If you want to increase your chances of securing a grant, your organization must develop a comprehensive strategy for building relationships with public and private funders.
Acing the Interviews
Some funders require that potential grantees participate in interviews prior to submitting a grant proposal request. I learned early in my career that if the funder does not require an interview, organizations should contact funding sources with staff to request a time to meet with the director or program officer. An interview in person is ideal, but a phone interview can also be helpful. As a former development director for two statewide nonprofits, I learned that the purpose of this meeting is not only to “sell” your organization and discuss the project for which you want funding, but to seek guidance regarding proposal content. My strategy was to complete the first draft of the proposal so that I could share the details of each proposal component and receive specific feedback from the funder.
The key to a successful interview is to make sure everyone participating is familiar with the organization’s proposed program as well as the organization in general. To prepare for the interview, I shared as much information as possible about the funding source and the particular person(s) participating in the interview. I also made sure that I identified roles for the staff, board, and volunteers taking part in the presentation to the funder. Ideally, the individuals who should participate in an interview are the director, a board member, and a former client served by your organization. Funders are most impressed by demonstrated knowledge, participation and commitment of board and other volunteers. One strategy that I found very helpful was a rehearsal or role play of the interview.
Successful Site Visits
Site visits may take place during the grant application process or after the funding is awarded. They can play an important part in funding decisions and require just as much attention as the proposal itself. With a site visit, your organization has the opportunity to verify information, clarify issues, and answer questions. Site interviews provide the chance to show off the good work of the organization and build relationships with funders.
During a site visit, funders will want to have the opportunity to meet committed and competent staff and clients who are being served and take a tour of the office or facility where the programs/project will be implemented. Key individuals to introduce may include your chief executive officer, fiscal officer, grant writer, program director(s) community members involved in the project, the individuals served by the project, and board members. One of the organizations for which I worked did not provide direct services, so I scheduled 15-minute interviews with key staff, select board members, and stakeholders.
There should be an ongoing relationship between funding personnel and the project personnel. Find appropriate ways to keep funding-source staff and the board aware of and involved in your project such as sending a relevant news article. Most grant sources require progress reports. If these are required, provide thorough and timely reports; if not, provide at least an annual report on the progress of the project and description on how the funds were used. Other strategies that I recommend for building relationships with funders include:
1) Participating in community events hosted by funders
2) Attending technical assistance sessions offered by funding sources
3) Requesting to be added to mailing lists and email distribution lists
4) Joining professional networks in which funders are a part of: for example, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). For more ideas on how to build relationships with funders, visit The Foundation Center for their free online training.
Implementing the best practices described can help ensure getting a “yes” to your grant proposal.
About the Author
Ruth Peebles, President of The INS Group, offers 25 years of experience in the nonprofit management. The INS Group is a national consulting firm that provides organizational development and capacity building services to nonprofits, government agencies and faith-based institutions. Services include grant writing, grant research, strategic planning, strategic fund development planning, succession planning, executive coaching, and board training and board development. Ms. Peebles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.