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How to ask your long-term funders for more money 

A hybrid business meeting in a conference room with virtual participants.

For a nonprofit organization, there’s nothing better than a grantmaker you can count on for regular support. Every year you ask for $5,000 in general operating support and they award you that amount. Such long-term funders’ support is essential—but it can also be limiting. What if you want to expand your services? What if you have short-term expenses, like a repair? Or what if your programs simply cost more than they used to? 

Your long-term funder could be the one to go to for an increased or additional gift—but you have to know how to approach them. Your goal is to preserve and, if possible, strengthen your relationship with that funder. 

I asked Kate Tkacik Sweeney, Candid’s senior director of development, for advice on how to decide which funder to approach and how best to make the ask.  

1. Approach consistent, long-term funders

For Candid, Tkacik Sweeney explained, the main reason to ask for more money from a long-term funder is growing expenses across the organization: We’re increasing the number of users and reducing barriers to our data and resources. And like all organizations, Candid is affected by rising costs. 

While nonprofits are always trying to widen their base of funders, if you have a funder who’s given the same amount over five to 10 years, it might be a good opportunity to try to increase your ask. 

2. Ask for a modest increase 

Request an increase of no more than 10%. “This year at Candid, we’re asking many funders who support our general operations for a modest increase of 5% to 10%. We keep the increase small because we’re sensitive to the annual budgets of grantmakers—their planning may not account for increased asks from their recipients,” said Tkacik Sweeney.  

She advises against asking for a larger increase unless there’s a big change coming up—the launch of a new program, for example. Even then, it’s important to approach the program officer and see if there are funds available for a new program. The program officer might direct you to a colleague or revise the request in a specific way. 

3. Communicate with program officers before asking 

The most important thing, said Tkacik Sweeney, is to always stay in regular contact with the program officers. Connect with them before you make any request, give an update on what’s happening and what’s changed at the organization, thank them for their long-term support, explain why additional support is needed, and then ask for a modest increase. At Candid, it’s also been helpful to let long-term funders know that we’re making this request of other general operating support funders.  

You’ll also want to confirm that it’s the right time to ask. Some funders might support an increase but only as something to plan for in the future. Ask when the increased request should be made. 

If you’re in immediate need of emergency funding, start by going to the program officer for advice. “Since you have a long-term relationship with them, you can candidly give them a clear idea of your need,” said Tkacik Sweeney. “They may have other ways of giving—such as discretionary funds—that could help with your emergency need. If they can’t help, they may also know of others to approach. The important thing is to tell the foundation the situation and ask for their advice and suggestions. An additional grant, emergency funding, fast-track funding—all may be available.” 

4. Don’t ask funders who have repeatedly refused—or recently increased funding 

Avoid approaching funders who have repeatedly said no to such an increase, as well as those who have recently increased funding on their own initiative. If they’ve recently given your organization a second grant for another program, they’re less likely to increase their general operating support grant. 

5. If there’s no program officer, just submit the request

But sometimes the grantmaking process doesn’t involve frequent conversations with program officers—only letters or sporadic communication. What do you when you can’t sit down and talk to the funder? 

One option is a “hard ask”—simply submit the request for an increased amount explaining the reason: new project, inflation, expanded service, etc. You can also make a “soft ask”—submit the request for the usual amount and either add in a request for an increase or invite them to discuss an increase.  

At Candid, said Tkacik Sweeney, we tend to make more “hard asks” than “soft asks,” but not every year. “I always think about maintaining a cadence—more like every two or three years, or in line with how your organization budget increases.” 

Building, maintaining, and strengthening relationships with long-term funders is more of an art than a science. “Talk to your program officer, calibrate your ask, and always remember, ‘no’ might just mean ‘not right now,’” she said.  

If you’d like to learn more about building relationships with funders, try these resources: 

Photo credit: insta_photos via Getty Images

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  • Patrick Opio Okullo says:

    June 6, 2024 10:00 am

    This is a very good advice and reminder to us