A Few Ideas for Expanding Grant Funding
Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Think about this quote for a minute and ask yourself, does this apply to the way you approach foundations for grants?
It's a common practice among development professionals to collect lists of local, regional and national foundations and send out large numbers of requests for funding. Sometimes, there's no thoughtful approach, no building of bonds and common goals in this method. This tactic has a certain high level of "insanity" inherent in it. When you think about it, you'll probably agree that it's not the best formula for success. I'll be honest and admit that I've done this! From time to time, I've even succeeded at it, but I wasn't really building the bridge to sustained support or lasting relationships. I was also perplexed by those foundations that didn't accept new proposals because their funding obligations were pre-selected.
Sound familiar? In reality, this same approach may be how some of us seek funding from wealthy and well-known philanthropists as well.
I recently read an article on the Association of Fundraising Professionals website that I wish had been written 20 years ago, and I wanted to share it with you. "What to Do When Foundations Have Walled Themselves Off From Your Organization," by Tony Poderis, provides thoughtful and respectful steps to approach and invite foundations to consider learning and becoming involved with your organization. His suggestions also are appropriate when approaching "movers and shakers" within your community.
Instead of traveling down the well-worn path of faceless submissions, consider incorporating a few of his ideas into your grant funding planning and activity. Here are two of them:
- Use direct leverage of key stakeholder associations. Show your list of foundations and the names of their staff and board members to your staff and board members to see if they have any connections that help you gain a hearing for or at least provide an awareness of your organization. The result may yield the potential for developing a closer organizational relationship.
- Approach in a respectful way. If you have no known connections, consider sending a simple one-page letter asking for clarification on the specifics of to whom and to what purpose they will make grants. Read Tony's suggested language for your letter, and think about how you could also adapt it for an individual rather than a foundation. He provides several nice examples that may open a dialog versus getting "slapped in the face."
Getting in the door to community funders isn't always easy, but introducing yourself to someone new never is. The more you reach out to acquaint others with your organization, the easier it will become and the better you'll be at it. In the end, you're increasing the awareness of your mission, building your skill base and making new friends along the journey. A win-win-win for everyone involved.
Katherine Swank is senior consultant at Target Analytics.