In this webinar, Diane H. Leonard, GPC will give you new ideas on how to enhance grantmaker relationships in a way that aligns with your organization’s capacity and voice.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Diane, is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Diane: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the east coast. Good morning, if you’re on the west coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar “10 Ways to Improve Relationships with Your Grantmakers.”

My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of quick housekeeping items. We want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording a little later on this afternoon. I’ll email that to along with the slides. If you don’t already have the slides . . . you should have them, but if case you don’t have them yet, just be on the lookout. I’ll get that out about an hour after we finish here today. So if you get interrupted or want to review the content, don’t worry, you’ll be able to review all that good stuff.

Most importantly, though, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time for Q&A at the end. So don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. Love to see your questions and comments along the way. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you’d rather ask questions there.

And if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better. So if you start to have any troubles or it starts to sound weird or anything, try dialing in by phone if that’s comfortable for you, if you don’t mind doing that. There’s a phone number that you can use in the confirmation email that you got from ReadyTalk when you registered. Should have been a reminder you email an hour or so ago, too. So should be able to find that. Give that a try before you totally toss your computer out the window.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks. We love doing these webinars. We do them just about every week. In fact, in January, we’re doing two a week because we love all of you and want to help you and spread the knowledge.

But what we are most known for is our donor management software. So if you are interested in that, just kind of curious about what we have to offer, check out our website. You can even watch a quick recorded demonstration of the product. It’ll take you on a little walkthrough and show you what Bloomerang can do.

That’s kind of good first step for folks who are curious about us, so check that out. Don’t do that right now because you all are in for a real treat over the next hour or so.

One of my buddies is joining us from beautiful Watertown, New York. Upstate, my ancestral homeland, one of a million reasons why Diane is one of my favorite people ever.

Diane, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Diane: Hey, I’m fantastic. Caffeinated and ready to go.

Steven: Yes! This is awesome. I’m so excited to have you. I got to see you a few months ago the Storytelling Conference in San Diego. And Diane is one of my go-tos for grants. She’s super smart. She’s been a grantmaker, which is kind of what I’m always looking for in my webinar guests, that they’ve actually done the things they’re going to give advice about. And she’s got the numbers to prove it and millions of dollars, tens of thousands of nonprofits helped, and you’re going to see all that knowledge come out over the next hour or so.

I won’t take any more time away from you, Diane, so the floor is yours to tell us all about improving those grantmaker relationships. So take it away, my friend.

Diane: Awesome. Thanks so much, Steven. Thanks, Bloomerang, for hosting these fantastic webinars. And as Steven said, I’m keeping an eye on the chat box too. So we’re going to have a formal Q&A at the end, but if you’ve got something that’s really pressing for you, I’ll be keeping an eye on. I’ll do my best to help integrate those questions into my conversation.

And so, in almost Dave Letterman style, we’ll be talking about 10 Ways to Improve Relationships with Your Grantmaker.

And I wanted to put up my bio slide quickly because I want to highlight what Steven said. So I actually started my career as a grantmaker. And I didn’t get the memo that once you are a grantmaker, maybe you stay there forever and retire there. I wanted to help all nonprofits feel more confident in their grant-seeking efforts, which is why I’m doing the work I do now.

But what I’m going to share with you today, these 10 tips, I lived this on the other side. And so the different ideas for interaction, do they meet and work for all grantmakers? Well, no, because they have different preferences, but they’re as universal as I could make them.

So I’ve put these tips into a few different buckets. You want to think about who your networks and your connections are, how that helps you talk to foundations, helps you talk to state agencies, federal governments. I mean, grants at all levels are really relationship-based.

So then we want to think about how we express our gratitude and what that means. Some folks in our field actually call it grantitude. I know, punny and funny, right?

We want to think about how it is we communicate to our grantmakers how we help them stay informed. And big picture, what does this communication look like?

So that’s the plan for our time together today.

So if we’re contemplating who we know, who are our stakeholders, how do we connect to the grantmakers . . . As we were waiting to get started, I asked who was full-time, part-time into grants. And I see a number of you are doing grants full time, but wow, it felt like more than half were saying, “It could almost be a full-time job,” but maybe you’re at 50%, maybe 65%. It wasn’t everything you do.

And so, if you think about not “just” writing grants, but the fact that we’re also worried about research, and we’re worried about reporting, and we’re worried about relationships, is anyone else feeling overwhelmed and wondering, “How do you get it all done?”

Well, these first few tips are really focusing on how do you engage your colleagues? How do you engage your board? How do you engage your stakeholders in relationship development? Because it should not be only on the grants professionals to develop and manage relationships. This is really an organization-wide thing.

Okay, but maybe that idea is new to your organization. How do we engage our colleagues in figuring out who we’re trying to build relationships with?

So think about a big foundation. Maybe it feels like sort of the pie in the sky idea, the one that everyone wants. Maybe it’s a huge name like Hearst or, dare I say, the Bill Gates Foundation, or Kellogg, or maybe it’s just the biggest funder in your own community, like in Western New York, The Oishei Foundation, huge foundations. When you’ve got those foundations that you want to go after, you think you’re a good fit, but you don’t have a relationship with, how do you find some inroad?

