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How should nonprofits approach potential grantmakers?

By Chris Bunting (they/them)
October 3, 2019

Nonprofit professionals often ask us: Are grantmakers open to building new relationships with potential grantees whom they haven’t funded in the past? Or are foundations largely unapproachable and closed off? 

And if grantmakers are open to making new connections, what is the best way for nonprofits to approach them? Do cold calls work? 

Hear foundation leaders’ responses to these questions (or scroll down to read the transcript), and pick up some tips you can use when planning your next approach:

A moderator and five panelists face an audience

If you’d like even more funder insights and practical tips on connecting with grantmakers, sign up for Candid’s self-paced online course: How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships with FundersRegister now.


Participants, from left to right in the video:

Audience member: I was wondering how open funders are to meeting new people, like cold calls, you know, or email or phone calls. How approachable would you say you are?

Tony Martignetti: How open to new relationships? Perfect—this is exactly what we’re talking about. We’re at the beginning phases of the relationship. How open are you to inquiries? Sounds like everybody has something to say. Amy, go ahead. The mike is near you. Take the mike, Amy.

Amy Berman: It’s really important. That’s a big part of my job. I’m constantly meeting people. My area is around aging, it’s around care of older adults. So I am on the road, as a national funder, I’m on the road probably almost every week. I am going and meeting with people; they have very easy access to me. If people are committing their life toward doing this work, I’m committing my life toward them, because my foundation’s mission is to do this as well. So I’m completely accessible.

Tony Martignetti: Dan, go ahead.

Daniel Werner: I would say that in our experience, we are one of the largest LBGT funders, so we get a lot of requests from U.S.-based—we’re a global funder as well—but from U.S.-based organizations, and we similarly only have a team of six or so, so we just don’t have the bandwidth. And one of the things I hate about my job is knowing that me and my team really don’t have the bandwidth, even though our, we have an open initial funding concept submissions, so anyone can send them in. We all do look at them, but we don’t have the bandwidth to have that special touch and tell people, “Oh, but this local foundation in Seattle area is doing X, Y, Z. So I would say, just keep at people. Find out where those funders and those spaces go. When we attend conference and other things, you catch people in a different mindset. They’re not running to meetings, they’re not doing their grant writeups. So I would say catching people in different spaces, as opposed to the cold call is one avenue you could employ.

Tony Martignetti: Cait.

Caitlin Mitchell: And I would just say as both a do and don’t, is, because EMpower we are open to hearing from prospective organizations, but do your homework ahead of time, and make sure. So, EMpower supports work in 15 emerging countries. We say that on our website, we list the countries. Make sure it’s a country that you work in is one that we support. We support work with at-risk youth ages 10 to 24. If you’re working with the elderly, or with children, we’re not the right organization. So, in general, as Dan was saying, we try to respect our grantees’ time, and hopefully the idea would be that then soliciting organizations or our grantee partners would do their part to respect our time.

Tony Martignetti: Anthony, how about you? For that initial …

Anthony Sanchez: I fully agree with that. Obviously, like I mentioned before, it’s very hard to, you know, answer every email, answer every inquiry. So doing research—I think our website is really good at providing—as Tony mentioned, we support three different pillars—but it’s a good place to start, because it provides a list of sample projects that we’ve supported. There’s also an eligibility quiz, so going back to what Cait said, it helps you figure out whether it would be a good match or not, because through that eligibility quiz, you know, if you were to select, you know, you’re in a place like Arkansas, where we don’t have a large employee base, that probably wouldn’t be a match, because we like to support organizations in specific regions, especially, you know, where we have a large employee headcount and, you know, our biggest market. So doing research is super important.

Tony Martignetti: So you’ve heard this a couple of times now. So what do we do on the individual side? It’s called prospect research. You gotta do it on the institutional side, too. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by, let’s say, failing to send a letter of inquiry if that’s part of, that’s the first step that a funder wants. You know, so don’t misstep by not doing your research.

Tags: Fundraising