Winning a big grant can almost feel like magic: a major award can capture attention, summon other support, and even transform an organization or community. What’s the trick to conjuring such success? No tricks at all—just the powerful alchemy of planful funder cultivation, stewardship, and affirmation.
Try this potion for prosperity:
Pre-Award Cultivation: Introduce, Inspire, and Apply
1. Take steps to introduce your organization to a prospective grant maker well ahead of the application deadline. This might happen through a brief phone call between an institution’s leader or grant writer and a foundation program officer to discuss the viability of funding a program that serves their mission. You also might ask your trustees if they know your contact before calling, in case they can help make a meaningful introduction.
2. Consider the ways you can inspire a prospective funder’s interests. Can you invite them to an upcoming event to witness your mission in action? Are you offering a unique service that you know they will value? Is your organization piloting a groundbreaking project or commencing a campaign that will change the face of the community? Think about the details you might provide during a call or communication.
3. If you learn that you can apply for support, it’s time to prove that your prospective funder’s excitement is well-warranted. Be sure to confirm and follow the foundation’s preferred LOI or proposal deadline, format, and approach. Stay succinct and tailor the narrative according to mutual goals and mission-fit. Provide concise but compelling materials that will help demonstrate merit. Build a corresponding budget that helps tell your story and validates that their support is needed, and your plan is strong.
Award Stewardship: Thank, Engage, Manage, and Recognize
4. You’ve learned your pre-award cultivation worked: you received the grant! Be sure to thank the foundation within 10 days of their pledge or gift, and if they haven’t requested a site visit, extend an invitation and include any important stakeholders (this shows appreciation and transparency). Can you make the acknowledgement more memorable with a photo of grant beneficiaries, a moving quote from a program participant, or a follow-up call from an organizational leader?
5. Don’t just meet the grant requirements, consider how to surpass them. Strive to meaningfully engage your grant maker. Seek a few opportunities each year to reach out to them informally. A quick email, phone call, or handwritten note sharing an institutional or project milestone can be used to show the foundation that their funding truly makes a difference.
6. Time to help manage the project. As the grant writer, you may not be the program director, but you can still act as the organizational glue by informing staff about the grant, requirements, and timeline. Create a few internal guideposts—tied to your project goals and objectives—to help program colleagues measure the project’s success so that reporting back to the foundation is easier.
7. Meet or exceed expectations to recognize the grant, foundation, and project. Unless the funder would like their grant to be anonymous, show appreciation by enhancing their public image and prominently and correctly noting the foundation’s name and role via print materials, project signage, verbal announcements, press releases, annual donor lists, social media, and creative formats.
Post-Award Affirmation: Report, Garner Feedback, and Renew
8. Providing a timely, concise, and impressive report to the funder will affirm their investment and engagement. Connect with your colleagues ahead of time to secure the appropriate reconciliation budget, data, and materials to illustrate major successes and thought leadership based on your accomplishments and challenges. A visual “is worth 1,000 words,” so consider including photos, news clippings, and other media that show the project in action.
9. Garner feedback, reinforcing your care for the grant maker and quest to stay relevant. Use the cover letter for your report or a follow-up conversation to ask the funder if they have any feedback or questions related to the program’s impact and future direction. This also reinforces that there is a future direction, and that you hope to build a long-term relationship.
10. By the time you start this process over, aiming to renew the funder’s support, you will have built a strong foundation through cultivation, stewardship, and affirmation.
While your strategy may continue to look like magic to others, this thoughtful, tactical grant seeking process will not only foster strong communications, familiarity, and trust, but it will also make future requests more comfortable and viable, paving the road to continued success. Poof!