By Lauren Steiner, President, Grants Plus
What size grants do private and corporate foundations make to your organization? $25,000? $100,000? Much more?
Most likely, grant funders are some of the most generous contributors to your organization. As such, it’s crucial to have a tailored strategy for every foundation funder, just as you should for every high-level individual donor. Yet too often organizations leave foundations on the sidelines, making contact only when the next grant proposal is due.
Personalization is key to grow a grants program to its full potential. Here are four reasons to approach grant funders more like major donors:
1. Just as it takes more than a direct mail letter to woo a major donor, getting grants is about more than the written grant proposal.
The world’s most perfect and persuasive grant proposal is not a magic bullet to grant funding. That’s because funders rarely award grants based on the merits of the grant proposal alone. In fact, submitting a grant proposal cold, without first making personal contact, can be a fast ticket to rejection. Unless a grant maker explicitly prohibits personal outreach, attempt to establish a relationship before applying for a grant. What other steps should you take before the grant proposal to increase your chances of funding? Download our free guide: Five Steps to Smarter Grant Seeking Before You Write the Grant Proposal.
2. Grants come from foundations, but proposals get reviewed and decided by people.
The written grant application isn’t the only thing a funder considers when deciding to make a grant, but it certainly is a big factor. When writing a grant proposal, remind yourself that you are writing to a real human reader. You hold the potential to frustrate, irritate, or bore this person—or to impress, inspire, and persuade them to your cause. This reader is often a program officer with the job to present a summary of your organization’s qualifications and goals to the foundation’s decision makers. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for this person to advocate on your behalf. Follow our grant writing tips to write a clear, compelling narrative that aligns to the foundation’s priorities and interests.
3. Like individual donors, foundation staff and trustees want to feel connected to the organizations they support.
If your organization has a major gifts program, you’ve most likely designated a relationship manager for each individual donor or prospect. It’s important to do the same for your active and prospective grantors. The grants manager may take charge of coordinating contact with funders, but also include the executive director, board members, and other leaders in forging and maintaining funder relationships. Look for connections between your organization and each foundation. Start by asking your staff and board members to review the trustees and program officers for every grant maker on your list.
4. Funders want and deserve to be appreciated just like individual donors.
Winning a grant can be long, hard work. When the good news comes — we got the grant! —celebrate your accomplishment but remember that the work of stewardship is just beginning. Thoughtful gestures can help foster genuine relationships with funders. If you’re having a special event or celebrating a program milestone, invite representatives of the foundation to attend as your guests. Does your project make the news? Send a news clipping with a handwritten note. At the very least, follow through on the promises you make, which may include tracking the outcomes you said you’d track, acknowledging the foundation publicly as they require, and submitting timely grant reports. And if something changes that impacts your ability to fulfill the terms of the grant (say you lose a key program staff person) don’t wait until the report is due to deliver the news. Reach out to inform the funder about these changes. They may offer useful advice, support, or connections.
Bottom line: funders are people too. Grants don’t come about by hitting the “submit” button on a grant application from your desk chair. Grants come as a result of growing relationships with the human beings at foundations and providing them the opportunity to be engaged in your organization’s important mission and work.
For further tips on savvy grant seeking, download our free guide: Five Steps to Smarter Grant Seeking Before You Write the Grant Proposal.
About the Author
Lauren Steiner worked as a filmmaker, attorney, college instructor, and nonprofit development executive before founding Grants Plus in 2007 to help more worthy causes raise more funds.
With Lauren’s leadership, Grants Plus has received the Weatherhead 100 Upstart Award for three consecutive years, a 2016 Smart Women “Progressive Organization” Award from Smart Business, and an Inside Business Northeast Ohio Success Award in 2014.
Lauren is past president of the Grant Professionals Association Ohio–Northern Chapter as well as an active member and former board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Cleveland Chapter. She is an alumna of Cleveland Bridge Builders and was named one of the “Top 25 Under 35” in 2007 by Inside Business Magazine. To fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a puppy washer, she volunteers at Love-A-Stray dog shelter where she walks dogs and cleans cages. Lauren holds a BS in Telecommunications from Ohio University and a JD from Cleveland State University, Cleveland Marshall College of Law, where she remains active in the Alumni Association.