WE LOVE OUR FUNDERS BUT… WE WORK BETTER TOGETHER!
This is our first blog in a new and exciting partnership – a Link Party – with esteemed grant writers from across the country, including Jana Jane Hexter, Diane H. Leonard, Heather Stombaugh and Mark Whitacre. Click on the links throughout this article to read their fascinating and educational perspectives on this subject. Look for more LinkParty articles in the future!
In my 15 years plus working with grants I have found funders and their staff to be some of the most amazing and passionate people. I have worked as a program coordinator for multi-million dollar federal grants in city government, for small nonprofits serving large metro areas, large nonprofits serving vast rural areas and as a consultant that works with all manner of grants, agencies and funders.
The common thread is that we all work better together.
In fact, one of my greatest passions is helping government, nonprofits, grassroots and business work together to build well-rounded, sustainable community solutions and innovations.
I truly love our funders. As Diane H. Leonard points out in her 2 common truths about funder relationship, I believe grantors understand applicants are working to make connections with them in order to help build a long term relationship. Funders, consider the following to build stronger relationships with the communities they serve and with their applicants.
Play Cupid – We love our funders, but… let’s make a connection.
We know our funders can not fund every eligible worthy applicant. There is an innovative process for funders to support more applicants – matchmaking. I serve on the steering committee for the Alliance for Health Homes and Communities. This Alliance came about through some wonderful matchmaking facilitated by the funder. The funder received a multitude of applications. Some projects were similar in their focus and service area. The funder played matchmaker. BCBS Foundation of Minnesota connected several grant applicants and offered to fund a collaborative project. Brilliant! Sometimes the funders get more insight into the efforts and innovations within the communities they support than many of their applicants. A little matchmaking could go a long way to creating greater efficiencies and coordination of services.
Blind Dates We love our funders, but…blind dates are hard.
Many of grant seekers use your Foundation Center profile to target our efforts. We know funders are busy, and we do not want to waste funders’ time (or ours). Funders, please keep your profile up-to-date. This will help funder find what your ideal grantees.
Speed Dating We love our funders, but… let’s make it worth our time together.
We appreciate your desire to speed things along. Many funders use a ‘Letter of Intent’ (LOI) to speed up the system for the Board. Most LOIs are just as time consuming and complicated as the full proposals. If an applicant is one of the lucky ones to be invited to apply for funding, they must invest similar time and energy to develop the full application. Applicants love funders who provide clear concise requirements for LOI. A terrific LOI process is like speed-dating – the process should be quick and informative for both parties.
It's Not You, It's Me. We love our funders … but sometimes it is you.
Applicants put their heart and souls into their proposals. If you must reject an applicant, please do it with purpose. A form rejection letter misses an opportunity to help the applicant. If the applicant is not a match for your organization, please be clear with the applicant, do not give them false hope. If you have an outstanding applicant, but you just did not have enough resources to give them their opportunity right now, please let them know what they did well. Funders, let applicants know what you liked, what piqued your interest and if you would like to see them again.
Funders are human, and they make mistakes. Jana Jane Hexter shares a funder mistake story and I share her plea to funders, “-dear funder….please make sure that your RFPs don’t contain big errors in them and if they do exercise common sense and correct them in a timely way.’
Not every applicant is a match for the funder and not every funder that is willing to award a grant is right for the applicant. In Mark Whitacre's post, he shares a story about mismatched funder relationship that had to end.
You Never Call or Write. We love our funders, but …we could improve communication.
Once an applicant submits a proposal they are counting down the days until they hear from you. We wait… To make matters worse, the organization’s ED, Board, Directors, Program Managers, staff and partners all ask the grant writer (over and over), “Why have you not heard from them?” Funders, please let us know that you received our application and when you will be contacting us. Please let applicants know if there is a delay, when the grants are awarded and who received the awards. A little communication goes a long way in building your reputation as a funder who values the community you serve.
As Heather Stombaugh puts it in her relationship building themed post, “Relationships—the good ones, the ones worth fighting for—take effort.” Diane H. Leonard gives us keen insight from her role as a former program officer and as a Nonprofit Consultant, ‘Trying to have a potential or current funder relationship that is one sided will also always end poorly be it a misunderstanding about a renewal application, or a lack of communication over a reallocation of awarded funds across budget line items.”
Short Term vs. Long Term We love our funders, but… are you in it for the long haul?
Grantees want to make an impact, programs/initiatives mature over time, change can take years, and all of this takes a reasonable budget basis.
First, dear funders – THANK YOU! Every dollar you have invested in your grantees – you are making the world a better place with your investments.
Second, each dollar could make a greater impact if we share a longer commitment to the relationship. When a project loses grant funding, we lose staff, we lose expertise, we lose momentum – the funder loses progress and impact, and communities lose ground. Some projects are short term projects. Some projects are worth the long term commitment. Many funders have heard this and have changed their funding structure from 1 year grants to 3 year cycles – or longer.
Longer commitments offer opportunities for both the funder and the applicant to grow a robust relationship that is stronger, together. Ah, love.
We love our funders!