There are thousands of articles, books and guides written about the art of grant fundraising, yet they all share one piece of advice in common. Contact your grantmaker before applying. Most every guide I have ever read and interview I’ve listened to has advocated for the same thing. The exact reasons why you should do this and what you should say once you have them on the other end of a phoneline tends to get a little bit fuzzy. It seems to be common knowledge that it is good practice and that you should take advantage of the opportunity if grantmakers give you the chance, but many people are unsure of exactly what they should say and why.
Well, we thought it was time to put an end to all of the confusion for good. FundsforNGOs presents our simple five step guide to why you should contact your next grant funder.
1. Often it is difficult to think of the donor – recipient relationship as just like any other, but it really is. Forget the financial side at this stage and instead realise that the best relationships are founded on mutual respect, honesty and accountability. The first reason to contact a grantfunder is to introduce yourself, and your NGO, and work to build a positive impression in your contacts mind. Even just a few minutes on the phone to provide a quick insight into your organisation’s work and that you will be submitting an application can give you that edge which will help to get your proposal to the next stage.
2. If you don’t already have a quick two minute spiel about your organisation ready to go at a moments notice then there has never been a better time to establish one. You never know when you might meet someone who can support your work and you don’t want to be left struggling for words when trying to explain exactly what it is your organisations does and why it matters. The ability to quickly and simply explain the purpose and value of your organisation is a skill that will prove to have tremendous value, help you navigate potentially difficult situations and support you to maximise opportunities that emerge in front of you.
Test out your new description of your NGO with a grantfunder to provide them with enough information to understand what you organisation does, how it does it, what problem it is trying to solve, who are it’s beneficiaries and what impact it has made to date. This will ensure that they know just enough to be able to recognise your application when it arrives and there is a chance that following your discussion they may even have been eargely awaiting it!
3. There is no reason to be shy about why you are calling, grantfunders know the game just like you do, be open, honest and take the opportunity to quickly present your organisation in the best light. Often representatives at grantmaking organisation’s love to hear about organisation’s working in similar fields to them, but often they just don’t have the time. Many foundations and similar organisations are understaffed and overworked, therefore it is important to keep the length of your conversation to a comfortable duration for both parties. Stay on point and keep your messages simple whilst paying keen attention to the tone and reactions of your contact as it is important not to overstay your welcome.
You should ideally aim for a conversation of just a couple of minutes before wishing them well and thanking them for their time. If you can leave a good impression of both you and your organisation it will provide you in great stead for developing closer and stronger relationships with the funder going forward into the future.
4. After you have taken the opportunity to share the work of your organisation it is time to take advantage of a brief window of opportunity to ask the funder a couple of questions. The questions that you choose to ask will depend on your circumstances, your knowledge and your priorities with the only right answer being what information is most valuable to you. Many people ask for a contact name for who to direct their application to or ask if there are any application forms that proposals should be completed on. Whilst these questions have their place, often they are answered in the organisation’s call for proposals.
One of the best ways of discovering new information that can help guide the writing of your proposal is to ask open questions that give the funder the chance to tell you what is important. Try to avoid questions that are directly covered in the official guidelines but instead try to find a gap in information that will provide an opportunity for the funder to speak to provide genuine insight that you wouldn’t get otherwise. A few questions that can often reveal some enlightening information are listed below.
- What type of organisation’s do you like to work with?
- What qualities do you look for in a project?
- What type of projects have proven to be the most successful?
- What do you look for and what should I avoid when writing my application?
5. Our final top tip for making the most of contacting a future funder is to listen intently and if you can take notes of everything they say. Representatives of grant making bodies have a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can apply to future funding proposals. Call for Proposal documents are often very formal and factual but sometimes lack depth, whereas representatives can often offer far greater insight into the funder, different funding priorities, organisations that they like to work with and what makes for a strong proposal. These people represent a valuable mine of knowledge that can make a real, practical difference to how you develop your projects with a particular funder in mind.
Listen closely and you will get a feel for what excites and interests the funder as well as things that they are not so interested in. Take the chance to share a few details about the projct you hope the funder you support and there is a good chance that they will be able to share with you what elements will appeal to the funder and which bits you should consider changing. This first conversation with a funder can achieve far more than just establishing a relationship, it can provide you with crucial information and insight that you can use to shape your projects and applications to give you the very best chance of success.
Do you have experiences of contacting funders? What advice can you offer? Get involved in the FundsforNGOs community and let us know in the comments.