Whether you’re just starting your grant funding strategy or have created a well-oiled grant funding machine, you still are likely asking the same questions to ensure efficiency: “Which grants should we apply for? Which grant funders should we be focusing on? Who is most likely to support our cause?”
These are questions I am asked every week, from small grassroots organizations to large-scale NGOs, and I have roughly the same conversation with every client. While it is a complex topic and one that requires a clear understanding of your organization’s capacity, position in the nonprofit sector, and budgetary needs, the root of my answer is the same: choose funders with whom you have relationships or with whom you can create relationships.
Relationship-Building with Foundations
Let’s start with funding from foundations (independent, family and corporate). You can write the most compelling proposal to a foundation, but if they’ve never heard of you, your mission, and the population(s) you serve, then it’s like sending the proposal into the wind. Yes, a foundation’s purpose is to distribute grant money, but more importantly, their purpose is to distribute grant money to organizations that meet their funding priorities, have the capacity in terms of staffing and systems that support the management of grant funds, and can prove that their program outcomes will bring about meaningful change within the community. Relationships with foundations are pivotal to proving your merit in these areas.
In an ideal world, you will have a board member or volunteer within your ranks who already has a relationship with a foundation and can make an introduction on behalf of your organization. If you don’t have an internal connection, take the time to contact the foundation and ask to meet with them to share what you do and who you serve (you may also want to invite a board member to the meeting who can speak to the importance of your mission), or invite them to events happening at your organization to see your work first-hand.
Before meeting with the foundation, review their website and recent 990 Forms to get a feel for who they have funded and the amounts funded. While bold asks are often encouraged in fundraising, with grants, I recommend being reasonable with your budget. Don’t ask for more than the foundation’s average request unless they have given you an indication that they will consider a larger ask. Be consistent, but also be patient. Establishing relationships with foundations takes time.
Relationship-Building with Government Agencies
For government agencies (federal, state and local), relationship-building is much less intimate. Government agencies don’t normally take meetings with nonprofit organizations, nor do they come to see your organization in action. For government funding, make sure you can show at least three years of audited financial statements. Very rarely do government agencies want to drop hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on small or new nonprofits that can’t show expertise in managing large amounts of money.
It’s important to still work to make a connection with someone who can be an advocate for you and your organization. There is a lot of competition behind the scenes in government grants – everyone needs funding, and everyone has a great idea and a beautiful vision to fix a heartbreaking societal issue. To build relationships in this arena, you can participate in federal/state RFP webinars, reach out to the assigned federal/state agency contact person with pertinent questions about a particular funding opportunity, and charge your government relations staff with scoping out government grant opportunities that might be on the horizon.
You can also reach out to your local legislator to make these inquiries on your behalf or ask your board and volunteers if they have any connections to legislators. As taxpayer-funded legislators, this is part of their role; they are in office to serve the public. I have seen many cases in which legislators have acted as great champions for an organization’s cause.
The Bottom Line: Make Connections
So, what do you need in order to increase your grant funding? A compelling case and a personal connection. I’m not saying that if you have a relationship, you can slack on the proposal. Your proposal must be excellent. But you won’t increase grant funding with exceptional proposals alone; you also need to do your research and make connections. Relationships are essential in securing grant funds!
The Carter team is committed to being a strategic partner in your approach to funding. If you are looking to enhance your organization’s integrated fundraising program or campaign through improved grant services or looking to accelerate organizational capacity through a strategic grant funding approach, we are here to help.
About the Author
Maureen Ryan, MBA – Director - Grants
As a service-oriented and seasoned grant professional with over 30 years of combined experience in grant strategy, grant development, writing and administration, Maureen serves as Carter’s Director – Grants, helping nonprofit organizations realize their missions through grant funding. In her career, Maureen has helped raise over $100 million in grants for organizations across the country. Learn more about Maureen here.
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit www.carter.global.