grant writing

How to Build a Relationship

Building business relationships between nonprofits and foundations are different (and should be) from personal relationships.

The strongest business relationships are built by sharing an experience or event in a joint venture. As an example, in a local catastrophe the nonprofit and foundation can work together in recovery efforts. Later, they should have developed an understanding of how each other operates or not. Even with partial success in the joint venture, a strong relationship can develop.

Another example is a long time commitment with each other. Trust is built over the years because the nonprofit is able to spend the foundation’s money efficiently and effectively while meeting all the reporting requirements. The foundation knows they can rely on the nonprofit to manage projects and money accurately.

Other relationships are built by shared interests between the primary board members of both organizations. This interest is usually outside the mission areas of the nonprofit and foundation and could include shared work activities, similar hobbies, or family relatives.

These are positive ways to build relationships. There are also negative ways such as accumulating political capital. Politics is everywhere and not just in governments. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t recommend this, but a person builds political capital through “owing favors.”

Having a positive relationship is important for many reasons. One of the primary advantages is:

      • A nonprofit has a support system when they need help in a crisis (usually financial)
      • The foundation has a viable source they can contact when they want to help people in the community

The most important ingredient of all these examples is communication. Whether sharing an experience, knowing each other for years, or have like interests, relationships are built on conversation.

Out-of-cycle grants

A secret of many foundations is they sometimes issue grants outside their normal grant cycle. These out-of-cycle grants are usually by invite only based on the relationships between board members of the foundation and the nonprofit.

I’ve written before about building relationships and nowhere are they more important than these types of grants.

Out-of-cycle grants generally have no restrictions or deadlines. They are open grants based on the foundation wanting to help the nonprofit. This help could be the result of the nonprofit’s success in local catastrophes, continued support to the community, or an opportunity for the foundation to make an impact that reflects back on itself.

Nonprofits should submit to a foundation’s grant submission process. However, the nonprofit’s board and executive director should also pursue out-of-cycle grants by building relationships with the foundation board members.

If someone wants more information on out-of-cycle grants, add a comment with your contact information.

Teamwork on a Grant

The majority of my grant writing I do alone. Certainly not my choice. I gather information and data from the nonprofit, ask for help, get a “no,” and write the grant myself. However, I recently joined a nonprofit team to write a grant.

It was great. A leader was assigned (not me), people were energetic about providing information (almost unheard of), and my workload as a volunteer was significantly reduced (yeah!).

I didn’t mind putting the grant package together or doing some of the narrative writing because the team members helped. This is what volunteer grant writing should be about—the paid staff helping the person not getting paid.

Of course, not all teamwork is great. Teams can be as dysfunctional as some families. I think the key is motivation. Everyone should feel they are contributing to the final product.

While working on a grant, most of the time I look to the nonprofit staff to help. I don’t ask them to be team members because they may run away. I ask them for information and data. I try to get them to read over what I wrote. I make them secret team members. It’s a secret to them that they are on a team.

I think teams have a greater chance of success to get a grant than one person doing everything. More mistakes are made by one person. Also, only one viewpoint gets presented. Yet, nonprofits usually have one person doing all the grant writing. This can be the executive director, paid staff like the volunteer coordinator, or a volunteer.

Everyone has talent and fault. One person is good or bad in one area and another the opposite. I prefer the team concept because I am certainly do not always have the right solution.

What’s Important in a Grant Application

Most foundations have a priority of what is most important to them in a grant application. The easy way to find out their priorities is to call the foundation and ask the staff members. Yet, this doesn’t always work. Either there is no way to contact them or they don’t explain their priorities clearly. There are other ways to find clues to the priorities.

For online applications, most of the fields limit the number of characters. The more characters allowed, the more details the foundation wants to see. A grant writer should spend more time on places where a greater amount of information is required. Yes, there’s more to write about, but what is written should be data, information, and details of the project.

Another clue can be found in the application guidelines. Many foundations repeat words that they believe are important. Those words should be the theme of the grant request (mention them several times).

Whether I talk to someone at the foundation or not, I still research the foundation looking for blogs, articles, or comments by recipients of previous awards. There can be a wealth of knowledge written about the foundations and board members (decision makers). I do not pay much attention to previous awards.

For many foundations, like most organizations, things change from year to year. Sometimes the foundation makes different types of awards each year. In any case, the past does not generally foretell the future in grant awards.

The most important thing about writing a grant is for the writer to get to know the foundation as much as possible. It is a lot easier when the writer does.