Well, you could ask at a board meeting, maybe ask at the leadership team meeting, “Hey, does anyone know someone at the Fill-in-the-Blank Foundation?” In this case, we’ll say The Hearst Foundation. Until you ask that question of your really engaged, well-intentioned colleagues and you get back blank stares.

So the first tip is don’t just ask the question verbally or via email or in an agenda. Instead, here you go. Ready? Super fancy template. We call it the Foundation Relationship Questionnaire, or if you’re doing more than foundations, Grantmaker Relationship Questionnaire.

You fill out this form with the grantmaker’s name and the list of board or staff members you’re trying to find a connection to. You circulate this basic form among your stakeholders, among leadership, and boards to find out, “Do you know anyone on this list?”

You are significantly more likely to get some sort of response by using this basic questionnaire than if you ask the simple question, “Do you know someone at Fill-in-the-Blank Grantmaker Name?”

By doing this, now you can compare who knows whom and who might be the best connection. Can you imagine if you actually get maybe two or three forms back where someone knows someone maybe through rotary, maybe from Girl Scouts, maybe from church? Who knows where they’re connected, right?

What you can do then is assign . . . just like you might with a major donor or in a campaign situation, you can assign a “board buddy.” “I’d like for you to be one of our advocates with this grantmaker.” It’s not that we’re asking them to write a grant. We’re not asking them to do a lot of heavy lifting. But rather, this is going to be a point of contact, a way in which maybe you could get an introduction or have some additional conversations. So that first tip, it’s about using the Grantmaker Relationship Questionnaire.

And I encourage you, you’re going to have these slides . . . actually, I think you already do. And you can go back to that particular slide and create your own. Put it in Google Docs. Use it every time. Put it in Word form on Dropbox, whatever. But go ahead and start to use exactly what I put on that screen and make it your own document to use as a template.

All right. What’s our next tip? Well, if we’re sticking to this idea of our shared networks and how we use them to build relationships, our second tip is about preparing our board members.

We want our board members to be prepared for an interaction with a grantmaker. Not all board members feel comfortable in the solicitation space if we were thinking about individual or major donors. Some love it. Some not so much.

Same thing when it comes to grants. Not all board members understand the grant-seeking process. They might not understand what it is that you’re asking of them.

So if you’re thinking about where your board members might be that they would interact with a potential grantmaker, you want to help prepare them with what the conversation could look like. It would be great if a board member knew what grantmakers or what names they were looking for at an event and could then have just a nice conversation, one that talked about the event, one that talked about impact stories. Not one that is focused on, “I understand your grant-seeking process is going to open a new request for proposal in month. You know, I think we’ve got an idea we’d like to put forward.”

We’re not trying to get into that level of conversation. We’re not expecting that of our board members in terms of conversations with grantmakers. Rather, what we want is to prepare our board members to know, when they’re at events, who it is that you’re trying to have them speak with so that they can give a warm handshake, so that they can have a polite conversation about the event that they’re at, and look to make an introduction to a key staff member, be it your CEO, or ED, or maybe you as the grant professional.

Can we get this introduction? Can we get this warm handshake from a board member to a grantmaker so that you now have less of a cold call, less of a cold outreach, when you go to connect with a grantmaker? That’s our ultimate goal.

Now, that’s looking at it from the board member’s frame of reference. What about the rest of our stakeholders? What about the rest of your colleagues, your leadership, and even your direct hands-on program staff, whatever that looks like for your organization? They are everywhere, right? They’re going to conferences. They’re going to collaborative meetings. They are interacting with a variety of stakeholders, and often interacting with grantmakers without even knowing it.

So here’s the opportunity to step back and think about where your colleagues are interacting in a way that might put them in the path or in the same room as a grantmaker. So maybe it’s, like I said, at those meetings. Maybe it’s at the conferences.

What is the goal in these interactions? It’s, again, to have some pleasant exchanges, not for your stakeholders, your colleagues, to feel pressure to know all the details about an application process, about the deadline, about when they might be coming to you, about your report. Nope, it’s not about that. It’s about having a pleasant and relevant exchange appropriate to the setting so that there can now be a follow-up, another introduction to you, where you can do the more formal talking points.

So the goal in these interactions is to have some sort of face-to-face conversation that would help a grantmaker understand when our grant professional, when our Director of Foundation Relations, or whatever the title reaches out, they understand the framing of that outreach. It’s a colleague of theirs that they work with in a collaborative setting or that they talked with at a conference.

A great example, we were working with an organization that was attending really large national conference for the first time. And so, as they were preparing, they were looking at their schedule. They were looking at their sessions. I asked them during the meeting, “Well, in terms of attendees and presenters, have you looked for where the grantmakers might be?” Big national conference, they were sure to have some pretty big foundations and some federal funders on the scene.

And they said, “No, we haven’t. Why? Should we?” And I said, “Yes, you have three staff people that you’re paying to have go to this conference. They should be aware of who they’re looking to naturally interact with.” Not track down through the conference hall, right? But maybe naturally interact with so that they could have a conversation about the session that they were just in together or about the panelist that they just listened to.

