Closer To Thee: Four Moves to Finally Meet the Elusive Funder

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Year after year, you apply, but don’t hear back. You call, but no one calls you back. You are tempted to say, “How rude! “ But you are emotionally intelligent, so you tell yourself that it’s probably not about you.

I am talking about that foundation funder, or donor-advised fund owner, or individual of high net worth, that you have not been able to reach, but whose funding priorities seem to align with your mission. “If I could only get close to them, I would know the perfect thing to say,” you tell to your CEO.

Fundraising is a relationship business. Having access so that we can have conversations is our lifeline to securing major gifts.

There they sit, at arms-length, yet seemingly impossible to reach. “They would be low hanging fruit if I could just talk, meet, engage them, you think. How do I get closer to talk with them?

I have asked myself the same question for decades! Here are four moves that have worked for me:

1. Attend a funder panel. By design, such panels give you the insider’s view of the funder’s priorities. The panel gives you a chance to meet the foundation officer in person. Such panels happen all over the country. They are usually sponsored by an intermediary group like a nonprofit resource center, or perhaps the Better Business Bureau, or a local College. In New York City, Philanthropy New York sets their schedule far in advance. In Philadelphia, LaSalle University’s Nonprofit Center hosts panels twice a year, and so does the Philadelphia Philanthropy Network. In Maryland, the local Association of Fundraiser’s chapters hosts them. Recently there was a funder’s panel of Colorado funders at the Nonprofit Learning Lab Conference in Denver. When I have attended them, I am always reminded of how wonderful our community of foundation professionals can be. I suggest that you do your own research and find a panel in your area.

2. Relationship “map” the Board list and your agency’s ambassadors/stakeholders. Relationship mapping is all the rage these days primarily because it works! You can use RelSci, or you can do it the old fashion way. Ask your stakeholders who they know and record their answers on your donor data base. Either way you must uncover the six degrees of separation between those that know you, and those whom you want to know. This will help you secure that elusive meeting.

3. Ask one of your current funders or donors to call for you. Recently I asked Funder Y if they would introduce me to new funders. In person, I gave Funder Y a shortlist of those dozen funders who matched our mission. Funder Y agreed to write introductory emails to four of the 12 on my list! I have since secured one new grant and have three pending grants in review. It was an unmitigated home run. In another case, I had lunch with a long-term donor. I showed him my shortlist of donors I had not been able to reach. He knew one of the people listed and agreed to contact them for me. That’s how it works, but you have got to ask for help.

4. Attend industry events, professional gatherings. I have signed up for conferences where realtors, financial planners, and bankers gather. I have attended community business associations, Chambers of Commerce, and Rotary clubs galore, and I have met my donors there for the first time! I always leave elated because of the connection made. Sometimes I meet two or three or four people who know of our agency’s work but had never been asked to give. In some cases, I have even been invited back to make a presentation about our work. That happened at a conference for religious leaders, and one of our ex-trustees was in attendance, and I was able to ask him to include our agency in his estate plans, a request he gladly agreed to.
I have had success with every one of these moves and you will too. Give them a try, and let me know how it goes.

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