Having The Conversation

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

The advent of online applications doesn’t mean you no longer have to talk to a funder. Many grant-makers, especially the independents and family foundations, don’t have Web sites and electronic portals. Large, bureaucratic foundations that have gone paperless often have online forms that are so long and involved, you might want to talk to them, if possible, just to determine if it’s worth your while to apply.

So here’s what you need to extract from a phone conversation with a funder.

1. Identify the best person to talk to.

If the party on the other end of the line says, “You should speak to So-and-so, I’ll transfer you,” get So-and-so’s direct number or extension. Chances are So-and-so is “away from her desk or on the other line,” and it would be wise to call again at another time.

Or the person who received your call might say, “Maybe I can help you?” Fine. But get his name first. You might want to connect with him again if something comes up.

2. Would the program fit their current guidelines and geographical focus?

“I reviewed your guidelines and Web site,” you should say (because the program officer will be annoyed if you didn’t), “but I have a question about your current grant priorities.” Now make your pitch and finish by asking if the mission or program would fit the funder’s current interests. You might want to check exactly what the geographical requirements are. If they only fund in Westchester and your nonprofit is based in Manhattan but operates a program in Westchester, ask if that’s okay. Remember: negative information (“No, we only fund nonprofits located in Westchester”) is just as valuable as positive info.

3. How much to ask for?

You should always look at the funder’s IRS Form 990 and have a dollar amount in mind before picking up the phone. But don’t be afraid to ask if your suggested amount is appropriate for the funder, especially if your nonprofit is new to them. Alternatively, you can ask about their range of funding. Some program officers respond very helpfully to such questions.

4. Submitting: When and How.

Be sure to ask: “Are there any upcoming deadlines I should be aware of?” If not, “Is there one time of year that’s better to submit than other times? Are there times when funds are usually more available?” Or, “When does your board meet next?” A board meeting date is a clue as to when the proposal should be submitted.

Don’t forget to ask: “Do you accept hard copies?” If they do: “How many copies of the proposal and the attachments would you like?” “Can we send the proposal to your attention?” “When can we expect to hear back?” And never ever forget to check the mailing address!!!

Lastly, thank the person for spending time with you on the phone. We’re all swamped with work these days.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Fundraiser Retention

How To Improve Fundraiser Retention

That disturbingly high turnover rates and low morale plague fundraising professionals is nothing new. Research going back almost two decades shows this to be true.

One study in particular found that the “average fundraiser stays on a job only 16 months.”

In fact, just last year, author Rob Webb called on us to act on fundraising turnover right here in NonProfit Pro.

The past research on turnover was best summarized by our colleague Penelope Burke as follows:

Read More »

The Secret to Why Donors Give

There are many reasons we in the fundraising industry tell one another about why donors give.  They are moved by your mission, they know a board or staff member, they’ve given for years, to name a few.  I doubt that all of them are true, and I especially doubt that they are all true at the same point in the giving calculus for each donor.

Read More »

Are You Endowment Ready?

Nonprofit endowments are donations pooled together and invested in the stock market. At the end of the year, a portion of this money goes to the charity, but the principal amount remains in the market. Many smaller nonprofits may think of endowments as a pipe dream, but any size organization can start an endowment fund.

Read More »