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Maximize Relationships to Win More Grants

Hands in a circleFor too long in our profession, there has been a divide between grants and development. I have seen improvements in the last two to three years, but I remain concerned—and downright confused—about the chasm that sometimes exists between grants professionals and development professionals. We have so much to learn and gain from one another in our respective fields, and—if my 16+ years of experience wearing both hats is any indicator—grant professionals will secure more awards by understanding and following development best practices.

Why is this important to me (and, I hope, to you)?

Because people give to people, not proposals.®

That does not mean grant writing is trivial — of course, it is an important technical and creative skill (in my extremely biased opinion)! Grants should be a revenue line item in your budget, at a minimum. Moreover, without grant writers, how would a nonprofit write and submit the 10, 50, or 500-page request for funds to support your organization’s vital work? However, it is important to remember that writing will only get you so far, because grant makers are people, too.

Let’s look at the facts. The fundraising continuum has five essential elements through which every donor travels, regardless of whether that donor makes an annual, major, or planned gift to your nonprofit. Here’s how activities in the traditional fundraising continuum compare to similar activities in grant seeking. 





This table makes comparing and contrasting development vs. grant seeking activities easy: there is no difference between development and grant seeking regarding relationship building. The only significant difference is that grant seeking requires a piece (or many pieces) of paper to make the ask. The same skills (knowing how to listen to verbal and nonverbal communication, how to be humble, how to be assertive) and methods (picking up the phone, taking people to lunch, saying thank you) apply to grant makers as much as they apply to donors. Both processes are about working your spheres of influence: those individuals or groups of people with whom your nonprofit’s board, staff, donors, and other stakeholders can communicate about your mission through existing relationships.

Remember: Always treat grant makers like people and never like checkbooks. When was the last time you took a foundation program officer to lunch just to pick their brain or better understand the foundation’s long-term goals? When was the last time you sent information to a funder and didn’t ask them for anything? When was the last time you invited a funder to an annual meeting, special event, open house, or another venue through which you could recognize them for their investments (but not ask them for a thing)?

I hope your answer to those questions was, “Why yes, Heather – that is how I always work with grant makers!” If your response was not a firm yes, what will you do this year to improve the way you work with grant makers?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Please share

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

CFRE, GPC. I help nonprofits raise money through small and large grants that create significant social returns for their communities. I write every day (grants, articles, presentation copy, etc.), but I spend most of my time coaching nonprofit leaders to tell their stories in ways that compel grant makers and major donors to invest their programs.

Profile Photo of Heather Stombaugh