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Cultivating Part 1: Foundation Staff

I wanted to drill down a little deeper into the cultivation area after reading Kimberly de Muga and Jamie Healy's articles that appeared on March 7th and 15th, respectively. If you haven't read them, your homework is to read those first.   Kimberly really hits on some great communication tips while Jamie looks at relationships in a more intimate way.  Both articles certainly offer great tips that pertain to staff and board members of foundations. So keep a list of both nearby. 

One thing about cultivation that I think gets a lot of grant professionals hung up is just the word. “That's fundraising's territory – I don't do that” is an all too easy response. And we, on the whole as grant professionals, prefer to sit behind the screen and keyboard to win the hearts of funders rather than “schmooze” and “court” as we assume fundraising professionals do.

If it helps, think of cultivation as networking. It can expand your reach in professional growth as much as it can expand the reach of your organization. Cultivation in the grant world is just as important as cultivation is on the fundraising side. (Hint: We're all on the same team.)

When putting a focus on foundation staff and building that relationship dynamic, remember these things about foundation staff:
  • They must network just like you do. They must vet organizations for their boards and management teams. So keep communications going with updates outside of your regular reports. Ask them what their networking needs are and make connections for them when possible.
  • Foundation staff  talk. The foundation world is a pretty big place – but it's like a small town. Go to any Council on Foundation meeting and you'll see that foundation staff can be a pretty close knit community. And when it comes to local or regional foundations, they have geography on their side. The point here is don't tick one off, thinking the others won't find out. If you make a mistake, own it, apologize for it, and ask how to fix it.
  • Yes, they are people too. Foundation staff may have a hand on the purse strings but they are just like you and me. Most have a big passion for the missions they carry out. Get to know a few things about them and keep those in mind as ways to reach out to them.
  • Their job is not as easy as you think. A lot of us on the receiving side of grants can assume that ‘giving away money is easy.' But, any grant reviewer or foundation board member knows that's not the case. So make their jobs easier when you can – give them solid applications, provide them with requested information, and submit timely reports.
  • These folks are smart! Foundation staff can have interesting and phenomenal backgrounds. Quietly cyberstalk a little to see what their careers have been like. In working with a foundation staff member at a large national foundation, I could have listened to this woman talk for hours because her experiences were so awesome. Tap into their experiences whenever you can. Ask them for ideas or run something by them to get their feedback.
Cultivation isn't necessarily difficult. It can just be uncomfortable or awkward at times, but with practice, you will find it easier to do.

Remember that your relationship with foundation staff is just one piece of the puzzle. I'll be back next week to discuss foundation boards.