If you are looking to improve your chances of winning a grant, then you are going to have to break out your building blocks. Your relationship building blocks, that is. One of the most helpful measures you can take to increase your odds is to establish a relationship with the funder prior to submitting your proposal. Though it may not always be the case, many funders are receptive to contact with prospective applicants. Utilizing this opportunity by establishing an early line of communication can pave the road to success.
Of course, it’s important that you reach out to the right person. The most effective contact person may have any one of a number of titles, such as grants manager, grants officer, program officer, or executive director. Regardless of their title, once you have determined who best to contact, give them a call. Use this opportunity to ask if you may introduce your organization, seek advice on writing a successful proposal, or even just to clarify a question you have about their funding priorities.
At this point, gauge their reaction. If they seem receptive to your inquiry, ask about setting up a brief meeting, whether it be in-person or virtual. Make it convenient for them by offering to come to their office, or you can invite them for a site visit. Once you’ve established a time and place for a meeting, set a time limit and stick to it—in fact, it’s best to offer to leave a little early out of respect for their time. If they are interested in further discussion, they may offer to extend the meeting or schedule a return visit.
Remember that the introductory stage is only the beginning of this new relationship with the funder. Certainly, you need to make the necessary grant reports, but do not let reporting become your only form of contact with them. Rather than slipping into complacency, keep in touch by sending occasional updates, including photographs and even invitations to special events or meetings with your organization’s leadership. By maintaining long-term contact with a funder, you become more than an outstretched hand, only reaching out when making an ask. Nurture the relationship, foster continued friendship, and the rewards will be yours.