So have some of those natural interactions appropriate for the event, and then to say, “We are so excited about the work you’re doing. I would love for our grant professional to have a chance to talk with you. Would it be okay for us to follow up and schedule a call, or would it be okay for us to follow up via email?”

That will help them give you their preference. Do they like phone? Do they like email? Where is it that they like to engage?

As we move on to our next section of tips, this time, we’re thinking about gratitude.

So here’s a funny thing about all these tips. Give me a soapbox and I could talk about each and every one of these and give examples for, well, a whole hour if you let me. So we’re pretty high level on these tips. If you have questions afterwards, I know Steven gave you the Bloomerang handle. I’m on Twitter all the time. I’m happy to answer questions there, or we’ll wrap up with some of them later on too.

And this section here, you might go, “Expressing gratitude? We say thank you, right?” Well, nonprofits are really good at the formal IRS letter that’s required to go back to the grantmakers. But in the midst of all the other things that happen, the other deadlines, the required report, sometimes gratitude falls by the wayside. And it’s not that we’re not grateful for the funding partnership we have with the grantmaker, but there are so many transactional things happening that gratitude does become sort of the extra thing that we have to make time for.

What would we think about in terms of non-transactional expressions of gratitude?

So a transactional expression of gratitude would be that IRS letter, the formal report, the things that are required either by law or by their grant agreement. But what are some of the ways specific to your organization and your personality, your organizational culture, that you can say thank you to the grantmakers outside of those formal interactions?

Handwritten notes always go a long way in any professional situation, right? Even if you have poor handwriting like me, it goes a long way to a colleague, to another professional, to know that you took the time to write a note. My gosh, you even found a stamp instead of sending an email. These are big deals.

These actually get circulated among grantmaker offices because they’re so different than their daily communications. So never pass up the opportunity for a handwritten note.

Think about the work that’s being done in your organizations, especially those grant-funded work. Is there a way that there is something visual? In some youth-serving programs, artwork is pretty common as an output of activities. And so that’s something that could be framed or turned into notecards shared with the grantmaker.

We worked with Alzheimer’s Association’s adult day program. They got grant money to bring in all sorts of extra activities into that program, including an art therapist. So art from that program was a great way to show gratitude towards the grantmaker.

Well, maybe it’s not that there’s something visual, but maybe combining these ideas: who you are serving and the handwritten idea. Maybe you’re getting grants for students that are non-traditional, going back to school, working to further their careers. Could you have those individuals write notes and share them with grantmakers?

These are just a few ideas to help get you started. You want to think outside of the box. What can you do that is not simply transactional?

And if you feel like this part here, you’ve got this mastered, and you’re like, “We’re really good. We send at least one handwritten note a year or something different,” then I want to up the ante for you. How can you interact face-to-face with the grantmakers then?

Maybe they are not requiring site visits as part of the application, but are you inviting them into your space? It doesn’t have to be that you invite them in one-on-one. That’s great if you have that capacity, but that’s not always feasible.

What if, instead, you hold an annual open house to which you invite all of your grantmakers? Do they all attend? No, probably almost definitely not. What if you have it each year? Do they all attend every year? Eh, maybe, maybe not. But having some attend, that’s a great way to use your staff capacity in a meaningful way, because you’re seeing multiple grantmakers at one time. It’s actually helpful for grantmakers to see other funders engaged and attending. That can be a really nice thing for them to see that you’re not dependent on their grant money.

And most importantly, they’re seeing your work in action, right? You don’t want to bring them into a blank space, unless they’re paying for a new building. They want to see how their money’s being used.

So maybe it’s that they are all supporting an environmental conference. They don’t want to come to your office when you’re preparing for the conference. You want to have them at the conference. Or they don’t want to come to the after-school tutoring program early on a weekday morning. They want to come when they have permission to see the program in action. So get creative.

We once had a group say, “Well, we’re a small staff. Lots of great grantmaker relationships, but we’re too small of a staff. And so, instead of even thinking about doing it annually, we do it bi-annually, because we know we’ve got pretty much the same list of grantmakers every year and we want them to get to see the work, but we don’t think they’ll show up every year and that’s just too much for our capacity.”

To which I say, “Hey, that’s a great adaptation of the idea. You’re still offering a very important non-transactional way for your grantmakers to see you and for you to express thank-yous and gratitude for their support.”

Now, a question just came in from Jeff, which is really important. He asks if it’s okay to send a handwritten note on the IRS charitable donation letter, or should it be separate.

So certainly, do some leaders sign on the bottom to say, “Hey, thanks,” in their own penmanship on that letter? That absolutely shows them that someone in leadership is touching the letter, and that’s a great, quick way to say thank you. But I really challenge you to say, “Sure, continue to do that, but outside of the required letter that you had to do, how could you offer a handwritten expression of gratitude?”

So our next tip. Here we are talking about grantmakers and that they have funded you. How many of you ever received a rejection?

You don’t have to put a wire in, in the question box for me because my hand is up. If you’ve been in the field for more than just a few days, a few weeks, you’ve had time to submit multiple proposals.

