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Grantmakers Aren't an ATM

“An extra act of gratefulness from an organization makes a grantor feel less like an ATM and more of a community ally and friend.” – Max DelSignore


When Max DelSignore, Assistant Director of the Northern New York Community Foundation, wrote, “The Value of ‘Next-Level' Gratitude” blog post last year, he included excellent pieces of advice for all grant seekers, not just those in Northern New York. The line that has stuck with me for the past year is the quote above about making “a grantor feel less like an ATM.” This line hit me square in the chest as it seemed like the perfect way to describe many of the well-intentioned interactions that I used to have with some grantees back when I was a Program Officer.
The organizations were always well-meaning and doing important work in the community with their target audience, but were understaffed or perhaps simply not aware of the importance of the relationships with their grantmakers. The way the scenario plays out was that an organization received the grant, sent the required IRS acknowledgment letter – perhaps even writing a handwritten thank you on the letter, and then didn't communicate again until a report was due. And then it came time, in looking ahead in the grant calendar, to think about putting together an application for another year of funding. Now the calls were made. Now the emails were sent. But what about the previous 10 or 11 months? Why only reach out with required communication? On paper, all of the requirements have been met, but the relationship established would feel indeed, very transactional, and oh wait…a bit like they might be an ATM.
I imagine many of you are nodding. Agreeing that outreach prior to applying for funding, even with an existing funder, IS indeed an important best practice, but so is building on the relationship during the grant award. Yet a reminder never hurts for your focus during the grant award period to include genuinely treating the grantmaker as a funding partner. Ultimately, your challenge in the relationship is how to express sincere next-level gratitude as a means to prevent the interactions from feeling transactional.
Here are three basic, but critical actions that organizations can take regardless of their staff size:
1. Connect with your grantmaker during the grant award period. While grantmakers have a variety of preferences and capacity for pre-award communication, once you have received the award, it is your time to shine and focus on enhancing the relationship. With each funder ask yourself, “How can I best communicate outside of what is required?” Is it a handwritten thank you note from a participant to each grantmaker every year? Is it hosting an open house for all funders and major donors to attend and watch the program in action annually? Be creative, be consistent, and work within your capacity.
2. Utilize and promote your work and their work via shared networks. When appropriate, this can mean promoting both your grant-funded work as well as your funder's other work via the social networks where your grant seeking organization is active. Focus this activity in networks where both your grant seeking organization AND the funder participate. Be creative, be consistent, work within existing capacity, and your organization's rules/structure for social media.
3. Be sincere. Always. In all interactions. Enough said.
Do you follow other basic practices to ensure that your grantmaker relationships don't feel transactional and leave their staff and/or board feeling a bit like an ATM?
Diane H. Leonard, GPC is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and Approved Trainer for the Grant Professionals Association. Diane and her team have secured more than $46.8 million dollars in competitive grant funds for the clients of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC. When not working on grant applications, Diane can be found in the 1000 Islands, out for a run, or drinking a strong cup of coffee.



By: Susan Caruso Green
On: 04/17/2018 15:49:15
Thank you, Diane, for this insightful blog. I fully agree. I put "unrequired updates" on clients' grant calendars whenever a grant is received. How many communications a year do you think is ideal?
By: Diane Leonard
On: 04/18/2018 12:38:55
Susan - Great to hear you already put "unrequired" communication/updates with grantmakers onto your clients' grant calendars! I find that ideal really depends on the client's current capacity and looking at what marketing/outreach materials they may already create that they could use. Quarterly often feels like a sweet spot for many groups, but if currently there is *no* interaction outside of required, adding just one more interaction/update per year for each funder is a great place to start and build from.

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