Meeting with Funders

A comment last week from a participant in the grantseeking class I teach got me thinking about meetings with funders.

He suggested he would try not to say too much in a phonecall following up an introductory letter. Instead, he’d focus on the goal of getting a meeting to discuss things further.

And that’s right. Get the Meeting to build the relationship. Stay connected (and real) and the money will come.

New to grantseeking, this person has experience in other forms of fundraising. And I’d guess individual major gifts fundraising, because that model (Letter, Phonecall, Meeting), in which your phonecall is __just__ to set up the meeting is a classic. A classic because it works. Seems like it should apply to foundation program officers, too.

And it does, but perhaps not precisely. Looking back at my own grantseeking over something like 15 years, the subtle difference is in timing.

At least for me, the meetings happen most often between the formal proposal and the board meeting, rather than right after the introductory letter and phonecall.

Why? Well, I know that the program officer uses these LOIs and early phonecalls as filters (my past includes a short period as a grantmaker). Unlike most individual donors, Program Officers have defined program agendas and priorities. There is less room for convincing or persuading. Representing a nonprofit, your job is to present your program and identify the intersection of interests.

So in the follow up phonecall (which typically has been set up between me and the assistant for a specific time—with the purpose of following up my letter), it often happens that I talk substantively with the program officer about the project—with plenty of pauses to listen for clues. Then, I’ve got sufficient relationship to get an in-person meeting.

This meeting usually comes after the program officer gives the go-ahead for submitting a formal proposal. Often the program officer comes to us in the form of a site visit. Other times, when the program officer advises me not to submit a proposal, I can still get a meeting to talk through other programs. I think it’s because I’ve been real and not pushed hard on something that just wasn’t the right fit.

But what about the money? Although foundation people will say you don’t need to meet with them to get a grant, my track record tells me that grants are more likely to come after in-person meetings. In-depth, multiple phonecalls can get proposals—even from unfamiliar organizations—to the board meeting. But they seem less often to result in a grant.

So thanks to the prompt from the workshop participant, I discovered (or rather, confirmed and clarified) two truths from analyzing my own experience:

1. The foundation model goes: Letter, Phonecall, Proposal, Meeting, More Phonecalls (checking in and updates), Board Meeting, Decision.

2. Grants come after an in-person meeting sometime during the process.