Demystifying relationships with charitable foundations

Over the course of the last nine-plus years, Numads have had the great fortune to work with some of the best foundation personnel out there, at least in our humble opinions.  We’ve gotten to know program officers, foundation presidents, communications personnel, and others at foundations large and small, working nationally and in local communities. And we’ve been inspired by every one of them and their efforts to make their communities--at home or across the nation--better places to live, work and play.

This is why our clients probably get super tired of hearing us say:

Hold up on submitting that cold proposal!

For sure, there are foundations that for a number of legitimate reasons are not able to talk one-on-one with potential applicants and grantees. For example, some of them may attempt to save their resources for supporting more grantees instead of staffing more phones. Those statements about “we are unable to accept phone calls or other inquiries prior to application submission” are definitely there for a reason, and continuing to call time and again if this is the case is likely enough to turn anyone off.

But just because some foundations take this approach, that is certainly no reason to fear initiating a more personal interaction with the appropriate foundation personnel elsewhere. And in fact, we’ve found that these interactions more often than not result in a much more successful approach--and a more lasting relationship--with the foundation than when we don’t try to reach out at all.

Why? Because those personnel are meant to be intermediaries between the source of the charitable funds (the board, the donors, etc.) and you, the effort on the ground that is seeking support. 

And they know what they are doing! 

Foundation personnel have often studied the field in which your organization is working quite extensively, and have access to resources (results of various kinds of studies and program evaluations, larger policy contexts, data trends over time, more expansive networks, and more) that you may not have handy at your fingertips.

In ways large and small, we’ve found that approaching the appropriate foundation personnel has often resulted in:

  • A better understanding of the application guidelines;
  • A better understanding of the true intent for the use of the funds, or the change the foundation is wanting to see happen as a result of your efforts;
  • Suggestions for how to improve the application (some gracious souls are even willing to read a draft of your application before you officially submit it… but you won’t know unless you pick up the phone and ask them!);
  • Hints about particular phrases or concepts that the board will want to read in order to know that your work aligns with their mission;
  • Introductions to other funding prospects for your effort;
  • Suggestions for how to overcome challenges or obstacles in your program model; and,
  • Gaining a genuine sounding board for new ideas for the future.

So for Pete’s sake (wait, who is Pete?), before you hit that “Submit” button or seal that FedEx package, pick up the phone and call the foundation (after doing your research and preparing, of course... but that’s a topic for another blog post coming soon). Go visit if you can. Have coffee or lunch with your program officer. And then heed their advice. They want to see you succeed--your success means their success. And if what you learn is that this particular approach isn’t the right one, be grateful! The foundation officer has saved you time, and has helped you get closer to being more successful in the future.

Many thanks to the phenomenal foundation personnel that have helped us learn these lessons over time. We are inspired by you!