You’ve identified a potential grant donor for your organization. They have resources. Their stated goals and activities match your mission. Since your funding odds increase exponentially when you have a relationship, what steps can you take to create one? How can you help a potential grant donor to know your organization better?

  1. Easy First Step. Include them in your mailings.
  2. Still Easy. Invite them to your events.
  3. Read All About Us. Generate public relations articles that support your efforts. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a $2.5 million gift to a children right’s group. The relationship started when the donor read a newspaper article about the organization’s work and contacted them.
  4. Cut and Send. Assume that the public relations piece failed to reach all your intended recipients. Mail the article with a note.
  5. Most Wanted List. Keep an active list of the top ten people you want to meet. Before events, review guest lists and seek an opportunity for introductions.
  6. Follow-up. Within 48 hours of your initial meeting, initiate a follow-up contact. For example, send a note, “It was great to meet you last night. Here’s the information about the program we discussed.”
  7. People Who Know People. To gain their help, share the list of people you want to meet with your board member, volunteers, staff, and friends. Tip: If they have contacts, make it easy. Inquire about the times they are together. Ask if you can be a guest at the gathering.
  8. People Who Know People and Let You Use Their Name. When people tell you they know someone, ask if it’s okay to mention your connection. Your conversation, with the potential donor, can begin, “Roger Nice-Guy suggested I contact you because of your interest in . . .”
  9. A Wonderful Donor Recommended I Contact You. Like above, this is a contact you initiate because an existing grant or other donor recommends them. In other words, don’t forget to ask your existing donors for referrals.

On Your Own

  1. Cold Call to Test the Water. Tell them,I read about your interests in missions like ours and would like to invite you to tour our facility.”
  2. Cold Call with a Shallow Jump. Share that, “We would like to submit to your foundation. We have three possible projects. I’m calling/emailing/writing to ask which sounds most interesting.”

With an Application

  1. Put the Ball in their Court. Apply. Wait patiently and humbly. And perhaps, wait and wait and wait.
  2. Pending, Pending. Send a holiday card while you wait.
  3. Put the Ball in Your Court. First follow-up: unless the rules state otherwise, inform the recipient when you will contact them in your cover letter. Then call. “I’m calling to confirm you received our application and to answer any questions you have.”
  4. Keep the Ball in Your Court. Second follow-up: If you left a voice message above, follow-up via email, “Sorry to miss you the other day when I called.”
  5. Still, Keep the Ball in Your Court. Third follow-up: make a final attempt if you’ve had no response with the above. “Hi, I’m calling to follow up on the email I sent you.”
  6. Magic Follow-Up, When No Might Mean Not Now. After two months, contact them again. “Thank you again for taking the time to review our application. I want to personally invite you to our event next month.”
  7. Magic Follow-Up, When No Is an Opportunity. Again in two months, contact them, “Thank you again for taking the time to review our application. I understand it’s not possible now. Do you know any individual or other foundation who might have an interest?”
  8. Magic, Wonderful Follow-Up. Do what the potential donor suggested when they turned you down (i.e., improve your board) and resubmit.
  9. Magic, Wonderful and Smart. Before you submit again, make the improvement as above and then (via a call or email) advise them of the changes you made. Thank them for their advice.


  1. Fulfill A Need. In a healthy relationship, people find touchpoints. Look for these. What is happening with them? Can you help? Can you make a referral to one of your services or another entity?
  2. Say Thank You. In any case, say thank you. Philanthropy is a choice. When people are affirmed for that choice sooner or later, it helps your organization.

Over time, select the techniques that work for you. If one technique feels awkward or too pushy, adapt it or substitute another for it. The Key: Take action to meet new people with whom you can ignite interest in your nonprofit.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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