Years ago, my wife Kelly shared with me a new entrepreneurial calling – she wanted to open and operate her own beauty salon. After spending most of her professional career serving within other salons, the Lord put it on her heart to open her own small business… to extend what she calls her “ministry in the chair.”
With a gleam in her eye and a notebook filled with pre-made plans, I knew it wasn’t a matter of if she could do it, but how she would get there. And, most of all, who would be our partners moving forward in this family affair.
Through months of meetings, she managed to share her vision with a select group of people who came alongside to help this calling come to fruition. This hand-picked, dedicated group of supporters contributed to laying the foundation for what quickly became a fully-functioning salon.
Throughout this process, I was reminded of one simple but profound business lesson: Personal connections can drive your organization to the next level and provide much-needed support in times of both prosperity and scarcity.
This lesson rings loud and true for nonprofit fundraisers in their relationships with donors and grant funders. In order to build a strong foundation for your business, you must first identify, add to your network and call upon supporters who believe in your cause. Find opportunities to invite them to participate in your vision in ways that are meaningful to them.
These connections will become the steadfast supporters who walk alongside you with abundant generosity in challenging times. As an added benefit, these partnerships along your journey to impact are equally as rewarding and encouraging as your ultimate destination.
So where do you find these supporters? And how do you build lasting, beneficial relationships with them?
Today, I want to share with you expert insight from my colleagues and partners, GrantsPlus, on how to find the right supporters for your organization and build sturdy relationships with grant funders.
When you throw a party, you don’t open it up to the public. Instead, you invite those with whom you share a connection, a history or a mutual interest. The people who lead a private or family foundation aren’t so different.
In fact, more and more funders institute “invitation only” grant application policies. Based on recent data, of nearly 100,000 independent, corporate and community foundations in the U.S., only 28% accepted unsolicited proposals.
Though it can be frustrating to nonprofits, this closed-door approach serves a practical purpose for foundations: it limits the number of grant applications requiring review and positions a funder to only consider nonprofits that match their preferred sector, geographic area or program focus.
The good news is that a door that seems closed can sometimes be opened. The key is building a relationship. Follow these suggestions to establish a connection that can yield a warm invitation to apply for grant funding.
Make a connection.
When cultivating any relationship, an introduction can work wonders. Gather a list of trustees and staff from the “invitation only” funders you have identified.
Share these lists with your organization’s own board members and key staff to discover whom they may know. Can they make an introduction?
If you are fortunate to get a phone conversation or meeting with a foundation representative, your goal is to briefly communicate how your organization’s mission and goals align to the foundation’s, and to explore the funder’s potential interest in learning more. See our complete tips for having a fruitful conversation with a prospective grant funder.
Cross paths… on purpose.
Once you’ve made a list of key foundation contacts who you want to meet, look for ways to intersect with them. Foundation leaders often attend and speak at conferences and seminars. Seek them out, introduce yourself and ask if you might trade business cards and keep in touch. This is not the time to ask for a gift, but instead to take the first step in building a relationship.
Follow up in the coming weeks or months with a think piece or literature connecting your organization to something the funder cares about, and ask if you might approach them with a formal request.
Invite, inform and ask.
Make it a part of your nonprofit’s practice to review your programs, events and offerings at least quarterly to determine which are the most powerful platforms for “friendraising.” Consider your list of desired foundation contacts and send an invitation or ticket to the activity or event you suspect will match their interest. This kind of invitation is especially effective if it comes from someone they know. Ask a board or staff member who will be recognizable to the funder to embellish the invite with a personal note.
After a foundation leader attends your event, following up to inquire about a proposal will be a natural next step.
Seek peer advice.
Search a foundation’s list of recent grant recipients. If an allied organization has recently received funding, reach out to ask how they established the connection. While grant seeking is competitive, most colleagues will understand that foundations often have diverse funding interests and will trust you to build a relationship based on your organization’s unique programs and services. Incorporate the feedback you receive from your peers into your cultivation strategy.
Utilizing these techniques, a savvy nonprofit leader will pivot from the perception that an “invitation only” funder has a permanently closed door, and will instead take proactive steps to artfully nudge it open.