Grant Stewardship: Beyond “Thank You” by Megan Campbell, MPA, GPC

Congratulations! You have received notice that a local foundation will gladly support your organization and/or program during the coming year. The foundation board or staff are excited about your mission, your plans, and helping serve your community. You record the amount in your donor and accounting software, generate a letter acknowledging the gift, and move on to managing the implementation of program activities. Right? Well, no.

While providing a timely statement of receipt is an essential step for accepting financial gifts from any donor, a disingenuous thank you letter – one that is often generated by an organization’s fundraising software and sent by automatic email with zero human interaction – does not foster meaningful shared communication and genuine partnership.

There is growing consensus that the expectation of “gratitude” in the form of thank-you notes actually perpetuates an imbalance of power between nonprofits and funders and negatively impacts the great work you could be doing together (NonprofitAF Blog, 2023). Others find handwritten thank-you notes to be a disappearing art form. Thank you notes can be an act of personal appreciation that shows care and consideration for another human’s time, shared experience, or efforts. Your organization can decide what approach to take.

All that said, there are several other ways that organizations can (and should) move beyond the “thank you” to build better and more genuine partnerships with their grant funders.

  1. Read the award letter or grant agreement. Many funders provide guidelines or preferences for recognition and logo usage with the award letter or grant agreement. Make sure these guidelines are shared with the staff person responsible for managing your donor database or marketing. This will make sure grant funders aren’t automatically signed up for your organization’s newsletters or annual appeals (unless they’ve expressly asked to be included in your fundraising and marketing efforts).
  2. Do what you said you were going to do with the grant funds they provided. If you find you cannot (for what could be a variety of acceptable reasons), reach out to the funder before your final report. Your final report should not be the formal messenger of a discussion that should have been initiated with a foundation representative months ago. Don’t put yourself in a position to ask for forgiveness or the funder in a position to question you or your organization’s integrity.
  3. Understand your grant’s goals and objectives. You should have the necessary systems in place to measure the goals and objectives you outlined in your grant request. If you find at any time during the grant period that the funded program is not achieving the goals your organization set out to accomplish, talk with a foundation representative. Many program officers are well-versed in the community issues they fund and have likely advised other grantees on similar topics. They want to learn what your challenges are, and they want to help you succeed.
  4. Meet the reporting deadlines. In many cases, foundation staff are waiting on your report to complete reports of their own. In any case, it’s just bad form to not meet the deadline. If you will not be able to meet a report deadline, or maybe need more time to spend down grant dollars, call the foundation or your program officer. Many foundations are willing to work with organizations if they are given the proper notice.
  5. Do not turn site visits into ballroom affairs. There’s a difference between offering an honest-to-goodness tour of your facility and turning a site visit into a major special event. There is much value in simply giving your funding partner an understanding of where and how you deliver services, an opportunity to meet the front-line staff, and (if appropriate) getting an honest sense of how your services are delivered.

When you steward grant dollars wisely and connect program officers or foundation staff to your mission and overall success – when they can see that the role they play is making a difference and the funding they’ve provided is being used responsibly – you create pathways for keeping them engaged and invested in your success well into the future.

Learn more about building relationships with AGS on-demand training opportunities. Grants 301 – Relationships: It’s a Two-Way Street is an excellent primer for those working with private foundations and community partners, while Federal Grants: Relationships with Program Officers and Legislators will give you the essentials for working with government officials to seek out and sustain grant funding.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #6: Knowledge of nationally recognized standards of ethical practice by grant developers

Skill 6.8: Distinguish between ethical and unethical commitment, performance, and reporting of activities funded by a grant

Competency #8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders

Skill 8.1: Identify characteristics of mutually beneficial relationships between fund seeker and funders
Skill 8.2: Identify strategies to determine funder-relation approaches that suit fund-seeking entities’ missions, cultures, and values
Skill 8.3: Identify methods of relationship cultivation, communication, recognition, and stewardship that might appeal to specific funders
Skill 8.4:  Identify methods for collaborative efforts among the grant manager, program manager, and support staff during funder site visits and site evaluations

Discover more from Assel Grant Services

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading