Holiday Cards and Relationship Maintenance by Leah Hyman

I’m not the type of person who sends out holiday cards. I want to be that type of person. I feel like I should be that type of person. After all, I love receiving them; the photos of our friends and family and their “year-in-review” recaps always bring a smile to my face. And I grew up with a mom who is great at sending holiday cards. I have vivid memories of her pulling out the notebook filled with addresses, often with amendments and notes penned neatly beside certain names. She’d carefully address and stuff envelopes with a card and letter detailing our family’s updates and accomplishments. By giving my brother and me some editorial power over our own paragraphs (so we could keep our very cool reputations intact) and soliciting our help with the envelope stuffing, she was giving us a primer in relationship maintenance.

This year has been a strange one for relationships, to say the least. Personally, I’ve realized I have some friendships that rely very heavily on face-to-face interactions or activities: lunch, a yoga class, story time at the library. Many of these relationships have stalled with business closures and social distancing. On the other hand, friendships that already spanned distances became even stronger, as our group texts lit up with new commiserations and more frequent check-ins. My kids have found joy in FaceTime and Zoom as novel ways to connect with their grandparents. I’ve even forged new, meaningful friendships via text, Skype, or from 6+ feet away on a front porch.

The grants world has been no different. Grantor-grantee relationships have inexorably changed. When the pandemic struck, some funders completely pivoted away from their usual grant calendars out of necessity, making very tough decisions that would impact existing relationships with grantees and donors. On the other hand, some funders were able to ease up on reporting requirements or convert program-specific grants to unrestricted funding. The pandemic also paved the way for brand-new relationships. In my local area, the community foundation partnered with a marketing agency, several family foundations, and thousands of private donors to raise money for small businesses, nonprofits, and residents. For a while there, it seemed like new COVID-relief programs were springing up at the federal, state, and local levels every day. These were brand-new relationship opportunities, born of urgency.

So, as we move into the new year, consider what 2020 has meant for your organization’s relationships – with funders, sponsors, donors, partner agencies, clients, etc. Which ones do you most need to maintain? Can you glean any lessons from relationships lost? Are there any that need to be revisited or re-cultivated as you move into 2021? In other words, who would be on your hypothetical holiday card list?

And if you were to send those organizations or individuals a holiday card, what would you say? If you’ve written any proposals for COVID-relief funding, chances are you’ve had to describe the challenges your client or organization has faced due to the pandemic. If you haven’t had to put this into words yet, jot it down now while it’s still fresh. How were your clients impacted? Your staff? Your programs? Which projects did you shelve in lieu of other, more urgent matters? Then, of course, think about your successes. Maybe you formed new partnerships to collaboratively meet emerging needs. Maybe you discovered lasting efficiencies in new technologies or remote service delivery methods. Or maybe your organization and staff just showed incredible, day-to-day resiliency in the face of unprecedented circumstances – both at work and at home.

We can’t say for sure what the funding landscape will look like in 2021 or how it will affect these relationships. What you can do is take time to reflect on how you learned unlikely lessons in 2020, how your staff and clients worked to overcome adversity, and how your organization adapted to fulfill its mission in new ways. You’ll then have content that you can share with funders in the coming year through grant reports and proposals. You can show exactly how the pandemic has reinforced not only the need for your programs, but also the strength of your clients and the sustainability of your organization.

So even if you’re like me and didn’t get around to sending out holiday cards this year (again), I urge you to reflect on your relationships – personally and professionally – and think about how and with whom you’ll share your 2020 news. What will your year-in-review look like?

Competency #7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.

Skill 7.3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large.

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

Skill 8.3: Identify methods of relationship cultivation, communication, recognition, and stewardship that might appeal to specific funders.