Unfortunately, rejection is a part of our work as grant professionals. Because even when we do our best work, our best writing, we can’t control the relationships that other applicants had with a grantmaker. We can’t control the strengths of the other applicant’s actual work. And so we may get a rejection letter.

And it may look something like this generic Dear John letter. You know, the kind that says, “Thanks so much for your application. We are really excited and kudos for the work that you’re doing, but we got more great applications then we had money available.”

Ugh. That was always like the worst thing that I had to write when I was a grantmaker, right? Those were my least favorite days on staff because I meant it and the board meant it. There were always so many great programs proposed, but there was only so much money. And unless you were going to get the board to increase the percent of the endowment that could be spent, well, it was what it was.

So you’d send out all those letters and what would you get back? Nothing. Really nothing. It was very rare that someone would call and ask for feedback.

Now, I know that enough grant professionals have been on the soapbox and heard this soapbox, that you should ask for feedback when you get rejected. You’re probably doing that on your own right now. But here’s the real challenge. When you get a rejection, do you say thank you to the grantmaker for their time reviewing the proposal before you ask for feedback? It’s one thing to follow the best practice to ask for feedback. But do you actually ask for feedback?

So maybe you get a rejection email. Before you ask if there’s any feedback available, make sure that you say, “Thank you so much for your time spent reviewing our proposal.”

If you received a rejection letter, maybe you choose to write a letter back. Make sure that you express your gratitude.

If it’s a grantmaker that you’ve gotten funding from before and you’re pretty surprised that you got rejected, maybe you want to try a handwritten note, because it was already a personal relationship. It doesn’t need to be as formal. Let them know that this is personal to you, and therefore it should be personal to them.

This one, you might go, “Wait a second. I should be saying thank you. What if I don’t . . . they’re not going to give me feedback. I know they won’t. They say they won’t. Should I still say thank you for their review and their time?” Absolutely.

This is something in terms of the expression of gratitude for the review that happens so infrequently for grantmakers. They’ll be pleasantly surprised. Does it change the decision? Of course not. They’ve already made the decision. Does it guarantee you funding in the next round? Nope, absolutely not. Is it something that builds relationships and builds goodwill? Yes, you are right it does.

So does it take an extra minute out of your process overall if you process a rejection? Unfortunately, yes. And I know how full everyone’s plates are, but I’m guessing that for many of you on the line, this is something new that you could add into your relationship development and outreach.

Our next tip. So how do we express gratitude beyond what the grantmaker funded?

So maybe your social media team, or colleague that manages all the social media, they’re used to promoting funded awards and watching for a grantmaker to tag you and say, “Hey, we funded them.” You’re perhaps used to that idea. Maybe you’re used to saying thank you to grantmakers for their award in your newsletters. Those are all good things. Don’t stop doing those.

But do you want to take it to the next level? What about promoting what the grantmaker is doing beyond the funding they’re giving you?

Think about it. Your grantmaker, foundation, state agency, federal agency, doesn’t matter, they are aligned with your work. That’s why you’re asking them for money. That’s why you’re getting their money. There is alignment.

So your stakeholders overlap. Do they know they overlap? Maybe. But they do, because they are all passionate about related causes.

So I want to show you some very specific examples of what this could look like so that you can brainstorm how you could use it in your organization. How do you express gratitude to a grantmaker for their work beyond what they have funded for you?

So the Annie E. Casey Foundation, huge foundations, only making grants if they invite you, but they are best known and used by many nonprofits not because of the money they’re giving you but because of their KIDS COUNT Data Book. So many of us rely on that as a source.

So if you are in a space that maybe Annie E. Casey Foundation isn’t going to be your grantmaker for this year, maybe you’re hoping to build towards that next year or even two years down the line, but their Data Book comes out and you know how important that is to us, you know that your major donors love seeing some of that information worked into the proposals you send them, you should share maybe what they have on Twitter. Give some context. Or you could share it on your Facebook page or in your newsletter and tag them. But that’s important information, right? So you might as well share it with your stakeholders who would benefit as well.

This example is a Facebook one. So the Northern New York Community Foundation gave props to my Northern New York people that are saying hey, they know where Watertown and the Thousand Islands are. My own Northern New York Community Foundation does this great community spirit youth giving challenge where middle school kids are writing essays, but then result in $500 grants going to the nonprofits that get picked based on the essays these kids wrote. It’s such a cool process teaching kids about philanthropy.

Well, how would that help a nonprofit in Northern New York show gratitude for what the Northern New York Community Foundation is doing? With a little bit of context and sharing information about the challenge, you can help your stakeholders understand all these cool intersections of work being done. How they’re teaching the next generation, how they’re giving grants.

Nonprofits may or may not receive the $500 that year. It really depends on what the kids write about community. But the promotion that helped all the stakeholders. Because how do community foundations get their assets? Pattern of growth, which means larger grants? Yep, more grants from the individuals in the community.

So everybody wins. The Community Foundation loves your support and that you’re promoting it. They might have a win for them because maybe some individual stakeholders give a little extra. It’s all towards the greater good of the community.

One last example related to this tip. This time, let’s head over to Metro Detroit. Now, Metro Detroit isn’t the only community that has large giving programs like Impact100. But this example comes straight out of it, and this is one of those . . . if you’ve ever played a sport, you’ve coached a sport, you have a child in a sport, we hear about “be a good sport.” What happens when you lose?

When your nonprofit is engaged in one of these public grant processes, any of them that have the voting where it’s public, who the finalists are, and who’s voting, you want to be a good sport. So if you can congratulate . . . and this has to be, obviously, thoughtful and it has to really come from the heart, right? But if it makes sense for your organization to publicly say congratulations to the winner, by all means.

One, you should probably be really proud of what this organization has accomplished. They made it through these pretty competitive processes, right? But also, this is showing the grantmaker, especially if it’s a giving circle, how much you support the process. Sure, did you want the money? Of course, but overall, you’re supportive of the way in which they’re engaging in the community.

All right. Here we are. We’re still going. We still have Tips 7 through 10 to go. Now, we’re going to switch gears and think about how we as grant professionals and nonprofits help ensure that we are the grantmaker’s primary source for information. This goes back to the idea of not limiting our interactions to things that are transactional.

So maybe you’re wondering why is there a picture of ATMs on the screen. All right. Another Northern New York reference. My good friend and colleague Max DelSignore wrote a great blog post for me a few years ago because we always talk about gratitude. It’s like our favorite thing to talk about over coffee. What are they seeing? How are grantees interacting?

And this very basic line was one of the quotes that Max gave, that gratitude has no boundaries. Extending a “thank you” beyond the report can carry tremendous value as a funder.

Now, the last time that Max and I had this conversation, we actually went more down the path of . . . “Don’t treat your funder like an ATM” was another one of his quotes from that piece and what that really means.

I gave you some examples for how you interact, how you can show gratitude, how you can be grateful for their work beyond their funding of you. But what about how it is that you communicate to your grantmaker about other things? How is it that you engage them in your work? Are they really your funding partner, or is it more like going to the ATM?

Last night, dropped my daughter off at dance, turned right, turned left into the bank, because somebody had taken my last $20 out of the wallet and I knew that I was going to need some money for something I’m headed to tomorrow. So I go through the ATM, put the card in, pick what I need, out comes the money, new $20 goes in the wallet. All right. Good. I’m prepared.

How does the grantmaker feel like an ATM? We’ve spent the money. The next deadline is coming up. All right. Time to get started and submit that application on time, right? These very transactional interactions that are based on their giving process based on their review timeline. We don’t want to leave those grantmakers feeling like an ATM. We want them to feel like our partner.

So a few ways that we could engage. What if something really awesome happens outside of your reporting timeline? Fill in the blank of what “really awesome” means to you.

Maybe you secured a really fantastic match grant. Maybe the evaluation results show that you are heads and shoulders above where you thought you would be on outcomes. Maybe your programming is so popular that you are at capacity every single day. Why not phone or email to tell them how amazing things are right now and say, “Thanks for being a part of this”? Sure, you’re going to tell them in the formal report, but why make them wait?

What about getting a piece in a magazine or a newspaper of any size? If you’re funded work has ended up being promoted or publicized somewhere, go old school. Cut out a copy and send it to the grantmaker with a handwritten note.

I get it. It takes an extra minute, right? But now you’re mixing a few different ideas. You’re giving them an update about your work, and hey, you’re throwing in a handwritten note. Everybody’s happy.

Maybe you don’t have updates that you want to share, but you know what another really great way is to engage grantmakers? If you have a legitimate reason that you would like their input, you should ask.

Maybe you’re looking for some suggestions of grantmakers that are in their circle that might also be interested in funding your work. They know what a good partner you are. Are there any introductions that they would be willing to make?

Maybe you’re about to have a strategic planning meeting and you would love it if they were one of the surveys or one of the interviews that your strategic planning consultant took care of. Maybe they could be a part of that process in that way.

If any of you are familiar with Vu Le from the blog Nonprofit AF, he also is a co-author to a book called “Unicorns Unite.” In “Unicorns Unite,” there’s an entire section at the back of the book that talks about EPIC partnerships with grantmakers. And EPIC actually is an acronym. Of course, I can’t remember off the top of my head what it stands for.

But the point is that is that you’re having interactive, true partnerships with grantmakers, asking for support, having dialogue, truly engaging their thought leadership in a way that maybe aligns with your work.

You want it to be sincere. If you reach out, you want to be prepared to hear what they say and maybe use it. But depending on that relationship, this can be a great way . . . especially if it’s leadership-to-leadership type conversations, this can be really meaningful as a way to show that grantmaker how you treat them like a partner, not just your ATM funding source.

I’ve mentioned social media a few different times. And I get it, not all nonprofits are into social media in the same way. Maybe you’re worried about what’s the return on investment in terms of how much staff time is spent there, what you’re doing in terms of giving campaigns. I mean, there are a lot of elements that you have to take into account.

So what I want to show you is just one quick example that was done by a small staff, a staff of four, so that you can get a sense for how powerful it could be without a lot of staff time.

