Build Lasting Relationships with Grantors and Funding Will Follow

When applying for a grant, seek out ways to build a relationship with the funding source.  Libby Hikind, Founder and CEO of, advises grant seekers and GrantWriterTeam grant writers to: “Do some research as to who the funding source has funded in the past, the amount of the awards and the types of program.” When dealing with a foundation or corporate funding source, you should be able to find information on the experience, education and existing nonprofit relationships of the administrative staff (other boards they serve on…). When you make that initial phone call or email you should be prepared with some common ground and know how to approach the foundation staff member you want to connect with.

Getting a grant award involves competing for money from a variety of funding sources.  The better acquainted you are with the funding source, the easier it can be to get the funds you’re seeking for your nonprofit organization, your community group or yourself. Building a relationship with people at the foundation or organization that you are seeking funding from, can greatly ease and aide the process.

Theresa Lu, Ph.D., founder and CEO of MissionQuest, Inc. is involved in every aspect of the grantsmanship process with her primary roles including strategic planning, marketing, talent development, and fiscal management. Dr. Lu is a highly regarded consultant and educator, with 25 years of experience in the fields of organizational development and management. Dr. Lu is also an associate professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and an adjunct professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She is the author of Total Domination: Millions from Grants.

Since 2002, MissionQuest, Inc. has been offering transformative organizational development services including team building, leadership development, and strategic planning.

The first step in getting a grant, explains Lu, is to do historical analysis. Lu and her team look at who has been funding the nonprofit for the past three years. They look at what grants they’ve gotten, what they’ve applied for that’s been rejected, and any prior funders it makes sense to approach again. Only then do they look for new potential donors.

“The next step is to look at how to sell to organizations. What is unique about the program? What are the greatest strengths? Is there a family aspect? A children’s aftercare program? A health component? A senior assistance component?  We think about strategies upfront before we look for new funders.”

Next, they do a thorough analysis of the organization, as well as its budgets, funding, and programming.

They subscribe to different websites such as and do searches based on the different segments and present the results to their clients and work with them to decide which to apply for.

Lu and others at MissionQuest talk about “Old friends” and “Newer friends.” Saying, it’s all about relationship building. “We ask our clients, ‘What are the opportunities in your organization to meet potential sponsors to brand your organization? We recommend that they get out and meet people. Are they a member of the Chamber or Rotary, for example, in their area?”

“We ask them if there’s anything happening at their organization that would provide an opportunity for their regular funders to see how their contributions are making a difference. We recommend that they invite them to a graduation ceremony, for instance, if it’s a school, or comp them with tickets for their fundraising events.”

Lu and her team do all they can to find the names of the key individual(s) to contact within an agency or foundation and their phone numbers to call and email them. They strategize with clients, coaching them on what to say on phone calls and working with them on how to pitch to each program, highlighting the importance of an “elevator speech.”

Some tips for what to say when calling funders

Practice your elevator speech. Write it down and practice. Tell them your name, the name of your organization, and two to three sentences about your organization and what you do.

Do your research

Know everything you can about the funders. “Don’t ask them anything you could find out on their website or in an online search.  Ask specific questions like: ‘We notice that you fund Florida, do you fund Gainesville? How many grants did you give to programs in Gainesville in the past year?’ Have three to five questions to ask, be specific. Don’t waste their time.”

“You want to put forth a proposal that really speaks to the funding officer and board of directors.  You want the funding officer to be able to advocate for your organization.  Ideally, you want a partnership. Make sure your proposal relates to what they’re interested in funding.”

Collect information about the funders and their interests both professionally and personally. Get to know the program officer as well as possible. “Consider it like making a friend. Also, they want to get to know you. They want to know who you are and what your organization does. They want to believe in you and know you’ll spend their dollars well. That’s how you build long-term sustainable relationships,” according to Lu.

Become an Expert

Dr. Lu asks that you, “Consider buying our book.” Total Domination: Millions from Grants on Kindle takes readers through the world of grantsmanship in a thorough, informative, engaging way, from finding valuable grant opportunities to producing a top-notch proposal. This step-by-step guide will walk you through all the elements of a proposal, plus budgeting, program evaluation, funder research, and more.

“We published it not to make money, but because we wanted to make this information accessible to as many people as possible. We teach between 200 to 300 people a year, so we know how to train people in grantsmanship.” Four of their staff members have PhDs and provide program evaluation, organizational development, and executive coaching as well.

“We feel blessed that we get to work with people who are so passionate and focused on making the world a better place. I tell people: ‘I want you to be the most popular person in the room because what you do is so important and relationship building is a major way that we own our power.’ ”

It’s important to remember that relationships count more than filling out papers. Grantors are often wanting to continue to give to organizations that they previously funded rather than start from scratch with a new company that’s an unknown entity. Lu recommends working on those relationships before sending in the paperwork. This includes finding out who is in charge of reading the grant proposal, and what they’re looking for. This could include simple phone calls or email connections if that’s the best way to get their attention. If you know someone at the agency or foundation that you are seeking funding from, contact them and see if you can get them on board with your request. If they are not the right person to contact, they might put you in touch with the right person for the grant you seek.

Foster Lasting Relationships

Once you get a grant it’s important to stay in contact with the funder to make sure that you are in compliance, especially if you hope to get more funding in the future. Touch base with them to find out if they have other grants that your agency or nonprofit would benefit from and stay on their radar for continued funding when the time comes. Maintaining strong relationships and applying to the same granting foundation or government agency is often easier and more effective than finding new funders and starting from scratch.

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About the Author: Staff writer for the Grant Writing Institute.