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Grant Funders are People, Too: Don't Forget Stewardship!

Keeping your donors in the loop and continuing to cultivate a relationship after a donation is received is often defined as “stewardship.”

Just like “regular” fundraising, for private and corporate foundations it's all about relationships. Don't forget that a group of human beings reviews proposals and makes funding decisions. And, program officers are people with feelings and a desire to do good in the world.
A lot of folks think that once you get the grant, that's it. There's nothing left to do because you've got the funding and you're on to program expansion, installing new computers, or building that great new community center. But, there's more you could—should—do to keep the relationship between your organization and the funder alive.
  • It is best practice to acknowledge the funder with a thank you letter. This is a small—but grand—gesture. You may even wish to call the program officer or foundation chair to express your thanks verbally. However you do it—do it!
  • Be sure you keep the funder in the loop throughout the grant period. Send periodic program updates outside of the required reports. Some funders may not wish to be on your newsletter list or added to your social media feed, so be sure you ask if it's okay. This applies to challenges you may face, too. Program officers know things don't always go as planned. If your program only enrolled 58 students instead of the projected 85, reach out to the funder and let them know. Maybe they'll let you use the funding allocated for those missing 27 students on other program needs. In my experience, the funder has always been understanding and willing to work with my clients when the unexpected happens.
  • File the required reports on time!
  • Recognize the funder's contribution to your mission. You may have had to answer a question about this in your application, so be sure you do what you said you would (send a press release, announce the award on social media, etc.). If you didn't have to do this, check with the funder first to ensure your recognition plan is okay with them.
If you don't get the grant, you may shrug your shoulders and put the decline letter in a pile marked, “maybe next year.” But, there's more you could—should—do to increase the chances that next year you might get funded.
  • Send a thank you. Thank the program officer for their time and consideration of your request. Tell them again, briefly, about your organization and how its work aligns with the foundation's interests. If they're local, offer to show them around your facility or arrange a time for them to see your program in action.
  • Call. Recently, I called a foundation after a client received a decline letter. I thanked the executive director for the foundation's consideration and asked if there was something we might do differently in our proposal next time. In this case, she informed me there was nothing wrong with the proposal; they had just received too many applications for the amount of funding available. Our conversation was pleasant and short, and ended with her telling me, “I commend you for calling to follow up. Most people don't. We look forward to reviewing a proposal next year.”
These are a few very simple ways to keep the lines of communication open with your grant funders—those who have funded you and those who haven't (yet).
What creative stewardship ideas have worked for your organization?

Lisa M. Sihvonen-Binder, MS NMP, is a nonprofit consultant, teacher, board member, and professional grant writer with over 10 years of experience in the grants profession.

GPC Competency: 08. Funder relationships


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