So here we are. I love taking examples right from my own backyard. This is one that’s near and dear to me. It’s Save The River/Upper St. Lawrence RIVERKEEPER. They had been getting a grant for six years from the same family foundation to support their In The Schools Program, first to launch it and to expand it and then again and again and again.

To date, this program has grown to the point where it’s serving over 1,000 students every year, and in rural communities. Think about how many schools that really is. That’s a lot.

But a few years ago, about two, the grantmaker said, “You know, we are loving this program and your outcomes, but actually, this year, we’re going to give you a matching grant. And in order for you to get all of your funds, you need to secure 100 new donors to the program.”

You could hear the gasps through the staff and the board. “How are we going to do this?” Turns out they did it beautifully. They exceeded expectations. They exceeded the threshold.

And when they were all done, they were trying to think of how they thank and promote all this success. Again, tiny staff. Putting all these students in the orange life vests on the boat to go on the field trip, oh my gosh, that’s taking all their capacity by itself, let alone thinking about this thank you.

Well, thankfully, one of their staff had thought to take a thank-you board onto one of the field trips to get a picture to the grantmaker. So then you got all these little kids in the orange life vests smiling at the camera with a “thank you.”

And the chaperones always do a great job, and there were tons of other pictures to pick from of the kids out on these educational field trips. They wrote a quick blog post on their website to thank the donors that they could also email to those donors who helped with the matching grant.

Then can you guess where it went? On all the social media channels per the appropriate word or character limit that was in place, and it could all link back to their blog post.

Does it take a little bit of coordination to make those things all happen? Absolutely. Does it help your stakeholders see the success that’s happening with grantmakers? Yep. Does it make for an amazing report to the grantmakers? You betcha.

Printing these out and putting them in a PDF or putting them in a hardcopy report shows the way that not only did you say thank you to them, but that you engaged these new donors that they’re hoping are going to help with your sustainability for the program. So you’ve got lots of different fundraising elements here at work.

Here’s the kicker. The grantmaker isn’t even on social media. So they did this because they knew it would be important in the report in the long run, but they were also thinking about the overlapping stakeholders for the stories.

All right. I see here . . . I just talked about the EPIC partnerships that Vu Le and his fellow authors talked about in “Unicorns Unite.” And look at that, Steven’s on it. The link is in the chat box if that’s something that you want to check out. Awesome. Thank you for doing that.

So a lot of this, all of this, is about communication. How is it that we communicate with our grantmaker?

And whether you actually played the game where you held a can to your mouth and you tried to talk to someone across the string or not, or whether you did that in science class to help you learn some principles of physics, or if you’ve ever sat around in a circle and played the telephone game where you whisper into each other’s ears, we know that things can go awry when it comes to communication.

And so a lot of our work as grant professionals beyond the writing is about communicating, communicating internally with our grant team, communicating to our stakeholders, our board members, our leaderships that are building relationships, and then to the grantmakers, be they foundations or government.

How do we figure out where the grantmakers want to hear from us? That’s a million-dollar question. Will they talk to us, and where and how?

So when you’re doing your research, this is where you can put on your sleuth hat and figure out, “What does the grantmaker want? What do we see in terms of capacity and preference?” And grantmakers have both, right?

Capacity. Is there someone who is able to answer questions?

Preference. Do they like to answer questions? Do they like to answer questions on the phone? Do they like to answer questions over email? Do they only answer questions bi-annually when they go to funder forums in their regions?

It’s up to them. Foundations get to make that choice. Government employees usually have an agency policy that they’re following for where and how they will answer, but they have both capacity and preference.

So when we’re on their websites, when we’re reading their materials, that’s what we’re trying to uncover. What is their capacity, and what is their preference?

So a few examples. You’re spending time on grantmaker websites already. You know what you’re looking for: the deadline, how much, what online portal, how many characters. But are you spending enough time looking for what they want in terms of communication?

So the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan has this great line on their site that they want to talk. They say, “Please call and talk to us if you think it’s a fit.” I love that they give you their reasoning.

“We value your time and do not want you to spend unnecessary hours and resources preparing a proposal unless there’s a clear possibility of working together.” So you know what their capacity is.

“Yes, we will talk to you.” Preference? “Please call and talk.”

Now, are all grantmakers that clear and that available? No, not so much.

Maybe you’re looking at a portal that’s telling you to take the Eligibility Quiz. But look, in this example from the Philadelphia Foundation, if you want their general operating money . . . which, come on, we all want general operating money. If you want general operating money, you must contact them before you submit.

Well, that’s only one of their funding streams. What if we look at their organizational effectiveness grant still from the Philadelphia Foundation? It doesn’t say anywhere on here that we must contact them. It just takes us right to the Eligibility Quiz and then hey, magic, you can apply.

Do you think you should still try to communicate? You should because they have expressed capacity and preference in another funding program. You should still try, try via phone, try via email, because you know that their staff in other situations is willing to chat. That might be the competitive edge you need.

Why do we say it’s a competitive edge? Well, one foundation told you they value your time. Another foundation, Cummings Foundation, comes out of Buffalo, New York, they have a statement that they don’t conduct pre-arranged site visits or hold informational relationship-building meetings.

