DickersonBakker Blog

Engage Grant Funders To Be Advocates and Endorsers

“What is the trick to getting in front of grant funders?” – As a grant professional, I get this question all the time.

At last year’s Southern Regional Grant Conference, I presented for over an hour on prospect research and grant work – using MOVES management in the grant profession.  When the “Cultivation” stage came up, the presentation screeched to a halt as hands flew into the air and a part brainstorming, part therapy session exploded onto the scene.

What elicited such a strong and passionate reaction from these seasoned grant professionals?

A possibility to answer the often-unanswerable question:

“How do I engage foundations?”

They don’t have a website.

The phone number on their 990 is wrong or disconnected (more common than you think!)

Letters, LOIs, and proposals go unanswered (not even a rejection letter).

No one on our board or staff knows anyone on their board.

Other nonprofit donors/advocates have never heard of them.

Yes, despite all the research that we can do to identify a positive mission match, appropriate grant size, and similar grant recipients—for some reason, none of that matters if we can’t actually talk to them.

I have seen funders throw open the doors and roll out the red carpet for organizations who, internally, haven’t really done much work to get that invitation. And, conversely, I have seen valiant efforts from development staff, grant writers, and board members to try and capture the attention of foundations with absolutely no results.

So, I began to think, “What is the difference between these organizations?”

As a consultant, I have the privilege of “looking under the hood” of many organizations.  What I have found with several of my clients is that the work they are doing, the spirit with which they do it, and their dedication to mission is equal. They are, frankly, fabulous groups.

Yet, the level of success to opening foundation doors does not have the same parity.

Turning Grant Funders Into Advocates and Endorsers

This morning, I was responding to a client when the words I typed caused me to stop everything and write this article.  They had just asked one of their foundation funders for ideas on how to find more support for a particular project that the foundation was funding.

The director of the foundation wrote back with several suggestions, but the tone and spirit in which she wrote was striking – it was a true partnership.  We are both in this together – we both care about the project and the people that it helps. And so the foundation director was ready and willing to open her mind and heart to solve that problem of sustainability.

I was very happy for them and wrote: “Having someone on your side like her is huge. Advocates and Endorsers are essential.”

Immediately, I realized why some organizations had more success in engaging foundations than others:

They had engaged advocates and endorsers from a broad and credible audience.

In the highly competitive world of foundation funding, your organization needs well-respected and credible endorsements and connectors willing to share your story.

Why does one group get a check almost effortlessly and another spends weeks and months trying to break through the door of a foundation?

The foundation trusts and believes that the first group will accomplish its goals and steward its money wisely.  But how does the foundation know that?

Recommendations and endorsements from individuals or other foundations that indicate this is a “good grant.”

Does your foundation work include a strategy to engage funders to be advocates and endorsers? If not, you’re probably accomplishing the equivalent of leaving messages at the outdated phone number on a foundation’s 990.

Let’s talk about how to engage grant funders for your organization. Just contact us to start the conversation!

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