So many nonprofit executives think that the primary strategy for raising grant dollars is to write a grant proposal.
Submitting a proposal is Step #2.
Step #1 is establishing a relationship with the funder.
Receiving grants is a strategic and very personal process where, from my experience, the actual proposal is worth about 10-20 percent of the entire approach. The additional 80-90 percent has to do with researching and identifying the appropriate funding source and then meeting and establishing a relationship with the appropriate staff person of this funding source.
With more than 40 years experience in the grant writing field, I have gained a very good understanding of what it takes to receive a grant award. Here are a few tips on building relationships with funders.
- Unless they specifically say not to, always push for a face-to-face meeting. Fundraising is a very personal business and people give to people (not to organizations, issues, or causes). Meeting with a foundation staff person will dramatically increase your chances of receiving a grant award.
- Bring one of your constituents to the meeting. This will give you a competitive advantage. Bring a constituent who represents the impact of your organization and who can talk from their heart about the changes you have made in their life.
- Don’t believe everything you read. Prior to meeting with the foundation staff person, research their IRS 990 form at Guidestar.org and see what they have funded recently. Don’t rely on their guidelines alone–their guidelines may say they only fund specific kinds of programs, but when you look on Guidestar you may notice they have in fact awarded money to a host of other initiatives in your region.
- Schmooze the gatekeeper. Try to make the executive’s assistant or secretary your best friend. She/he can then help you set up appointments with select staff or board members.
- Prepare written leave-behind materials (i.e., a concise packet on your mission and programs) carefully. Don’t overwhelm. Even though it’s on your web site, include a board roster.
- You want three outcomes from the personal interview: (1) You want the person you meet with to ask you to submit a proposal, and you want them to include some insider tips on what to focus on within the proposal; (2) You want them to help you determine an appropriate dollar amount to ask for in your proposal; and (3) You want them to give you a deadline. Plan to turn in your proposal 30 days prior to that deadline.
- Develop a collegial relationship rather than a traditional grantee/grantor relationship. Educate the grantor on your issues so he/she can become well-versed in what you do and who you do it for. Provide educational materials to the funder. One way to shift the relationship of a typical grantee/grantor is to forward articles and other materials about your industry to them. They will then start to view you as an expert on these issues.
- It’s pretty easy to design an e-newsletter that describes your work and accomplishments. This keeps you in front of the funding sources.
- Do nice little things for the funder. Periodically, thank the funder without asking for money, or send them birthday cards. Personal touches like these mean a lot.
- Become the source of information on your industry to the foundation staff. Stay in constant contact with the funder via e-mail, and send links to well-written articles about your industry. Always try to be the first person to contact them regarding issues involving your organization and/or your constituency.