As a former grant manager who works on a daily basis with grant-makers, the complex, creative, diverse world of fundraising has been incredible to me. What has struck me as most interesting is how fundraisers and the staff they work with closely at foundations are quite similar. They are on the front lines of their organizations’ activities, ready to shift at any given moment. They keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening around their organizations, and they are increasingly responsible for connecting data to better understand results.
Throughout the foundation industry, grants managers are being inspired to dive deeper on topics of strategy, outcomes, data, investments, and partnerships. They are helping to lead their own foundations away from being solely grant-focused and towards a utilization of all assets to help their partner organizations achieve their intended impact. And fundraisers are being asked to do the same thing. Fundraisers and grants managers are contributing more and more to the management of organizations, with an emphasis on building better partnerships, being smarter about data, communicating results, being more creative in their partnerships, and finally, growing as leaders within their own organizations.
Here are a few observations on how fundraisers—the ones making the asks—and grants managers—the ones managing the application process—can better collaborate to achieve strong grant results:
Build a partnership.
Both fundraisers and grants managers are at the center of it all, often managing many different stakeholders throughout the grantmaking cycle. Even if the initial discussions aren’t between the fundraiser and grant manager, the result of these two developing a relationship with each other will prove to be invaluable. The fundraiser relies on the grants manager for information on the status of a grant proposal and on the ongoing correspondence during the grant period. The grants manager relies on the fundraiser to give them necessary and timely information for a complete grant proposal, to communicate the overall needs of the organization, and to be in lockstep throughout the grant process. It’s in this back and forth exchange that the fundraiser can learn about the likelihood of approval, other available resources, and about the interworkings of the foundation. The grants manager, on the other hand, can learn insight about the applicant organization that may not be as clear in their written proposal. This is a great time to educate your grant partner on what you are hearing and learning in the field. This partnership will last through the course of the grant and each role can be your biggest internal ally.
Use all that data.
Fundraisers and grants managers have access to most—if not all— of their organizations’ data. Our organizations rely on us to share that data more broadly to tell our story; however, we could also use that information to educate our grant partners. Fundraisers, consider what is working well and what is not. Share that data and educate your funders as they try to sift through their own data. Be honest about all results, good and bad. It will not only help build the relationship, but it will keep the foundation on track towards its mission. Grants management professionals, share with your applicants how long your grant cycle really is and what they can expect during the process. Applicants put upwards of 20 hours into each proposal, so it is incredibly disappointing when they don’t receive a response. If you have the data, use it—internally to educate your leadership and drive decision making and externally to share the progress of the work, what you are doing and who you’re supporting.
Communicate your results.
Speaking of data, let’s use it to help communicate to our funders and stakeholders what is working and what is not. Let’s use our outcomes measurement data to really understand as an organization and as an industry how we are doing in achieving our mission and goals. We know everyone is talking about them. We want to understand them, know what we’re working towards, what we’ve achieved, and better understand how our partner organizations are achieving the outcomes to which they’ve committed.
Creatively problem solve.
We have learned that for grant recipients to be successful with their intended outcomes, they need more than just grant dollars. Foundations often have more assets than just grant dollars. They have social impact investments that can be made in the local community. Foundation staff have internal skills and peer networks—they can bring all of their partners together, connecting them to something much bigger. Foundations often don’t need their grantmaking partners need other type of support until the grant is underway. If you know that to achieve a specific outcome, you need capacity building support, then don’t be afraid to let your potential funder know. If your potential funder can’t provide additional support to you, they might know who else may be able to help in a different way. They want you to succeed as much as you do. They have a lot riding on this as well.
Be a philanthropic leader.
There are a few key areas where staff are contributing more and more to the management of their own organizations. Often, staff are specifically analyzing data to drive decision making, contributing to the definition of outcomes measurement, identifying ways of using all assets, and finally, building relationships with grant partners and other budding foundation leaders to learn and share best practices. Your organization needs your insight and perspective. It is most likely a different perspective than those in the leadership role, but you have a viewpoint, perspective, and relationships that give you a different level of contact and communication with your organization’s partners. Future leaders are those with the eyes and ears on the ground working with grant partners and internal staff teams. Promote partner organizations, especially when more support is needed. Collaborate with other internal teams to grow your organizational effectiveness.