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Cynthia Foo, Grants Manager, Environmental Defence
As a contract and full-time fundraiser who has specialized in both giving and soliciting grants, I’ve come across a few misconceptions on what encourages foundations to give. Here are some common mistakes and what you can do to correct them:
1. I shouldn’t contact the foundation to pitch our work because it says “no unsolicited proposals” on their website.
Most foundations make this advisory as they lack the staff to handle application questions from the larger public. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a point of contact where possible—especially if your work is a close fit with the foundation’s interests and granting history.
Be prepared to dig deeper within your organization: find out the Board connections between your organization and theirs; work out relationships which may get an in-person meeting with the foundation’s steering committee; or if all else fails, send a polite, short (1-2 paragraph) e-mail to the contact on your proposed targeted approach, and ask whether the foundation would be interested in finding out more.
2. I shouldn’t contact a foundation in advance of my grant application because it will just annoy them.
As someone who has worked for both a corporation disbursing grants and for a charity soliciting foundations grants, my first-hand experience is that no foundation actively soliciting grants has ever expressed annoyance at an initial call or e-mail, especially if it’s an opportunity to offer insights on what can be improved.
When I worked for a disbursing organization, I spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing applications that were just not a good fit, or were truly puzzling in their approach. Some of the applications that came across my desk demonstrated no overlap with the mission of the funding organization, no explanation of how the work would enhance the funder’s mandate, and had no indication of how the grant would help the charity succeed if they received funding. In most cases, these were grant proposals from organizations which I knew and respected.
I would have been glad to have saved their grants officer and their staff the time and hassle of submitting a flawed application if they had just called or e-mailed me at the outset. And I would have been more than happy to try to strengthen the application before it went up the ladder for review. If an organization is in the business to give out grants, they are motivated to see applications succeed.
3. When creating interim or final reports, I should write to the foundation with the same friendly tone that I use in my newsletters and general communications with individual donors.
Most foundations are interested in metrics, not only in heartwarming stories. While funders are keen to find out the effects of their granting in compelling narratives, foundations’ structures require greater demonstrations of returns-on-donation than individual donors may demand. What did the grant help advance? How many did it help your organization serve? How did it help change people’s lives? The foundation’s board will ask for these facts as it will help them determine their own measures of success in the community, and will help them set clear strategic directions in the future.
4. I should follow all of my foundation funder’s instructions and only submit applications online and submit reports when they say to do so in the grant agreement. Any other attempts to contact them will be seen as a nuisance.
This is the most common misconception I hear when talking to grant writers or other fundraising staff. Most foundations are sophisticated organizations which appreciate being treated as partners in funding. In this respect, stewardship techniques when dealing with foundations are very much akin to those used when dealing with major donors—share your results early, and often; make sure you trumpet your wins, and most of all, make sure you alert your funder early if a proposed course of work ends up being derailed and you realize you won’t be able to do what you said you’d be able to in your proposal. Most funders understand that the work they are funding is at risk of the inevitable chaos of life—someone leaves for another job, someone gets sick, or someone just plain forgets to do something because they didn’t read the application properly.
Making sure that clear communication is established with the foundation funder all along the way—not just at the time of reporting or proposal—is key in ensuring long-term, rewarding relationships. In fact, this approach generally helps create opportunities to increase giving from these foundations in the long-run as your own organization grows.
5. When a foundation rejects my grant application, I should file it and/or not bother reapplying.
Most foundation funders want to see applications succeed. If they reject your grant application, chances are there are good reasons why. Perhaps your budget needed to be weighted differently. Maybe your approach didn’t fit their priorities this year. Or perhaps it was just bad timing and they’d already allocated funds to another charity. Any of these reasons would allow you to alter your approach and resubmit your application next year.
Best of all, contacting the foundation to ask for feedback on what could be improved helps nurture the budding relationship between the potential funder and the charity, which is always helpful when asking for support. It’s easy to be disheartened, but it’s better to learn and reposition for the next round.
Since 2010, Cynthia Foo has helped charities increase their foundations grants funding. She has worked for Human Rights Watch (NYC) and is currently employed as the Grants Manager by Environmental Defence Canada, a national environmental charity. She also currently provides foundations fundraising assistance to Hincks-Dellcrest Foundation and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In the summer, she teaches kayakking and stand-up paddleboarding and loves to spend lazy afternoons in the sun with her dog Chauncey. You can follow Cynthia on Twitter at @cynthfoo or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Laura Champion, Donor Relations Coordinator – Direct Response
Crohn’s and Colitis Canada
At almost 30 I still want to change the world. I want to make a difference in people’s lives and I still truly believe that I will do that in my chosen career as a fundraising professional. Some would call me naïve and others would call me ambitious. Recently, I have had two conversations with fundraising colleagues who had completely different vantage points on the topic of ambition.
Colleague One was saying that career ambition is something she feels she should have but does not. While this makes her feel guilty, she has reached the point of wanting the regularity of the 9 to 5 knowing that her non-work life would fulfill her. At the same time, she feels guilty because so many others in our peer group are working toward something different. She also feels a little judged because she found happiness at a level in her career that was/is not enough for others.
In contrast, Colleague Two has been chomping at the bit for nearly two years as a fundraiser, making connections and speaking with people on how to innovate their organization. He hustled in the best sense of the word and has not seen the results that he wanted. He says, he has become so frustrated by the sector not embracing his level of ambition he has considered leaving fundraising all together. He is motivated by his desire to support a family but blind ambition has impaired both that goal and his career. His blind ambition is not only impairing his career goals but because he cannot find a job is hindering his ability to reach personal goals, like supporting a family.
I find myself somewhere in the middle of One and Two. There are weeks where I network with industry colleagues almost every day, reading up to 20 fundraising blogs, and checking out job postings to make sure my skills are remaining competitive. Then there are weeks where I just want to go home and catch up with my old friend Netflix. The difficulty of being a young educated professional is that we are bursting with ideas but are not in a position to implement. Some of us are lucky to have supervisors who let us channel this creativity in our roles but I know this is not the case for most.
So what is one to do about all this? How do you channel your ambition is without any of the side effects my colleagues are experiencing? So far this is what I have found works for me:
1) Know thyself. What is your ambition driving you toward? To make a certain salary level, to reach a certain title, to be valuable enough to make your own schedule and hours, to be out of the office in time to take the kids to soccer, or all of the above? Know what it is you want and then be judicious about how you get there. Saying yes to anything is a good way to open doors but if you are not careful it is also a good way to lose focus.
2) Eyes on your own paper. Ambition can be fueled by jealousy and internal expectation. Do your best not to worry what others and focus on what YOU can be doing to get where you want to go. It is an important reminder of what we all learned at a young age – it does not matter where anyone else on the test, or in this case their career, you will not succeed unless you focus on what you need to do.
3) This is a marathon. As a young professional, you have at least another 35 years ahead of you in your career. You cannot do it all at once. It can be frustrating in the day to day when ambition or lack thereof is nagging at you but know that whatever you are working toward will all come with time.
As I approach my 30s, I realize that ambition is going to continue to be an important piece of my career puzzle. So fellow fundraisers – how did you figure it out in the early days of your career? Did you find that driving ambition was helpful or tempered level of ambition was just fine?
Let’s talk about it. @charitablelaura
Laura Champion is Donor Relations Coordinator at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. She has a thirst for fundraising knowledge and is always open to discussion. You can find her on twitter @charitablelaura.