When we talk to nonprofit staff, one commonly recurring question is “How can we do better at grant funding?” We’ve decided to leverage our history and experience in the sector to gather materials for a series of articles on this topic. Our in-depth conversations with foundation and corporate program officers and a wider survey of their peers form the basis of the series. In this short take, we share some program officers’ top tips.
Don’t yell at your program officer or explain what you think is wrong with their decision, funding priorities, or even the stationary they use.
There is nothing to say about this, except “Please don’t.”
Don’t consider submission guidelines as submission “suggestions.”
It’s safe assume that if they asked for it, they want it.
“...please, adhere to the funder’s application guidelines so the application doesn’t get declined on the basis of a technicality.”
Don’t send what they don’t want.
If you have a little special something that you think is going to make a difference—video, pictures, booklet, a fine vintage of Chablis—take another look at your proposal to see if you can accomplish what you need in the requested text. If you really, really can’t (and this is where it is really helpful to be on good speaking terms with your program officer), ask first. It's as simple as: “Thanks for taking my call... Listen, I have [description of priceless additional material]... Can you please tell me if it would be appropriate or helpful to send this along with the proposal?”
Don’t expect a program officer to remind you that an application or report is due.
Funding organizations have their own schedules to keep. Missing the application deadline will be an immediate cause of sudden death for your application. And for many funders your report is due at a particular time because they’re about to sit down to make decisions about a new funding cycle.
But program officers can surprise you. Their continuum of responses to notice of a late report can range from “Oh. This is bad,” to “We can work with you—just be communicative.” There are times when we’ve asked for an extension because in a few weeks time there would be more to report, and the program officer had the flexibility to extend the deadline. But if you don't warn them in advance, don't expect an understanding welcome later on.
“When a grantee misses a deadline due to any number of circumstances, but gives the funder notice that a deadline will be missed and why, it not only shows respect for the funder’s processes and the grantee-funder relationship, but it ensures the funder has an accurate and complete understanding of the situation, eliminating potential for misunderstanding.”
Don’t follow a program officer to the bathroom. Or anywhere.
Imagine you spot your program officer at a meeting or a conference. It will not help your cause with a foundation if you take this opportunity to either ask for more information or demand more assistance. (We include this particular advice on the strength of an unforgettable story shared by a program officer who was stalked to the ladies room and taken to lengthy task by an irate unsuccessful applicant.)
“If your project or work does not appear to be a strong fit with a funder’s interests and priorities, and you have received feedback from the funder to that effect—consider whether it makes sense to pursue funding from that funder. It takes precious time and resources to conceive of a project and write a well-developed proposal.”
We all do the best we can with what we have to work with, and funders don’t consider themselves perfect, either:
“As funders, we must also evaluate whether we are accurately and clearly describing our application guidelines and interests,, because this can contribute to the above problems. There is typically room for improvement on the funder side, as well.”
Kara has a lifetime of success in patron engagement and fundraising in North America, and spent two years recently at Birmingham Royal Ballet building systems for engagement.