Seeking New Funders? Why Not Ask Your Current Funders?

Raising money by soliciting private and corporate foundation grants is a volume business.  Since at best you might get one grant for every five submissions (20%), the search for funders closely aligned with the values and mission of your agency is never-ending. You don’t want to waste time tossing proposals around willy-nilly, but with value-aligned prospects the rule is: the more the merrier.

Ask your current funders

One very useful but ordinarily overlooked approach to finding new prospective funders is simply to ask your current funders.  A steadfast funder that has supported your program year in and year out obviously appreciates your work and understands the impact you’re making on a major social issue. Why not sit down with the executive director or program officer and see if they can help identify other potential funders?

Yes, some foundation people may feel inhibited about cooperating in this way, but others will be pleased to assist.

Here’s some practical steps for getting this process going:

  1. Ask for an in-person meeting. Be upfront about the agenda, and firm about meeting in person.
  2. Bring a list of foundation prospects and go over that list with the foundation executive. What you’re looking for are instances where your foundation officer will say, “Oh, yes, I know so-and-so over there.  You should talk to her.” Or, better, “I will call her and introduce you to her.”
  3. Once you’ve identified who the program officer knows, ask your contact to consider calling that person on your behalf. If a call isn’t in the comfort zone of the person you’re meeting with, an e-mail will do.
  4. It’s possible that your foundation officer may say, “Oh, I don’t know that person well enough to pick up the phone or write an e-mail.” In that case, ask your contact to at least consider writing a general letter of recommendation, and, perhaps offer to draft that letter.

So many things in life are the result of networking—of knowing who to call, getting an introduction—it’s a wonder this approach isn’t taught in school.  Every success story we have inside knowledge of, whether involving playwrights, journalists, spies or explorers—began with a personal connection.  Networking is equally critical in the grants field.

I’ll leave you with a real success story of how this approach worked for one of my clients. Through a friendly, supportive funder, one of our clients secured a meeting with the social responsibility officer of a corporation that lacked a formal grants submission process; yet that corporate officer welcomed a proposal and it’s now under review. Our fingers are crossed. If successful, this would be a new funder at the $75,000 level. Without that initial meeting with our current funder, we would never have had this opportunity to compete! It pays to network with your current funders.

Laurence Pagnoni, Director IFC USA


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