From the Mouth (or Fingertips) of Grant-Makers
Starting my professional career as a program officer for a statewide grant-maker is a slightly unusual story, one that is filled with gratitude for my mentors. Leaving grant-making for grant-seeking and eventually grant consulting, another unusual twist in the story.
There is so much about the journey that provides me with a unique perspective on relationships with grant-makers and the ways to listen to and actually hear what grant-makers have to say. Despite the perspective I gained, I did not always understand why—if numerous program officers and directors from numerous foundations were speaking publicly on a panel at a funder forum—a potential grantee would voluntarily tell me later that they hadn’t attended the session… and that was why they were phoning instead. They missed the chance to hear direct messages from multiple grant makers at one time in their own community. Or why, when the “Request for Proposals” we issued numerous times a year had both email and phone contact information and the offer to speak before submitting a proposal, potential grantees would apply without trying to reach myself or a colleague via either channel of communication. They missed the chance for a personal dialogue that could have potentially improved their competitiveness in the process.
What I’ve gained a stronger understanding of since making the change to grant consulting in 2006 is that well-intentioned, grant-seeking organizations and even the grant professionals, whose job it is to secure grants for these well-intentioned organizations, are busy—really truly busy. Therefore, they don’t always realize that they are missing the opportunity to hear directly from the grant-makers and hear information that might improve their approach for a grant maker and ultimately increase their likelihood of being funded. Being busy serving your constituents and focusing on the impact created in the community, it can feel daunting to find time to go to events where grant-makers are. And frankly, given the changes in our technological tools, frequent isn’t an option.
The good news is that now you can often find amazing messages directly from grant-makers without leaving your own office. Blogs were not all the rage when I was a program officer (yes, I’m dating myself!). Facebook didn’t even exist yet as a mechanism for grant makers to share their grantee success stories, newsletters or new blog posts.
Yet things have changed. There are now countless ways to hear “directly” from the mouth of the grant-makers from the comfort of your own desk chair or smartphone while on the train home. Below are three examples from the past few years of grant-makers speaking directly to grantees in a forward way via online nonprofit news channels and blogs that provide valuable insight—not just into the theories and beliefs of that ONE grant-maker, but also gives insight into what other grant-makers are thinking and doing as they each try to achieve their mission as well. Reading these pieces will never replace your own personal outreach, but provide an important understanding of a grant maker’s theories and beliefs before you pick up the phone or start to type an email during pre-award or post-award communication.
1. Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan: “The View From the Other Side” was written in September 2016 by Ruth Rashid Kaleniecki and published on the foundation’s blog after transitioning from the nonprofit and grant-seeking side to the grant-maker side. A wonderful open letter that gives grantees a perspective about how both the grant-seeking and grant-making side have personality and interpretation involved and are both a bit of art and a bit of science.
2. Oishei Foundation: “Reluctant Dancers” is an open dialogue about the power imbalance that is inherent in the grant-seeking and grant-maker relationship. If you read the pieces in their entirety, you get a significant insight into views of philanthropy as well as a better understanding of the dialogues happening within the Oishei Foundation at the time the pieces were written.
3. Northern New York Community Foundation: “The Value of ‘Next-Level’ Gratitude” by Max DelSignore, assistant director wrote this guest post in April 2017. The piece spoke openly about how it feels to be on the receiving end of interactions from potential, current or past grantees. The idea that “gratitude has no boundaries. As a grantee, extending a ‘thank you’ beyond the report can carry tremendous value with a funder.” Is a mess that we preach as a best practice to those entering the field of grant-seeking, but is regardless, often set aside due to other priorities and conflicting demands.
Today we have the advantage of having multiple channels of communication available not only to ourselves and our grant-seeking organizations, but to the grant-makers we are receiving or want to receive funding from. Watching and listening for where the grant-makers are sharing their perspective and insight is a critical part of our work towards cultivating relationships with grant-makers.
What other examples have you seen in your community or nationally of grant-makers sharing messages directly with grant-makers? Please share them with us in the comments section below.
Diane H. Leonard, GPC, provides support to grant-seeking organizations throughout the country with her team at DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC. She has personally secured more than $34 million to date in competitive grant funds for clients. She founded the firm in order to focus on increasing nonprofit capacity related to grant seeking and grant management. She is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association serving on both their Social Media Committee and Grant News Committee. She is an “approved trainer” through the Grant Professionals Association and Grant Professional Certified (GPC) through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute.