DickersonBakker Blog

The Key to Engaging Foundations

Results, Reputation, Advocates, and Endorsers

As a grant professional, one of the most common questions I hear is “What is the secret to getting in front of funders?”

Two years ago, at the Southern Regional Grant Conference, I presented on prospect research and grant work – specifically – using MOVES management in the grant profession. When the “Cultivation” stage was brought 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 professionals?
A possibility to answer the often unanswerable question:

“How do I engage foundations?”

  1. They don’t have a website.
  2. The phone number on their 990 is wrong or disconnected.
  3. Letters, LOIs, and proposals go unanswered.
  4. No one on our board or staff knows anyone on their board.
  5. Other donors/advocates have never heard of them.

Despite all the research that we can do to identify a positive mission match, appropriate grant size,
similar grant recipients, for some reason, none of that matters if we can’t actually talk to them. Yet, I have seen funders roll out the red carpet for organizations who, internally, haven’t really done much work to get that invitation. 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.

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?

What I have found is a series of steps that organizations need to take to ensure they are well positioned
to receive positive attention from funders:

Do what you say you are doing and prove it: Many foundation funders are savvy and
know how to do good research. Some even pay firms to do the research for them! If your website
says that you serve 1,000,000 children, you better have the data to back that up. If you don’t, funders
will move on.

Guard your reputation like a hawk
: There is nothing that drives foundations away
faster than a poor reputation or being involved in controversial activities. Remember, all foundation
funding is public record (on their 990-PF). And, while an increasing number are moving large sums to
donor advised funds, the reality is, if they have heard negative remarks about your organization,
chances are their peers have too.

Showcase your work and your reputation in as many places as you can: If you are doing good
work, then go ahead and put as much of your current information as you can on Candid, Charity
Navigator, BBB Give.org, ECFA, and so on. Maintain your information on those sites and you can be sure
that funders will find you there. The more transparent you are, the more foundations can have a
sufficient number of data points to be open to having discussions.

Work collaboratively with others: Not only do foundations dislike lone rangers but being
affiliated with larger or more experienced groups who know you and trust your work on the ground
speaks volumes to foundation decision makers. If they know, trust, and support one of your partners,
they will likely hear about you or see your name in reports in a positive light.

Solicit and use recommendations and endorsements from a broad and credible audience: In the
highly competitive world of foundation funding, your organization needs well-respected and credible
endorsements and connectors who are willing to share your story.

If your organization is doing all these things, the chances of a warm and positive reception to an initial
overture to a foundation is much more likely!

Ready to discuss funding your organization’s mission through grant funding? We can help. Schedule a free consultation today.

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