How to Build Relationships with Foundation Funders

December 29, 2008

When it comes to foundation grants, the biggest question seems to be “how do we get our foot in the door?” How can our nascent grassroots arts organization quickly build relationships with the regional foundations that will help make our programming happen?

Generally speaking, I’ve always believed that your first proposal provided the best tool for opening doors. That’s why I recommend consistent (daily is best) foundation prospecting and sending your proposals to a wide variety of foundations in the beginning. You might call it the shotgun approach – and most grant professionals are adamant against doing it. Yet I believe that, if you are paying strict attention to the guidelines and only sending proposals to foundations whose criteria your organization fits within, the “shotgun approach” provides an excellent method of quickly establishing relationships with foundations.

“But,” you might say, “I’ve sent out fifteen proposals. Every single one fit within the foundation’s guidelines. And every single one was declined.” Is this the letter that you received?

Thank you for your proposal to the Blankety Blank Foundation seeking support towards finding practical solutions to….. avoid human transmission at the beginning stage of a pandemic. We appreciated the opportunity to become acquainted with your organization.

Unfortunately, it is not a good fit with our philanthropic priorities and therefore, we are not in a position to support your request. Our declination in no way diminishes our recognition of the project.

Although we are not in a position to offer our financial support, please accept our best wishes for success with your worthwhile mission.

We’ve all been there.  Join the club.

What you need to remember is that that rejection is merely an opportunity. You never want to take that declined proposal and pop it in the file with the rest. No no NO! Put it in writing in your organization’s procedures that every single declined grant proposal goes through these steps prior to filing:

Follow up –

Either phone the foundation or check the website for a program officer’s name.

Call with these specific questions:

  1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
  2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle? (Note the date and REAPPLY)
  3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach?  (You might be surprised at how many grants I have won with that one simple tactic!)

Your final step should be a gracious letter to the foundation, thanking them for their time and their thorough review of your proposal.

Remember to be organized, thorough & consistent, and always persistent!

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