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Three Ways to Build Effective Relationships with Funders

Congratulations, nonprofit leaders- you have made it to the end of the year! As we celebrate, we are quickly reminded that the new year is around the corner. As the new year approaches, we start to think about new potential funding opportunities and new and existing relationships that need to be built and maintain to make your funding goals a reality.

Effectively building networking relationships takes strategy. Building relationships with funders is no different. Here is some insight on three ways to effectively build relationships with funders:

"When you want money, ask for advice. When you want advice, ask for money."

We have all heard this quote, but how does it apply to building relationships with funders?

Funders should be partners equally invested in your success and the success of your work. I speak to funders all of the time and they truly want to be partners with you and want to walk this journey with you side by side. Know also, funders do not know everything. They are looking to learn from you because you are on the ground doing the work. As the subject matter experts, your work informs their work.

What they want to do is provide guidance and resources in addition and beyond just writing a check. This guidance can be shared with you in the form of advice. Don't be afraid to share program ideas with a funder to get their feedback before submitting a proposal. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions, especially clarification or context questions from the proposal (read Five Application Questions Funder Ask on Every Application). After being funded, if you run into an issue and need additional advice or resources, reach out. Even if you get declined, reach out and find out why (read How to Flip a Decline Into a Potential Grant Win?) At the end of the program, never wait until it's time to complete a report to express any concerns or challenges that put your organization at risk of not being able to successfully meet your program goals.

"People give to people."

I can tell you, as a former program officer at a corporate foundation, funders are human. They are people. Connect with them as people. Use your impact stories, what you are trying to do, and potential outcomes as ways to engage funders and make them interested in your organizations and programming.

Most folks at foundations have the heart to serve and positively impact the community. They wouldn't be doing what they are doing if they weren't. Never mind their title. Never mind their budget. Speak to and connect with funders as people (but always keep it professional, of course).

"Start building relationships when you don't need them."

This point is a point commonly missed by some nonprofit leaders. Do you know why? Nonprofit leaders are constantly in a pressure cooker situation of needing to get money, then needing to generate relationships in order to get money, and then finally rejoicing when the application is submitted and then quickly moving on to the next urgent item. This process does not take into consideration the preplanning required to leverage relationships effectively. How does this apply to you?

Build relationships with funders when there is no open funding opportunity available. Just reach out to funders to learn about their strategy for the upcoming year. Funders will have much more availability to speak with you and can be of more help. Then when a funding opportunity does open, it's much easier to reach out as a follow-up with someone you have already connected with versus building a new relationship



About Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC

As a former nonprofit leader and grantmaker, Shavonn has over 18 years of experience delivering practical, real-world advice to nonprofit leaders across the county. She is one of only 17 Grant Professional Certified (GPC) grant professionals in Georgia. Shavonn serves on the Board of Directors of the Grant Professionals Association and is a Sustainer member of the Junior League of Atlanta.

Shavonn earned the GPC (Grant Professional Certified) credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute in 2020 and is a Grant Professionals Association Approved Trainer. Shavonn earned a BBA from Howard University in Washington, DC, and an MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

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