Handshake“Relationship” is a key word in fundraising. As part of Fundraising 101 we learn that to be truly successful we must develop relationships with our donors. We learn that a single donation is merely a transaction and that’s not good enough to sustain our organization long term. To set ourselves up for success in the future, we must cultivate relationships with our donors. And foundations are no different.

Most people can envision what a relationship with an individual donor looks like. But what about a foundation where there are multiple people involved? How do you know who to get to know?

The answer to that is pretty simple – get to know everyone you can!

A little research should tell you who the staff person or administrator is. You can check out the organization’s 990 (tax return) and learn an awful lot including who sits on the foundation’s Board. Share a list of the foundation Board with your organization’s board members to see who knows whom and encourage your Board to speak with those they know. Assure them that they don’t need to ask for money. All they need to do is talk about how much they care about your organization and the project you are seeking funds for. And how important it is to the community. This Board-to-Board relationship can be very powerful and can help to build trust in your organization.

To get started with foundation relationships, first get in the right mindset. Think about how you view the process of getting funds from a foundation. Is it grant writing? Most people consider it that. It’s a little selfish of us as fundraisers to think of it that way. “Grant writing” is very impersonal. It’s very transactional. It’s all about us and what we need. If we are truly interested in developing a relationship with a foundation, we must be concerned about their wants and desires.

One great place to start is by not sending the same standard proposal to a laundry list of foundations and expect some to “bite”. This ain’t fishing! Start by carefully researching and reviewing each individual foundation to see what their focus is. Then don’t send a proposal to those that you clearly aren’t a good fit for. For those that are interested in an area that matches your project, call and speak with the foundation administrator to see if it is in fact a fit before you write. This lets the foundation staff know that you don’t want to waste their time by submitting something they won’t be interested in. This call also breaks the ice and sets the stage for future communication.

One of the most important parts of cultivating a relationship with any donor is to build trust. Do everything you can to be trustworthy. Be professional and courteous. Treat individual foundation staff members with respect. Don’t waste their time. And don’t promise anything you know you can’t live up to later.

When you get a grant from a foundation, put care and consideration into acknowledging the gift and recognizing the foundation. Find out how they want to be recognized. Remember that some donors and foundations prefer to remain anonymous! When I worked for a Food Bank several years ago, there was a local foundation that I worked with and after a couple of years of carefully building a relationship, they consistently supported us with funds for trucks. And let me tell you, these trucks were not cheap! To recognize the foundation, we put their logo on the side of those trucks and they were very pleased with the publicity they got as our trucks drove around town every day. It was easy for us to do and it made the foundation staff and board happy. This kind of publicity really works well with corporate foundations!

Make sure to send a personalized thank you letter for a foundation gift. This is no time for a stale letter. Be sincere and get the letter out promptly. Make notes for yourself of any reports or follow-up the foundation requires and be sure to send them. Don’t drop the ball with details! The foundation who sponsored trucks at the Food Bank didn’t ask for any kind of follow up, but I knew it was prudent to do so anyway. After we had put a new truck into service and had used it for a couple of months, I would take a photo of the truck showing the foundation’s logo and send it to the administrator along with a hand-written note telling how the truck was being used. I know the administrator shared these notes with the members of the foundation Board because I heard lots of nice comments back from them. They appreciated that I took the time to let them know that their gift was being used as it was intended. It was an important step in building trust and subsequently setting up the next gift.

Make sure to cultivate foundation donors when you are not actively seeking money from them. Put the administrator and board members on your newsletter list so they can hear about the things you are doing on a regular basis. Visit them when you can to give them personal updates. Take them on a tour of your facility or front line services. Invite them to lunch with you, your executive director and any board members they might know.

The bottom line is that Foundations are first and foremost donors. Treat them with the same love and care that you do with any donor and the relationship should last a nice long time.

This post is part of the Grant Writing article series:

1. 8 Keys to Grant Strategy Success by Robert P. Stewart
2. 20 Free Grant Writing Resources for Non-Profits by Sandra Sims
3. Building Relationships with Foundations by Sandy Rees
4. Secrets From A Grant Reviewer by Katie Krueger

Posted on 20 August 2008

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