In general, my blog posts are based on my reactions and thoughts to something I’ve read or heard.

Today’s post is sponsored by

  • Last week’s blog post and the feedback I received
  • A very large project I’m working on related to grants that will be publicized in just a few short weeks. I’m very excited about it!

Diversified Fundraising Portfolio

Last week I wrote about three avenues of fundraising that I fear are taking over the sector. I worry that an emphasis on these three will really hurt small organizations.

One of the Big Three is funding from foundations. I’m a huge fan of this! Foundations are looking to partner with organizations who have shared values and missions.

However, foundations have recently seen a major uptick in applications for funding. With the search on for “big bucks,” more and more organizations are turning to foundations to find funding.

Is this a bad thing? No.

Both sides want to impact their community and make positive change in the world. Foundations need organizations doing the work on the ground. Nonprofits need funding from foundations to provide the critical programs and services which create change.

Is this a bad thing? Yes.

Nonprofits will have an over-reliance on foundation funding, putting too many eggs in one basket. Foundations, inundated with too many applications, may start introducing ways to stop the avalanche of requests. This means fewer organizations will have a chance at this funding.

Like everything in life, there is balance in the grants universe.

Even before this change, grants should have been a major part of your fundraising portfolio. They’re a win-win proposition and can bring about systemic change.

I know this because I’ve sat on both sides of the table: I was a grant writer for a few years and I served as global director of communications for a private, global family foundation.

Both experiences gave me a good look at the world of grants. At one point I was the asker and another as part of the giving team. It allowed me a perspective not many have.

Both Sides Of The Table

It was day two of my employment at the foundation. The President called me into his office for a conversation. One thing he told me that has always stayed with me:

“When you know one foundation, you know one foundation.”

Every foundation- family, faith-based, community, private, corporate etc.- operates differently. They all have their own systems of evaluation, funding, reporting. They find the system that works for them and they run with it.

That’s not great for grant writers who want to apply to numerous foundations. You have to learn about each foundation and understand how they operate. Of course, that’s important for building a relationship but it can be overwhelming when you’re researching and considering dozens of foundations.

While the President’s quote is true, my years on the foundation side allowed me a peek into the inner workings of many foundations we partnered and worked with. I learned a LOT by simple observation and listening. The giving side of the table is a fascinating one to be part of!

If more and more small nonprofits are going to start applying for foundation grants, I thought it’d be a good idea to share with you a few insights into how you can successfully receive funding.

Research: Spray and pray should not be your approach to grants!

Go to the funder’s website. Learn all about them. See who’ve they funded in the past, read about their mission and values, what they fund and what they don’t.

Here’s an insider’s tip: Your submitted application isn’t the only thing a potential funder is reading. They’re checking you out! You should be doing the same before you apply.

The better the fit, the greater the chances of receiving a yes.

What it’s all about
: Fundraising and marketing is all about building relationships.

Grants are no different!

BEFORE you apply, look for a phone number of a staff member/program officer you can contact. Call them, introduce yourself, introduce your organization, its mission, work, programs and services.

This call has a dual purpose:

  • Get to know the foundation better and how they operate.
  • Let them get to know you! Get on their radar if you weren’t already. Foundations want to know who out there is working on projects with a mission like theirs.

Does this guarantee funding? Nope. But it starts the relationship.

The most important thing you’ll learn from a phone call is whether you should apply or not. What you thought is a good fit turns out not to match the foundation’s priorities. Or maybe they love what you’re offering and encourage you to apply.

Benefit: When your application appears before them, they have already heard of you. You’re more of a known entity and that can help secure funding.

But let’s say they decide not to fund you this year. As we know, a “no” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation!

When you contact them the following year, you’re a known entity. They’ve heard of you. That familiarity can help secure funding.

No, it’s not a slam dunk. But sometimes you have to play the long game. Build those relationships!

Reporting: When I talk about fundraising, I emphasize how important gratitude and reporting are to retention.

A foundation has decided to fund your project? Hooray! Now the fun’s just beginning.

Unless the funder issues specific instructions not to, you should communicate with the foundation during the funding period. Let them know what’s going on, how you’re spending their funds, share stories, data, impact and more.

Exactly what you should be doing with all your individual donors.

Foundations want to know their funds are going to what you said it would. They should be updated on who is being impacted, how they’re being impacted and what change is taking place.

Both sides want a successful relationship. Want to be funded beyond the first year? Keep the funder informed!

We’ll Find You

The foundation I worked for was a bit different in how it operated: It sought out organizations to partner with and invited them to apply. It did not open the application process to everyone.

But in order for them to successful with the issue they advocated for, they still had to know what was happening in their field of funding. That meant that program officers and myself were always fielding calls from organizations wanting to introduce themselves.

I loved it! It gave me a chance to learn about new nonprofits, what they were doing and how they were impacting people who needed it most. It allowed me to make connections for people and be on top of what was happening “in the field.”

I’d pass along what I heard to the program officers and if they thought it was worthwhile, it would be passed on to the decision makers. That initial phone call lead to grants eventually being granted!

Grant writer or grant giver, it’s all about building relationships. That’s the biggest lesson I came away with from my years in the grant world.

And this: Character counts will forever annoy me!

Wanna learn how to use email to upgrade your fundraising and marketing campaigns? Take a look at the custom email services I offer and be in touch!