And they know that by doing it uniformly, no one is disadvantaged, which really means, “Hey, if we have any those conversations, whoever we have it with gets the advantage.” Exactly. So we want to look for these clues on their materials, on their website, in their RFP.

But I’ve got a different example for you for what we’re trying to document, and something that’s really important to document in your relationship software. I’m just saying.

So this story actually comes from Peter Drury, who is another speaker at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. And this is the short version of his story. He told it beautifully in the keynote last year.

But can you imagine that you learn through interactions with a grantmaker about their preferences, that they like to get an email inviting them to meet you for tea?

And when you sit down to have tea . . . because they don’t drink coffee. They want to meet for tea. So once they receive the invitation to meet for tea, and they talk about with you your current programs and ideas and things that are happening, then you will receive the invitation to apply.

So there are a few things about that scenario that are unique that you would want to document so that whether it’s you or your predecessor or your CEO, they know what to do, right?

So emailing in order to have a meeting to get approval for an application? Not everyone’s got that process, so we want to at least put that framework down.

It’s critical that you know that the email is for an invitation to tea, not just for lunch, not just for coffee at Starbucks. It’s about the invitation for their preference. Their preference is to sit down and have tea.

Does it mean that you have to sit down and have a hot cup of tea with them when you invite them to tea? No. You could order water or seltzer, right? But that is the language and the approach that’s important to them.

So it’s not just about what you find on their website, but about documenting what you learn about their preference through each and every interaction.

Our last tip. Oh my goodness, this one, there should be flashing lights, blinking lights all over, whistles, sirens, you name it, coming through right now.

When you have any questions ever related to your application process, related to the work with a grantmaker, you want to ask. We want to ask for permission, not for forgiveness.

So if we’re working on an application, we want to ask questions, if they’ll allow it. And if they’ll allow it via phone, we ask over phone. If it’s only via email, we ask via email.

We want to prepare our questions and ask them in thoughtful talking points all at one time. If we think it’s critical to us understanding maybe whether we’ll be competitive, if the project is actually eligible, if there’s a question about their multi-year funding. I mean, you get what I’m saying here. If you’ve got questions about the application, it could be lengthy, might be short, you should ask.

Maybe it’s a formal FAQ process you have to ask through. Maybe you know that they only accept email questions. Maybe you’re not sure, so you try and you hope that someone will return your call. Whatever the case may be, try. Unless they have told you they won’t communicate, you should try.

I know there was a follow-up question from Caroline about Cummings. They said that they will not have meetings. So in this case, if you had questions about the process, would you contact them? You could try, but they’ve already told you no, so you should respect what they said and not.

So there are exceptions to these tips based on the statements made by grantmakers. When they tell us no, we respect the no, and we do our best to learn in other ways. Maybe you talk to other previously funded grantees that could help clarify a situation.

Now, what about when you get the money? Because you’re all going to follow these tips, build new relationships, manage existing relationships, and you’re going to be getting grant money like you never thought possible. Well, that’s my hope.

When you get the money, and you’re being good stewards of the money, what if something happens?

We’re the grant professionals. Do we control the implementation? Do we control what our program teams are doing? Of course not. We’re not their supervisor in situations, right?

We try to stay on top of what’s happening so that we can help be good stewards of the money, so that we can help manage it and then report back, because we know how important that is to asking for a future grant.

So our job is to convey this knowledge to our colleagues who are doing the implementation work so that when something comes up, like you’re spending faster or slower than you expected, your outputs are higher or lower than you expected, and therefore it’s impacting spending, whatever the situation is, your implementation colleagues know to come to you and say, “I think we have a question. Can we move budget money? What do we do? Should we slow down our rate of service? Can we get extra money from somewhere else so we don’t have to slow it down?” You get where I’m going here.

If they know to come to you with those questions, now you can go straight to the grantmaker and not have them ever be surprised by something like this in one of the reports. That is not the time the grantmakers want to learn about a big change. Nope, that’s too late.

“Why did you wait until the 6- or 12-month report? Why didn’t you call me when you knew this in Month 2 of 12?” Those are the things that really can build trust within a grantmaker’s relationship.

Oh my goodness. Okay. Those are all 10. And like I said, Steven, I would talk about all 10 individually for an hour by themselves. So future offer for you.

Steven: I love it. I’m ready.

Diane: But I wanted to say thank you so much. Yeah, sign it up. I wanted to say thank you again for hosting today’s session and having me here so that I could talk about relationships. I know there are so many great questions. It was more than I could even process, so I’ve got my social media stuff off real quick. I’m hoping you can help facilitate. What kind of questions will we be answering here?

Steven: Yeah, there are some good ones. I know you answered a few along the way, so thank you for that.

But first, we owe you the thanks, Diane, not the other way round. I mean, this was awesome and you spent an hour giving this, preparing for it, sharing your knowledge, so thank you. Thank you for doing this. I always learn something new. I loved that tidbit about even thanking the rejection, which is a nice and classy move. That makes a lot of sense to me. So just one of many little tidbits I picked up here.

Diane: Oh, cool.

