3 Ways Major Gift Tactics Can Help Your Grants Program

If you’ve been thinking that successful grant writing means you simply follow the guidelines prescribed by the foundation, submit your grant, and – voilà – your organization receives funding, you might want to think again.

Smart nonprofits now are borrowing methods from the world of major gift fundraising to cultivate and engage a foundation before, during and after a grant is received. Think grants management and foundation relations rather than just grant writing. 

Here are 3 major gift tactics that you can apply successfully to your grants program – and raise more money! 

1. Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

At its core, foundation giving is just like all other philanthropy – it’s about people giving to people. So it makes sense that building a long-term relationship is important. But what’s the best way you can do this with a foundation? 

Behind every foundation grant sits a board of directors (or trustees) who decides where to gift the foundation’s money. If you’re unable to connect directly with members of the board, see if the foundation has a staff. Foundations may employ only an executive director or its staff might include one or more program officers. 

Foundation staff generally are not decision makers but they have some influence. Their job is to know about the nonprofit work happening in your community – which includes exchanging information with your organization and others – to see if there is a fit with the foundation’s guidelines.

You can also seek out foundation relationships that your organization already has. Perhaps one of your board members has a connection at a foundation and can make an introduction? Yes, the vast majority of funds gifted by a foundation will fall under strict guidelines, but foundation boards often have the ability to grant outside of the “rules.” Board member to board member relationships are often the impetus for these types of grants.

Finally, since we’re talking about foundations, check out What’s the Deal with Donor-Advised Funds?

2. Do Your Homework

Just as with individual donors, the more knowledge you bring to that first meeting about their interests and motivations, the more context you will have to ask great questions and propose partnerships that will move the relationship along. 

You may not actually use or verbalize all the knowledge you have in that first conversation, but since so many public foundations now publish in-depth information about their interest areas and giving processes publicly on their websites, there is an implicit expectation that you have considered that information before talking face to face. 

You never want a donor—including a foundation—to feel that you are wasting their time because you didn’t spend time doing your research.

3. Stewardship Matters

With foundations, touch points are built into the relationship from the outset via required progress reports. Don’t underestimate the utility of these reports! They are pre-set opportunities for you to touch base with your program officer and share your most recent successes and challenges.

Yes, you should outline this information in the written format the funder prefers. But why not invite your program officer on another site visit after they’ve read the report to see the impact their grant has produced over the past year? For more ideas, try Show Donors the Impact of Their Gift. 

You can also consider adding your program officer to your newsletter mailing or email list, ask them for advice about other local foundations, and offer other engagement opportunities as befits your organization. All the while, keep your ear to the ground for clues about the level of engagement they prefer. These are all stewardship tactics for individual donors, but they work great for foundations too. 

Winning grant money is a competitive endeavor. You can stand out from the crowd by being proactive in making connections and building relationships. 

Even though a foundation is not a human being, its mission is implemented by people just like you. Relationship-building here will certainly increase your chances of grant success. 

What are some ways your major gift and foundation fundraising strategies overlap? Are there other ideas you’ve been looking to try? Please share in the Comments box below.

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).