How to build relationships with foundation grant funders

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is “How do I build relationships with foundation grant funders?”

It’s a good question because it shows that the asker understands that relationship-building is just as important when it comes to seeking grants as it is in building a sound individual donor base.

And would you believe that the simple, one-word answer to this question is “persistence?”  It’s true.

Early on in my career I attended a Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) “Meet the Funders” panels.  It was a breakfast meeting featuring three regional foundation presidents.  They discussed their own foundation’s giving priorities and answered questions from the audience.

When one of the panelists, the president of a small regional foundation, was asked what to do when your grant proposal is declined, I took notes.

His response?  When your grant proposal has been declined, call the foundation offices, ask to speak to the program officer who reviewed your proposal.  Thank them for their review of your proposal and ask these three questions:

  1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
  2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle?
  3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach?

In the ensuing years this simple process has raised millions for my clients.  Foundations don’t, as a general rule, communicate terribly effectively with grantseekers.  It’s up to you to communicate and take the relationship forward.

Want more?  Download my simple grant proposal tracking worksheet.  By using it regularly you’ll ensure that you always follow up!

3 Responses to “How to build relationships with foundation grant funders”

  1. Holli Rossi Murphy says:

    Also, before you even write a grant proposal, call the funder to see if your program is one that they would typically fund. A funder generally won’t commit to giving a grant; there’s no guarantee. However, you can get information that may help you make a decision to submit a grant proposal or not.

    You may also present a few programs and ask the funder if they have a preference.

  2. And remember that the program officer is a human being! Decisions are often subjective, so try to present yourself as someone with whom it is a PLEASURE to do business. In these tight times, grantmakers will naturally gravitate to an open and collaborative partner instead of a demanding and whiny one.
    If you’ve cold-called, ask “Is this a good time for you to give me five minutes?” and keep your eye on the clock, respecting the other person’s time by noting when that five minutes is up.
    When I ask for an executive’s attention, I make it a point to deliver “on time and under budget” so they know my word is good.
    Decisions often come down to a human factor, because grantmakers are investing in people as much as programs.

  3. Pamela Grow says:

    Thank you for another perspective – and a thoughtful reminder about the value of thoughtfulness and common courtesy.