Building Grantmaker Relationships in a Non-Relationship Society
Building a good relationship with funders is as important today as it has always been, but how do you build any sort of camaraderie if phone and face-to-face contact seem to be “out” and text and email are “in”? The answer, I believe, is simply learning how to communicate well, whether you are using text or email, submitting online letters of inquiry or actually talking with someone on the phone. (But there are new tricks to consider, so read on!)
There are three predominant issues to keep in mind when communicating with a potential grantmaker:
- Be trustworthy and clear in all of your communications.
- Embed each and every message with value.
- Understand the person to whom you’re speaking (when possible).
There are a number of ways to build trust with someone whom you’ve never met. I strongly believe the first is to be clear and open in all of your communications. Keep those initial email inquiries short, with only one or two points of clarification. Always let the grantmaker know that you’ve done your homework, so they aren’t immediately tossing out their automated response. For example, when you email a grantmaker for the first time, be very clear in your approach. Your email might read:
I have read through your application guidelines, your 2018 annual report and reviewed your giving program descriptions on your website. I have two very specific questions that I am hoping you can answer, so I can determine if the proposal we would like to submit truly reflects your funding goals for this year.
You then list your two questions, which must not have been answered in any of their published materials, that are relevant to determining if your organization would be a good fit for their funding priorities.
Your email inquiry demonstrates that you have done your research, you understand their need to meet their own objectives and you do not want to waste their time, or your time, submitting a request that won’t further their own mission.
The idea is to keep the communication brief and meaningful.
Each communication you have with the grantmaker, especially early on when you are just building the relationship, should contain a little spice. Something that makes the reader raise their eyebrows and go, “Hmmm, I didn’t know that.” If you consistently add value to those early communications, you will find that the person receiving the text or email or taking that phone call is eager to talk with you, because they have learned that they will walk away with a new piece of information. In short: You are interesting.
Now, obviously you can’t do this for every single communication, especially once you’re working with the program officer to submit a request; but in your initial contacts, you most certainly can use this technique. Let’s say your organization deals with domestic violence. You might add something like this to your email conversation with the grantmaker:
Today, the U.N.’s women agency issued a new report, “Families in a Changing World,” linking culture and economy to the ongoing threat of domestic violence across the globe. The work we do, though focused only on our city, reflects those broader findings. The recommendations presented in this report truly reflect our own objectives for the coming year.
The U.N. report, having just been released, is probably news to the funder, and they will likely appreciate the heads up.
Know Your Audience
Understanding whom you’re communicating with — whether the president of a small family trust or the program officer at a large regional foundation — can be key to how you communicate. Even though you may not know a lot about this individual person, you can pick up clues from the way they respond to your initial inquiry. Noticing that they are abbreviating information (a trait demonstrated by Millennials) or writing words in their entirety (a solid trait of Baby Boomers) can help you determine how best to communicate with them.
For example, if you are working with a Millennial, you should know that many seem to have an aversion to phone conversations, whereas Baby Boomers are all about the phone. According to an article published in Forbes several years ago, because Millennials grew up with “the gradual introduction of instant messaging, texting, email and other forms of written communication,” they find this method of communication much more comfortable. Why? Because it provides them with the ability to think through what they are going to say. They feel as if email and text are a much more precise form of communication than a phone conversation.
Informality at all levels is a keystone of the Millennial generation. All forms of communication have a friendlier, more familiar tone to them, which can trigger the wrong message. In days past, if a program officer at a foundation were considered “friendly,” then you felt your organization had a good chance at securing an award. Not so today.
Be aware that it is important to communicate along generational lines. Remember that Millennials are now the majority of the workforce, so adjust your communication style accordingly. Millennials may be comfortable with informality, but the older generation still looks for more formal language and complete sentences!
Once last piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to suggest a virtual site visit. You may find that this intrigues the grantmaker and allows you to show them, in real time, the type of work you’re doing. It can be a great way to build their interest in your work and strengthen your relationship with grantmakers.
The bottom line: You and the grantmaker should decide on the best way to communicate with one another, and then stick with it. Be consistent in both what you say and how you deliver your messages. And remember all communications — whether by text, email, phone or face-to-face — should be meaningful and significant.
If your nonprofit is looking to find new funder opportunities, build strong grant programs, write powerful proposals and win awards to fund your mission, from now until Aug. 15, you can sign up for a one-year GrantStation Membership subscription for $169.
For more information, watch this virtual tour of GrantStation.
Cynthia Adams has been dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations identify and secure the funding they need to do their good work for well over 40 years.
Cynthia founded GrantStation because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field.
Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating opportunities for all nonprofit organizations, regardless of size or geographic location, to secure grant support.
Cynthia is founder and CEO of GrantStation.