organization more familiar when they are reviewing future grant applications. Trust us, it makes a difference.
Ask questions or even ask for help from your funders. If you have challenges or problems, your strategic funders are sources of help. They know lots of people and may have seen other organizations struggle with the same problems. They may be able to help. Also, a benefit to asking for help and advice is if you do have a situation arise that is evident on your financials or in your grant proposals, it is not a surprise or subject to misunderstanding. Prior awareness and understanding of difficult situations usually helps to reduce their concerns.
Finally, if your funder makes suggestions, listen to them. You may not take action on their suggestions, but the process of listening will help you understand their thoughts and concerns.
Looking at Funders Differently
The partnering tips outlined in this blog are not going to work for all funders. However, as you identify funders you can create these types of relationships with, take advantage of it. Your organization will be stronger for the effort, you will benefit by adding additional advisors to your virtual team, and you can develop strong funding sources for the future.
For more information about simple ways funders and grantees can work better together, check out this whitepaper from Foundant Technologies:
Have some experience with strengthening funder relationships? Share your tips with fellow nonprofits in the comment section!
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