Funders are all about relationships. They want to know where their dollars are going and how they are making an impact. Regardless of what stage of the grant cycle you are in, your goal should be to build a relationship with the foundation. As you know, relationships based on trust and open communication are key to any fundraising program. Great relationships include mutual respect, clear expectations, transparency, accountability, and mission alignment.
Develop a strategy for building a relationship with each foundation you plan to apply for in the fiscal year. The goal should be to get your organization in front of the foundation’s key staff. When you do research on their website or 990 you should easily find their contact information. Check with your board members to see if they know anyone at the foundation. They can be a part of building a relationship with the foundation.
As you peruse their guidelines, you may need some more information or clarification. This is exactly the time to contact them! Some won’t want to have any contact with you but others will be like an open book. If a foundation doesn’t know who you are, you are not likely to get funded. Building credibility will pay off in the long run.
Practice Your Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is a selling statement, yet different from a sales pitch, it is more of a conversation starter. A good pitch lasts between 15 to 45 seconds. It should be brief, interesting and memorable. Tell them in a few short sentences why your organization would be of interest to their board of directors. You can use this time to advocate for your cause with the passion that can’t always be captured on the page. How are you unique compared to other non-profits in your field? What is the need and how can they help make a difference?
The program officers or direct contacts at the foundation are usually time-pressed. You will need to prepare ahead of time what you are going to say. Study their material so you are ready to address their exact needs using their language. Most program officers are happy to answer any questions you might have. They also want to save both of you time from applying for something that is not the right fit.
After any conversation with the foundation officers, be sure to thank the person for their time – via email, a handwritten card or whatever feels appropriate for the given situation.
Cultivate Foundation Relationships
Once you establish a relationship strive to cultivate and maintain it. Cultivating means building a relationship. Whether a family foundation or corporate foundation, you need to cultivate relationships with the people who work with them. This will increase your chances of getting the grant. Afterall people behind those boardroom doors are people with hearts and the same passion you share with your organization. They’ll appreciate your efforts to connect.
Ask if they would like to be added to your email list to keep them posted on big developments that may have an impact on the way they would like to fund what you are doing to change the world. Keep in touch and offer information and updates on your organization’s programs and projects. Get creative and look for ways to communicate with the funder outside the grantmaking process including the following:
- Six-month reports and final reports on the progress of what they have funded
- Tell stories of the lives they have changed
- Call for advice or to update them on how your program is going
- Invite them for a site tour and/or to your events
- Give them a special Christmas or holiday-related gift
- Send a Valentine’s Day card with why you love partnering with them
- Be transparent and tell them the challenges and needs of your organization
- Most importantly, thank them well
Use Social Media Networks
Social media is a very easy way to interact with a funder, keep up with their activities and interests, and share highlights of your programs with them. The internet and social media have paved the way for us to be connected with our funders right in the palm of our hands. We can share our message across multiple platforms.
Linkedin is a great tool to look up current foundation program officers and see if anyone in your network is connected with them. Reach out to those individuals and ask them for an introduction to key foundation people, where appropriate. You can also use social media to publicly acknowledge their support. Depending on the foundation (especially corporate foundations), you will want to check with their marketing team on how to acknowledge their gift.
Relationships take time and persistent is crucial. You want to be in regular communication with your funders and show them the difference they are making in this world. They will feel valued, appreciated, and wanted.
What have you done to build relationships with foundations? Share your success stories, questions, and concerns in the comments below.
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