Tips for Building Relationships with Your Funders to Actually "Get a Grant"
There’s a myth about grants that folks unfamiliar with the development world often believe. Have you ever been in a discussion with someone outside the field and you talk about needing money for something? What is their first reaction?
“You can just get a grant for that.”
For anyone who has ever submitted a grant application before, let’s agree that’s not really an accurate portrayal of the grant world. A grant is an investment that a funder is making in the community. Sometimes you will get selected, and sometimes you won’t.
But where do you start? I believe you should start by building relationships. This applies to all areas of development. Your job is to show a funder - whether a business, church, individual, etc. - why they should choose to make a financial investment in your work. You can only make your case if they know who you are. Here are some tips for building a relationship with your potential (or current) funders:
1. Think Local!
I know you want to be one of the organizations who receives a million
dollar unrestricted grant award from a huge national foundation. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but realistically, that’s probably not going to happen (or at least not right away!). What CAN happen is that you make an effort to introduce yourself to the funders located in your community who support organizations like yours. How can you do that?
Introduce yourself! Put a face to your organization. Pick up the phone and call the President of the Board, or the Corporate Responsibility Representative, or whomever is in charge of making these financial decisions, to sit down with you and learn a little more about your organization.
If applicable, invite the funder for a tour of your program/building/future site/etc. Experiencing an activity helps to improve the memory rather than just hearing about it. It will also trigger an emotion that the funder might connect with when they think of your organization. Can’t have them on-site? Consider making a short video showcasing your organization to live on your website that you can send in a follow-up email.
2. Networking is your friend!
I know that it can be very overwhelming to walk into a room and introduce yourself to strangers. But remember that everyone is there for the same reason...to meet people! Networking is important because you have an open invitation to introduce yourself to folks you otherwise might not get the chance to meet.
Listen, I am an introverted extrovert. Depending on the day, I am either excited to network or I dread the thought of interacting with anyone other than my dog. In order to prepare my mind for networking, no matter the day, I like to frame networking this way: I am responsible for “selling” my organization and I do that by connecting with others. I do that by having my tools (business cards, name tag) ready so if I make a connection with someone, I will be able to continue that relationship to further my organization’s goals. I know that I have something valuable to share and I am excited to have the opportunity to share with someone new.
3. Send a thank you!
I didn’t know this had to be said, but I have come in contact with too many funders who say they’ve never been thanked for their contribution. Friends, a funder doesn’t have to give you money. They have chosen you, over all the other organizations doing awesome work in your community, to receive their money. Thank them.
4. Fulfill ALL grant requirements and COMMUNICATE when you can’t.
Sometimes we realize after we start implementing our grant funded program that it’s not going to work exactly as we planned. That’s ok! But you need to communicate that with your funder and present an amended plan to utilize the funding. If there is no way to do that, or if the funder does not approve your plan, you may need to return the funds.
Equally important is the fulfillment of grant requirements. The funder wants to be kept up to date with how we are using their investment. Even if we don’t understand why so many reports are needed, we applied and were chosen to receive the grant award; therefore, we are responsible for completing the requirements.
Building relationships doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s easily one of the most important aspects of fundraising work. It is worth your time to include relationship building in your development plan and weekly schedule.
If you need some assistance with your organization's grant plans, reach out to me to schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation to start the conversation about your needs and if I might be able to help.