By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
A strong nonprofit grant-writing strategy could include dozens or even hundreds of grant applications over the course of a year. That’s just how it goes. Your organization needs funding from somewhere for any number of benevolent activities. Your organization needs funding to exist.
But on the road to grant success, as proposal after proposal slides down the conveyor belt, it’s easy to lose the human touch. Too many nonprofits grab the contract and the money and run without so much as a thank you. Sure, great nonprofits have every intention of putting the funds to good use, exactly as stated in the proposal. You also may have a flawless track record for filing follow-up reports on time.
But despite aligning missions, following your proposal to a T and completing reports, you find grantors don’t often continue or repeat their support. Did you express gratitude? A grant is a gift — however tied to stipulations and deliverables — and should be treated with extreme appreciation. Busy schedules can still make time for extreme appreciation. After all, that money may allow you to continue initiatives with positive community impact, build new programs and expand old ones, or maybe even hire additional staff.
So often, the nonprofit world is an exercise in relationship building. Here are a few ways to build those relationships and invite funders to partner in your nonprofit’s success.
Truth be told, a nonprofit client and I are soon to begin an introduction campaign to funders in a new area. Here’s where the fun begins.
If you have a solid grant strategy, you’re continually on the lookout for relevant funding opportunities. But the opening of an application process doesn’t have to be the first time a funder hears from you.
Write an email. Pen a letter. Pick up the phone. Open a dialog with the foundation’s president. Chew over a potential project with one of their grant officers. Grantors may be busy themselves, but they appreciate a chance to discuss avenues for impact. They can learn from you, and you can learn from them. They’ll likely remember you when it comes time to submit a proposal. (Or they may like your idea so much they open a special process for you to work through a grant initiative together.)
Grant seekers often forget that funders exist to do as their name implies: fund worthy endeavors. (Related reading: Out With It! Don’t Dance Around Your Grant Ask.) Sure, your correspondence may go unopened. Sure, they may not have time for you. But you only need the door to open once.
Write a Thank You Note
Once funded, nonprofits often get busy putting that money to work. But don’t get too busy to show your appreciation. Make time to pen a nice note thanking the grantor for their generosity. And I don’t mean only expressing thanks in the same email in which you return the scanned signed contract.
Write a thank you note on a nice card. Write a brief letter on your organization’s letterhead. Whatever the format, it’s good form to express gratitude.
Invite Funders to Participate
Perhaps your grant project involves a community event or the unveiling of a new facility. What better way to build a relationship than to work and enjoy the success side by side? Like your nonprofit, the grantor shares your zeal for improving communities and helping people in need.
Pick up the phone or send some correspondence inviting the funder to:
- Visit your offices
- Tour your new facility
- Attend your community event
- Meet your new staff member
- Spread the word
Heck, write the funder’s invitation into the grant if you have room to spare. Even if they can’t attend, they’ll appreciate the kind gesture. It keeps them in the loop and allows them to see their charity in action.
Send Press Coverage
Speaking of charity in action, press coverage is proof positive their money was well spent. If the local newspaper publishes your press release or a news station runs a segment on your initiative, send a link to the grantmaker.
Some grantmakers will send media packets specifying their wishes for coverage. Oftentimes, they have branded or copyrighted messaging that must be included in any public mention of their grant involvement. Much like the grant process, follow the funder’s directions. It could make a big difference in seeking ongoing support. And failing to do so may result in their suspending or terminating your funding.
Master the public image, and they’ll likely join the celebration of your success, even if they can’t express it personally.
Illustrate Human Impact
Your grant initiative aims for a positive human impact. Whether you’re providing a service or expanding your charitable capacity, the grant funding will help people in some way. Those people have faces, names and stories.
Give the people a voice. Express how the funder’s investment improved lives or bettered the community. Stories can be told in any number of interesting and creative ways:
- Written testimonials
- Video interviews
- A picture’s worth a thousand words
- Graphs, charts and financial figures
If you’re part of the grant writing process, you’re a storyteller. Don’t just wait until grant reports come due to tell your organization’s story. You’ll gather and build valuable partnerships and friendships along the way.
And if you don’t have the time or you need help, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced grant professional to foster those relationships.