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March 20, 2013

Foundations and Nonprofits: A Circle of Learning

foundation blogWe ran the following post a while back and are re-issuing it here, because it’s more true than ever.  Foundations who make significant gifts are looking for grantees who are prepared to make significant change in the world:

Are you a ‘Thought Partner’ or just a ‘Grant Seeker’?  It makes a difference!

Good grantmaking is grounded first and foremost in a solid understanding of the field in which a foundation is seeking to make impact. How do your foundation funders develop that understanding? In part, by listening to you. How you present yourself and your cause can mean the difference between simply being a ‘grant seeker’ or being a ‘thought partner.’

The benefits to being a ‘thought partner’ with your funders are significant.

First, you’re more likely to get a grant if the funder believes that not only will they help the cause by giving money to your organization, but that they will learn something from your work.

Second, you open the door to relationships with program officers who are often leaders in the field in which you’re working. In other words, the learning opportunity goes both ways.

Third, funders know everyone. If they regard you as a respected voice on a particular issue, they’ll introduce you to others and help build your organization’s circle of influence. These benefits and others can increase your overall impact.

“Our grantees are enormously knowledgeable. So much of my knowledge comes from them. And that’s just a given.” – Jennifer Miller, Program Officer, The Wilburforce Foundation

How do you establish to your foundation funders that you’re not just looking for money, you’re also looking for partnership?

By communicating a viable change strategy for your issue area. This strategy should include a thorough assessment of the problem, your assumptions about how the problem can effectively be addressed, the activities you’ll undertake, the positive outcomes of those activities, and a projection of the impact your work will have over time. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m talking about the “logic model,” a reliable tool for crafting a change strategy and for evaluating your programs.

Check out these case studies presented by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.  They are a fascinating glimpse into how foundations go about understanding their issue areas. Grantees are an important part of the equation, but they also look to lots of other sources. You might consider those sources useful for yourself, as well.

We’ll be gathering next Tuesday morning to talk about foundation fundraising through our Back-to-Basics series with the Longmont Community Foundation.  If your organization is looking to ramp up its foundation revenue, join us!

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