Let’s Keep Cultivation Simple
Monday, May 18, 2020
Posted by: Keri McDonald, M.P.Aff.
I have been a fundraiser in some capacity for most of my 19-year career. In many of the roles I’ve served in, fundraising or grant writing was not part of my job description. And, I wasn’t always excited about fundraising, particularly when it came to that daunting task of talking to donors. Over the years, I have gained some key insights that turned my formerly cloudy disposition to a sunny one—donors and even foundations are people too! And, just as in all healthy relationships, those that we cultivate with our donors must be a give-and-take, two-way street approach. Our funder relationships may not look the same as those we have with our best friends, but they should always be mutually beneficial.
Cultivation, or friend-raising, as I often refer to it, starts with a proper introduction. I begin with a short and succinct email to a program officer or foundation executive, usually two or three sentences will do the trick, to tell the them how the work of my organization aligns with the funding priorities of the foundation. This lays the groundwork for a mutually beneficial approach—you are giving the funder an opportunity to support an invaluable service targeted towards a priority that they are interested in funding. I typically end the email asking the funder if they would consider an application from us in their next review cycle. Approximately half of these emails don’t get an initial response, but when I pick up the phone about a week after I’ve sent them, I find that the program officer has usually seen my email, and I can offer it as a reference or starting point to engage. Ideally, I would love to bring the program officer in for a meeting to see our organization’s work in action. But often they are inundated with similar requests. Sharing a quick story during your call that you know will resonate with the funder’s goals makes a difference. This simple act of connection via email or phone often has the same impact as having a contact who knows someone at the foundation—it’s a demonstration that you’ve done your homework; and, many times, it can help to bring your application to the top of the stack.
Once you have received the award, continue the simplistic approach. Ask the funder how often they want to receive communication from you and in what form. Are they interested in receiving your newsletter, or invitations to your events? Would they like to visit the program from time to time? With COVID-19 impacting the way many organizations do business, grant fundraisers can use this time to reach out to existing donors. Give them an email update on how you’re pivoting to meet the needs of your clients. Or, you can invite them to your next virtual event. Regular connections with funders that align with their needs and interests foster long-term relationships. It all starts with allowing them to set the terms. You can alleviate some of the mystery if you think of a foundation as an old friend. You may not see them regularly but staying in touch helps you to pick up where you left off and ultimately results in more funding for your organization.
What can you learn from your current funders?
Keri McDonald is a Jane of All Trades when it comes to nonprofit and public sector organizations. She has served in a number of diverse roles from case worker, to communications manager, to grants manager, to board member. This broad experience and ability to see through the eyes of all constituents helped her to establish Keri McDonald Consulting, where she specializes in communications and grant writing.
08. Funder Relationships