Having the services of a skilled grant writer at your disposal is a critical ingredient for any organization seeking to raise funds from private or community foundations. But having access to a world-class grant writer may not be enough.
I am often approached by individuals who tell me something to the effect of: “I know there’s tons of money out there just waiting to be given away… I want you to get some of it for me!” The reality is that for every $1 of grant money that is available, there are $5-$10 in requests; competition is fierce. The organizations which have the best chances of winning those limited dollars generally share some common attributes. They:
- Have an established a track record
- Have achieved quantifiable results
- Are meeting a demonstrative need in their community
- Understand where the funder’s interest and their program/ services/ mission overlap
- Have crafted a thoughtful, comprehensive proposal, effectively connecting the proposed program to a community need and the funder’s interests
And, more often than not, they have some relationship with the funding institution. There are different levels of relationships and various means to develop these relationships — and just because you don’t have an existing relationship does not mean you cannot, or should not, start to develop one! Consider these simply categorized types of organization-funder relationships, and tactics to develop them to the point where they can be leveraged to help in your quest for funding.
Level 0: No relationship – The grant proposal is sent in “cold” with no relational advantage.
Level 1: Getting on the radar – Someone at the foundation has a basic familiarity with the organization; this may be the result of a single or multiple conversations with a program officer (PO). The program officers are usually on the ‘front-lines’ and even if they are not the deciders (that’s a word now, right?!), they make recommendations to the trustees/ selection committee. Establishing a rapport with a program officer early in the application process can be very helpful.
Level 2: Site visit or assessment — Some foundations are willing to, or interested in, meeting in person at an applicant’s program site. This does not happen often so if you have this opportunity, seize it. This is a chance for a foundation representative to get to know your organization on a more intimate level and see the impact of your work. Another way to get to this “level” is to followup if you are not fortunate to receive a grant. Schedule a time to speak with the PO and ask for their feedback so you can better understand what was deficient about your last proposal. This serves two purposes: (1) you will be able to improve upon your next proposal (if another is warranted); (2) this is another chance to build relationships and demonstrate a trackrecord. It can take 2-3 attempts at the same foundation before winning a grant, and your chances will drastically improve if you can show progress, and if the PO sees that your organization is determined and responsive to feedback. Certain POs take great pride in nurturing younger non-profits to the point where they can better articulate and implement their ideas.
Level 3: Trustee relationship – In most family and corporate foundations the trustees make the funding decisions and they have great latitude in deciding who to fund. It is always prudent, before applying to a foundation, to look at the list of trustees (publicly available through various sources) and identify those with a connection to someone in the applicant organization. If you find a connection — don’t be bashful! Make a call and take advantage of the opportunity.
Level 4: Previously funded – Once you receive a grant, the relationship-building is not over! Your goal should be to cultivate a relationship with this funder so that it evolves into a partnership. While you may only have had a 15-20% chance of getting funded on your first attempt, you probably have a 60-80% chance of getting re-funded in ‘year 2′ if you keep that funder engaged. Communicate with your designated PO every quarter (minimum), include her/ him on your mailing lists and be sure to write a genuine, comprehensive and as quantitative-as-possible final report. Many grant-makers will stick with a grantee for 2-3 years or longer if they are pleased with its progress.
Institutional fundraising is an important component of most development plans. And while grant “writing” is the most visible part of the process, it is the relationship-building which often creates the tipping point — the difference between winning a losing.
Contact Aaron to discuss how he can assist with your organization’s institutional or major-donor fundraising campaigns.