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Bridging the Gap between Fundraisers and "Program People"


Grant writing has a lot of unique terminology and processes—LOI, concept paper, prospect research, and other specialized terms litter our conversations. When I started in the grants profession, however, the term that I struggled with the most was “program people.”
 
Program people are so. . .”
“How do you get program people to reply to your emails?”
“What can I do to get program people to let me know when something changes?”
 
Our language reveals a division between professional fundraisers and the individuals who work directly with the people or animals served by the organization. Regardless of the challenges, “program people” and “fundraising people” need one another. With a few intentional strategies, you can overcome these obstacles and be more effective in your work.

How Staff Can Make the Proposal Process Easier
When developing a proposal, grant writers gather an array of data and information about trends to show why a program or project is needed and how the organization has already had a positive effect on the community.
 
With the support of a chief executive officer who sets a culture that encourages collaboration and communication, program staff will be more inclined to provide statistics and stories that embody the goals and impact of the organization. Your marketing/communications staff can provide more stories and reinforce your proposals through the messages they are publicizing through social media and newsletters. Administrative staff have access to legal documents, information for budgeting, and statistics in your organization's database.
 
Don't overlook the value provided by staff members who have been with the organization for a long time. These individuals can give you context on the history of the organization, what has made other projects successful or unsuccessful, and what trends they see in your industry.
 
Key Touch Points
If you have a divide in your organization, you can bridge the gap by understanding your coworkers and the organization's culture, and using a variety of tactics to gather information.
 
One of the most essential elements, to breaking down the divide, is building relationships. Relationships with individual coworkers are different than the relationship you automatically have as a grant writer with, say, a program director. Instead, relate as John (or Sally or Jen, etc.) to Sarah. When you are functioning in your grantwriting role, you have agenda-driven interactions. However, when you relate to a person on an individual level, you interact casually based on shared experiences and interests. You can build these relationships by sitting next to a person at lunch, traveling to a conference together, or just stopping by their desk to say “hello” once in a while. When not motivated by an agenda or action item, these informal interactions will build your relationship.
 
This type of interaction may come naturally to you, or it might be a challenge to step out from behind your desk to initiate a friendship. Remember that you're not trying to become best friends with your coworkers; instead, you are showing them that you recognize their worth outside of the specific project that you're working on together.
 
When people know that they are valued as individuals, they value the relationship more and are more likely to respond to your business requests. Sometimes, grant writers are tempted to use their impact as a way to gather information (i.e., “I pay for your salary”). While this strategy may get you the information that you are looking for, the long-term relationship is undermined. Similarly, as you branch out to build relationships, take care to greet each of your coworkers equally, as opportunities arise. If you say hello to Janet every time you walk by her desk, but ignore Josh, there can be a perception that you are playing favorites.
 
It's frustrating when an email isn't returned in a timely manner, and ultimately having lunch with someone doesn't mean that you'll get the answers you need. However, the friendship can help you understand the person's communication style and workload and allow you to identify better ways to work—and communicate—with him or her.
 
For example, my desk sits diagonal to a coworker who has key outcomes and partnership statistics. It would be easy to leave a note on his desk or drop by in the morning to chat with him, but I wouldn't get the responses that I need. He's always on the go, and there's no discernable inbox among the dozens of business cards on his desk. However, when I send him an email, I usually get a response within 30 minutes. A different coworker responds best when I walk with her in the hallways as she transitions between meetings on our job-training campus. Neither of these communication styles is better than the other. My ability to identify and appropriately respond to the person's preferred style is what makes these effective tactics.
 
You are a “Program Person”
When I started as a grant writer, I had been working in the nonprofit sector for over a decade. In that time, my only interaction with grants was in executing and reporting on a two-year federal grant. I was a “program person.” The grant writers in my organizations used various tactics to connect with me. Some had forms that I had to fill out each month. Others called and chatted with me every few months. One time, I was called into a meeting to talk about my program and only later found out that it was a site visit for a grant request that would extend a project I was working on.
 
When I joined the grant writing profession, I found that experience helpful in maintaining and building relationships with program staff. I had met with our clients, knew our partners, and understood the mission first-hand. But as I grew in my fundraising role, I unintentionally stopped having first-hand experiences with our mission. Within a few months, I was writing about other peoples' experiences and lost the understanding of the realities that our staff faced. With the prompting of my senior management, I attended celebrations of our clients' accomplishments, took a few afternoons to work at the tables with our direct support professionals rather than in my cubicle, and sat in on a few of the classes we offer. And it worked. I connected with our mission in a new way, and that connection—combined with a few strategic communication strategies—allowed me to maintain my relationships with our staff.

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