Having A Conversation Before Application Submission

You’ve identified a foundation that seems like an appropriate prospect for your proposal. Your organization’s work aligns with the funder’s mission. You’re in an eligible location; the program you want to get funded is the right scope for the grants they seem to give. All you have to do is write the proposal and send it off, right?

You might be skipping an important first step. It’s worth the time and effort to try for a preliminary discussion with a foundation’s program officer before you submit your request. “There’s a lot to be learned in such a conversation,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif., “and it offers a great opportunity to alert the foundation that a proposal’s on the way.”

What to do before you call — homework and more homework. What is the foundation’s current focus? What can you learn from a review of their federal Form 990? Do you have a clearly-defined program you want to present? Do you understand the funder’s protocols and procedures?

When you make the call, a good rule of thumb is to ask questions and resist the temptation to “sell” the program. You’ll want to find out about timing of the review and decision. You’ll want to arrange a site visit if possible (and appropriate). This is the time to ask for clarification about anything in the guidelines that might seem ambiguous. 

Be prepared for questions you aren’t prepared to answer. It’s probably good news if a program officer or other foundation executive wants to dig deeper and find out more about your organization and its programs. It’s perfectly OK to say “I’ll get those details and get back to you.” Just be sure you follow up. 

Anyone who’s familiar with foundation research will acknowledge that a lot of prospective funders say “We’re too busy, don’t call us, just submit the form” or something similar. What do you do if a foundation seems unavailable for a pre-application conversation? If your work seems in clear alignment with the funder’s purposes and if you see the foundation as a high-value prospect, you might try contacting a grantee to see if you can get an introduction. 

You might ask your board members to look closer at possible links or connections. If you’ve been funded by another foundation you might ask your contact there for help reaching out to the potential new partner.

The time you spend trying to have a conversation before submitting a request is an investment in the potential longer-term relationship with the funder. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center