Question: It seems that foundations and other funders hold all the cards in power relationships with grantseekers. Is that true?
At first glance, it definitely can appear that way. It may feel like you are “begging for money” with a virtual tin cup. You may even get nervous when you prepare to speak with a funder one-on-one.
That’s totally understandable. (FYI, many foundation program officers used to be in grantseekers’ shoes so they can empathize with your sweaty palms.)
But while grantmakers hold the purse strings, by no means are they the only ones in the relationship who should be confident, empowered professionals.
Look closely at the situation. The fact is that private foundations are required by law to annually make charitable expenditures of at least 5% of the value of their endowment. While all of those expenditures don’t technically have to be grants (they can be other related expenses), this requirement means that they actually need to be charitable if they want to avoid an IRS penalty.
But let’s look beyond that technical requirement. Of course, most grantmakers are dedicated to making our communities better places to live. They really want to contribute—especially in hard times. They look to the nonprofit sector for the tools and know-how that will help them make the biggest difference they can.
While they are great at providing resources, grantmakers need organizations like yours to turn their dollars into real changes in our communities. They simple cannot do so without your help!
And grantnakers look for ways to get the biggest bang for their buck. Ditto for corporate and government funders.
As a grantseeker, your job is to show them that working with you will offer them the opportunity to make an effective contribution. Remember that only those organizations that can help funders accomplish their community missions will get funded. It’s incumbent upon you to show them that supporting you will be that wise investment.
You may think that to do so you need to present your organization as one that has all the answers and knows exactly how to turn their grant money into stellar community results.
Actually, maybe you do hold the magic bullet they have been looking for. If so, by all means explain how you can forge a partnership with them along those lines.
But you don’t actually have to be 100% successful 100% of the time to be of great value to grantmakers.
Yes, we all want to succeed. But sometimes what we learn from so-called “mistakes” can be even more valuable! Sometimes the results we end up with can teach us much more than the results we initially sought.
Funders know that. And they are interested in organizations that are constantly learning. They rely on nonprofits to show them what works and what doesn’t work. They especially like to fund organizations that are actively addressing their weaknesses and finding new and better pathways to success. They want to see those lessons and improvements shared amongst colleagues.
So if your organization is taking calculated risks and experimenting with new programs or strategies that funders want to try out, you could be made for each other. Without partnerships like that, neither party can meet its goal.
My point? Don’t give away your power as a changemaker in your community. Funders are there to support your ideas. But without the organizations to implement those ideas, nothing changes.
You both need each other.