Posted by & filed under Grant Management, Marketing/Communications, Stewardship/Donor Relations.

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 propflower-22656_640osals” 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.

CynthiaFoo

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.

 

Posted by & filed under Career Development, Inspiration, Leadership/Management, Marketing/Communications, Next Generation Philanthropy.

Tara George, CFRE, Senior Vice President – Lead, Search Practice at KCI (Ketchum Canada Inc.), talks career advice with Cynthia Foo, Grants Manager at Environmental Defence.

CF: If you had to pick three “must have” attributes for the fundraiser today, what would you say these would be?

TG: Goal orientation – Regardless of the fundraising role, the individual has to be able to formulate goals, marshal resources, and deliver results. This takes persistence.

Communications savvy – All messages, written and verbal, regardless of channel, have to reinforce the strategy and drive results. Fundraisers have to be exceptional listeners.

Service orientation – The fundraiser has to really seek to spotlight the cause and others’ priorities, rather than one’s own. And if you do that with effective communications savvy, those three things are really fundamental and critical.

CF: How important is the role of a good fundraising manager?

TG: People can learn and model, but training is a factor. In the fundraising world I often hear people describe themselves as a “solo warrior”, or a “lone wolf”. Fundraisers who started young, and never managed other people for example, can get stuck at a certain level because of lack of opportunities to obtain diversity of experience.

So my advice to fundraisers is this: gain people and business management skills – learn about theory, and gain knowledge of best and emerging practices. You don’t become a good manager by accident: continuous learning is a key ingredient of the recipe for success!

CF: What about advice for mid-career fundraisers?

TG: This is the time to broaden your scope of fundraising, gain experience in other areas beyond your narrow field of expertise and prepare for more senior positions. You don’t get to be the CEO if you are just a specialist!

However, I don’t think of a career as a ladder, I think of it as a web. For example, someone who starts in event fundraising may need to go sideways to go up a level. Their event position may lead to an expanded role in communications which develops into learning about digital fundraising, or deeper involvement in annual giving.

I often hear complaints that employers can’t pay for all of employees’ courses and their training, but I say that you are responsible for your life and career – so why wouldn’t you invest in yourself? Don’t let these things stand in the way. I paid for my MBA myself – it was tough, but it was important to my growth, and I’m glad I did it.

CF: What are the three most common mistakes when marketing oneself in the job market?

TG: People come in ready to present their skillsets but they don’t know anything about the organization. Do the research and show your passion and knowledge about the organization and the cause. And it needs to be genuine – you can’t fake it.

The second common mistake is that people are not properly prepared for the interview process. Make sure you understand the role and provide evidence to back up your success. I’m always surprised to see people who can’t clearly identify the metrics of their success – either in percentage or numbers of donors increased. For a group of people who hang their hat on dollars, identifying numbers in their resumes is a must!

Finally, the most common mistake: Being too self-centered – not showing examples of contributing to the success of others and not recognizing the importance of team work.

No one landed their first seven-figure major gift completely single-handedly. Most likely, there was someone who did prospecting, others who did stewardship in the organization and so on. Demonstrating how you work with others is important!

CF: What do you see as reasons for high turnover in the nonprofit sector? And what do you see as the current biggest challenges facing employee retention?

TG: Generally speaking, high turnover in any position in any sector is not healthy and it’s not good for the individual: it can stain their reputation. When there’s supply and demand, the perception that the “grass is greener on the other side” heightens the sense of opportunity. I think people really should do their homework to make sure they can be satisfied and happy where they are and where they think they would like to go.

In my role, I hear people comment that money is the main motivator, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Often people move for personal satisfaction – they want to learn and grow and be challenged. Of course, people want better titles and money. But more importantly, they want to have impact and be engaged in their work, to be respected. Managers can play a huge role in making employees feel really good about their accomplishments and excited about what they’re learning – even when the organization cannot offer more money.

In today’s market, employers are showing less loyalty, so employees are doing the same. I think it’s important that employers hire for values – when that happens, the turnover rates drop. Hire people for their values and retain like-minded people who want to stay.

CF: Thank you so much for your time, Tara! As a parting thought – what are some of the fun things you do in your spare time?

TG: I love to read! I especially love to read novels and read a couple of novels a week. Sometimes I read business books: I enjoyed The End of Competitive Advantage by Rita Gunther-McGrath, which I won as a door prize at Congress. She was an excellent speaker there that year. I also read “Thinking Strategically” by Harvard Business Review, and The First 90 Days by Watkins. Every morning I also scan the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the Harvard Business Review, in addition to a number of other sites.

 

Tara GeorgeTara George, CFRE – Senior VP Lead, Search Practice, KCI (Ketchum Canada Inc.)

As the Lead Consultant for KCI’s Search Practice, Tara has successfully led more than 150 recruitment assignments for a range of non-profit clients across Canada. A respected advancement professional with extensive networks in Canada and beyond, Tara has a clear sense of the strategic vision, leadership skills and business acumen necessary to succeed in the nonprofit arena.

 

CynthiaFooCynthia Foo – Grants Manager, Environmental Defence

Cynthia Foo is the Grants Manager at Environmental Defence,a national environmental charity that just celebrated its 30th anniversary. She helps strategize, secure and steward foundations’ giving to help her organization grow. She also currently sits on the AFP Toronto Ethics Committee, and serves on the Board of the West-End Food Co-op and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto.