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Cultivating Part 2: Foundation Boards

We're back to cultivating! And hopefully after the last two cultivation articles you are in the “I've totally got this” mode. But this time we'll look at foundation boards, which is totally different. 

Just as with all things grants, when it comes to how, who, and when of foundation board cultivation, “it depends”. Each foundation board has to be considered independently of another based on several factors:

  • Who's who – Can you get their board list? Of course most of the foundations we work with have their board members listed. Smaller family foundations may not have the board members listed, so you may have to do some researching. Rely cautiously on their latest Form 990. There may have leadership changes but any of the databases that you use to find information rely on that same Form 990 data. Smaller foundations are managed by their bank or investment company,   therefore, consider their broker or manager as staff and cultivate first as mentioned in Cultivation Part 1.
  • Past funding – Hopefully you have had a relationship with this foundation in the past. If you're starting from scratch or this is a new potential funding organization, look at their past grantees to see where your organization fills gaps so you have talking points. If you have received funding in the past from this organization, make sure to have a quick list for the cultivator about the impact of past gifts. (remember, quick snippets  or bullets not paragraphs like we are used to writing – if your board member is cultivating the relationship, they don't have time to read your last funding application)
  • Geography – it probably goes without saying but a community foundation board member should be easier to contact than one from a major national foundation, but then again, it is all relative. If you happen to be down the street from the Ford Foundation board secretary, then consider yourself very lucky. Are board members all over the country or right in a central location like a city or state? Places of employment and social circles can be appropriate places to cultivate a relationship with a potential funding organization.
  • Accessibility – Some foundations go to great lengths to ‘shield' their board members from solicitation so this will depend upon each foundation or funding organization.
  • Appropriateness – In some cases, it may not be appropriate at all to cultivate relationships with board members and in others a great idea. Knowing that level of appropriateness will take some researching and using your network. Reach out to other grant professionals to see what their interactions have been with this foundation's board.
I'd recommend doing a mini cultivation plan for each foundation you're researching, or maybe start with your top 5 – remember, cultivating takes time – lots of time! In your mini plan, list the 5 areas above and then begin thinking about the following:
  • Who is going to be responsible for the cultivation? This should typically be a board member, preferably an officer or the Executive Director/CEO. But depending on existing relationships there may be a few key staff that would also be appropriate at cultivating a relationship with a potential funder.
  • What is your goal? Are you seeking to make a request or submit a proposal that is looked at more favorably? Or are you looking for the foundation for other types of support?  Just remember time, talent, treasure here (and treasure should be focused on the foundation). Carefully consider the lines between their role on the foundation's board and as an individual. Do you want the foundation or the individuals support?
  • What decision making does this member(s) have with their board? You may not know that answer until you meet them or know more about them. Don't drop them like a hot potato if they aren't one of the decision makers- they may be helpful elsewhere. Instead continue to cultivate the relationship and ask to be introduced to other members based on your specific goals.
  • How are you going to connect with this individual? Consider community events, invite them to your events or site tours, or connect over something in common like alumni of the same school or on the same board for another organization. This is the other area to remember what is appropriate and the line between networking and stalking. You may get to this point and not know how to connect with the individual yet. Don't throw away your plans thus far. Hang on to them to see what develops.
Remember this is similar to networking and relationships need to be nurtured. When you can, do this cultivation in tandem with your professional networking. As grant professionals we are pretty keen about our calendars so don't forget to set calendar reminders for check-ins, birthdays, and just because messages from your chosen cultivator. If you have the time to learn a new system, Sales Force provides free accounts to nonprofit organizations and can help keep up with your contacts. I hope both these articles have helped to jog your motivation and ideas for cultivation. Cultivate on grant pros!