Steven: So lots of questions. A couple people, actually more than a couple, Diane, asked who should be doing all this in terms of the thank-you note writing, the following up, kind of stewardship thing you mentioned? Is that the ED? Is that a board member? Is there a best person, or does it kind of depend? What have you seen out there?

Diane: Yeah, you know what? I would say it looks a little bit different in each of the organizations that I’ve worked with as an employee and then in the consulting role. It looks a little bit different based on capacity, and that’s okay. I think what is most important is to have the grant professional watch over and facilitate to make sure that it’s not getting dropped.

So maybe it is that it becomes sort of delegated. “Well, the formal thank-you letters come out of this part of the development department.” And then I make sure that the executive director writes the note, because I give it to them and I tell them who they’re writing it to.

And so the coordination of efforts . . . I’d say the consistent thing is that the grant professional, whether part-time or full-time, is sort of the keeper of the knowledge so that it doesn’t drop.

Steven: That makes sense. I mean, with turnover and so many things go away, that makes a lot of sense.

Diane: And if I could give one plug to say make sure you’re documenting it in relationship software, because then when there is turnover, there aren’t any embarrassing uh-ohs. Just saying.

Steven: I love it. Here’s one from Amy. Trying to get the board members involved, kind of get people to see, training them. Curious about how you approach that without sounding patronizing, which is always sort of a possibility when you want to do a board training. Any approaches for getting these stakeholders kind of on board and spun up to do the things you want them to do?

Diane: Yeah, it totally is situational for how trained or engaged the board or stakeholders are. But if I’m generalizing, usually boards, and leadership in organizations feel more comfortable with donor interactions and what might be expected. Maybe they don’t want to do it because that’s not their comfort level, but in terms of grants, it usually feels like an unknown.

So a little bit of clarity for expectation is usually appreciated, because it is different what you’re asking for. You’re not asking for them to write. You’re not asking for them to solicit, right? You’re saying, “I want a warm introduction.”

And so, oftentimes, clarifying that makes board members go, “Oh, okay. So grants aren’t scary for me then because I don’t have to worry about your writing.” They’re trying to get that handshake. So that clarity, I think, is often something that’s new in organizations.

Steven: That makes sense. One quick question. You mentioned site visits. What about folks who maybe operate remotely or don’t have maybe a specific geographic area? Any advice for those folks for doing site visits?

Diane: Sure. You could have all . . . I mean, you could be in the U.S. doing work internationally. You could be a distributed team. There are so many situations where physical interaction isn’t appropriate.

I’ve seen some really interesting things done actually with video calls as a way to put some face-to-face time with the grantmaker. It might not be that there’s something amazing to show with the programming.

I’ve also seen some unique things done with sharing, like videos taken of programming. Maybe they’re posted on YouTube or they’re on Vimeo, but they’re somewhere so that you can say, “Well, we know you can’t be with us in said space. We want you to see.” And so not as quite interactive as a site visit, but another good option.

Steven: I like it. Great. It’s a whole new world, right? Technology is awesome. I mean, we’re doing a webinar. We’re talking to about 300 people and giving them great advice, so why not?

Wow, this was awesome. I know we’re about at time. It’s almost 3:00. And we didn’t get to all the questions, but, Diane, are you cool taking questions by email so the folks we didn’t get to . . .

Diane: Yeah, absolutely. So I had put up all my social media stuff and it’s in the deck too, so when people download that . . . But I do have my email up on the screen. I’ll say it out loud so people can hear it. It’s Happy to take questions over email. It might take me a day or two to get back to you, but I absolutely will. So if I didn’t get to your question, happy to answer that way if you prefer.

Steven: Awesome. This is great. This is a good one. I love hearing your advice. Hopefully I’ll see you again in person real soon and not have to wait until October. That’d be a bummer. But thanks for doing this, Diane. This was really cool to have you.

Diane: My pleasure. Thanks again for having me. I can’t wait. I always love . . . I’m like a proud little grant parent. I’m like, “Okay, so I want to hear about how it goes.” If anybody takes any of these tips and uses them and is like, “Oh my gosh,” I would love to hear. Maybe actually tweet at us. Tweet at me. Tweet at Steven at Bloomerang. However you’re comfortable. I love to hear when these tips make an actionable difference in your work, so please do share.

Steven: Yeah, that would make me happy as well. As the person who puts on these webinars, I like to know that they’re making a difference, so do that.

And all of you, thanks for hanging out with us. I know you’re probably busy this time of year with gift acknowledgements, maybe planning those spring events, so thanks for being here.

We’ve got a great webinar coming up on Thursday, just two days from now, 2:00 p.m. Eastern. My buddy Maryanne will be talking about how to find those new donors. Who doesn’t want new donors after all? She’s awesome. Going to be a good presentation. Totally free. Hopefully, we see on that session.

If you’re not free or maybe that’s not quite your topic, that’s okay. There are lots of other sessions that you can register for. Just visit our webinar page. We have some good ones coming up, some pretty unique topics I’m excited about. So we’d love to see you again on another session.

So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. I’ll get those out to you this afternoon. And hopefully, we’ll see you again on another webinar.

So have a good rest of your Tuesday. Hope you have a great week, a productive week, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.