Cultivating a Foundation Relationship: The Essentials

Cultivating a relationship with a grantmaker takes time, patience and focus.  Here are some essentials to get you started!

Be forthrightMake an initial phone call, submit a letter or e-mail, and/or use pre-existing contacts, asking any questions you can to make sure the foundation is a good match for the project at hand.

Communicate on the foundation’s termsSometimes a foundation’s staff is too small to handle phone inquiries. In this case, a letter or e-mail may be the best way to start. The Foundation Directory Online offers data on how large a foundation is and the preferred first step.

Let them see you in action. If you’ve been in touch several times and the foundation still seems like a good fit, invite a representative–especially a member of the foundation’s board–to your site to show them what you are doing.

Get to know the right personWith larger foundations, focus on the program staff for the area appropriate to your project, just as you would get to know the program officer in charge of a particular federal program prior to applying.

Do your researchMega-foundations like Ford and Gates are often much more objective than a family foundation and use a more systematized application process. Comb the foundation’s online and print materials for tools to assess your institution and project from the foundation’s perspective.

Write a strong letter of intentFollowing a productive phone call, it is common to for a foundation to invite a letter of intent providing more detail on the support needed and the project’s goals. The positive reception of a letter of intent can lead to a face-to-face meeting between your project staff and a foundation representative.

Use feedbackSome foundations demand a full proposal as the first form of approach. If your proposal is not initially successful, feedback received during the application process can be useful in determining whether to pursue support from the foundation or look elsewhere.

Choose your representatives wisely. Grantmakers generally want to speak with individuals who have authority and responsibility for the project, knowledge of the content of the project, and expertise in developing mutually beneficial partnerships.

Link your goals with the foundation’s agendaAfter selecting the right foundation to approach and establishing that mutual benefits exist, be flexible. Unless making a change would violate the very essence of your project, be open to working with the foundation to enhance your chances of success.


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