How to Build and Maintain Strong Relationships With Grant Partners by Hayley Waynick, GPC


I recently attended a webinar through the Grant Professionals Association entitled “Pet Peeves of Funders.” The trainer had conducted extensive surveys with grant making entity officers in her area to assess their biggest pet peeves with the organizations they fund. One program officer surveyed shared that she didn’t like to be called “the funder” as it sounded to her like the relationship was simply a financial transaction. The officer stated, “We want to be so much more than that to the agencies we give money to.” She tagged, “Maybe it’s just me.” onto the end of her response.

I personally think most people associated with grant making entities share her sentiments. While “funder” is certainly not an inappropriate word to use when referring to your grant makers, I believe you need to think of them as more than “just a transaction” to be successful in cultivating and maintaining grant relationships throughout the funding period and beyond.

So, how should we refer to them? How about grant partners? Grant allies? Grant collaborators? Supporters? Champions of our cause? Perhaps even friends?

And, how can we, as grant writers or development professionals, foster a thriving long-term relationship with our grant partners, allies, collaborators, etc.?

One mistake many agencies make with grant partners is not treating them as they do their major individual or corporate donors. This is understandable, especially with larger foundations, given the formal nature of requesting funds and the disconnect that can result in the grant process. Nonetheless, there are several ways to maintain a strong relationship despite the formal processes.

Be Proactive and Transparent With Communication

What if you are having trouble with the project? What if outcomes didn’t turn out as expected? Is the project changing course? Are you behind on spending the grant? Is your organization under financial stress? Has your CEO left? Grant makers want to know this. I repeat, they want to know this. More importantly, they don’t want to find out about it in the grant report. I’ve attended grant panel after grant panel, and I see this reoccurring theme.

In reports and in person, don’t just state what you did and what you tracked, tell what you have LEARNED and how you have applied that knowledge to better your project going forward.

Always consider when it’s appropriate to notify grant makers of major changes prior to turning in grant reports. Changes in budget, target population, key staff, and project direction are worthy of notification. Reports are a KEY communication piece in your ongoing relationship with a grant maker, but don’t be afraid or hesitate to pick up the phone if something has changed with your project or organization. Be clear, be concise, be honest. Show them you are a good steward of their dollars, even in the face of changes and challenges.

Show That You Care

Call your program officer after you’re awarded a grant or at the end of the grant cycle. Not to discuss future funding, but rather to simply say, “THANK YOU!” Use this as an opportunity to get to know the program officer/contact. Should you follow up with a gift? There are mixed reviews on appreciation gifts. Avoid them for grant makers unless you know the person will be receptive. While this is a great way to acknowledge your individual and corporate donors, many program officers legally cannot accept gifts, and most would prefer you spend your money on programming instead.

Send emails and share photos of your program or project, especially if the grant making organization does not require a report. Make it a point to have one or two check-ins each year with your program officers to let them know what their money is making possible.

Connect with your grant makers on social media. Like, comment on, and share their posts. Use the things they post as topics for conversations in your interactions with them.

Encourage your senior leaders (CEO, chief development staff, or lead program staff) to have meaningful relationships with your grant makers. Invite them to coffee to simply talk about the issues affecting your organization and their mission. Get involved in coalitions with them, go to their meetings/forums, and be actively involved. For example, attend a Foundation’s board meeting, if it’s open to the public, to listen to their agenda and priorities and say hello to your program officer.

Using these tips will build and elevate your organization’s relationship with your grant makers from funder to friend, as well as help take full advantage of what your “friends” have to offer your program beyond money.

GPC Competency 8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders.  Skill 3: Identify methods of relationship cultivation, communication, recognition, and stewardship that might appeal to specific funders.

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