Building relationships with foundations and directors is central to effective foundation funding and no amount of advertising or prospecting can ever trump a personal relationship. Fine and good – but what if you don’t have a personal relationship with a foundation board member? Or, what if you have an inherent relationship, but you are not aware of it. That happens a lot. 

Networking with foundation directors that you know: Obviously, the first thing you want to do is to network with foundations that you already have a relationship with. This is simple and straightforward. Don’t be shy. If you believe in the work that your charity is doing, then get bold and get in the face of the people that have the power to influence and make decisions. Never be afraid to ask for money and never apologize for doing so. You are not asking for yourself, you are asking for the cause that you believe in and are committed to. It is in fact, your duty and responsibility to shamelessly promote your charity. One of the ways Grant Advance assists in this is through our Director search engine. Try putting in the names of people you already know and discover if they serve on the board of a foundation. You can also try prominent local people, or high net worth individuals. Our clients are constantly surprised to find out that their neighbours, friends, and associates serve in this capacity. There is nothing easier than reaching out to someone that is already on your contact list! 

Uncovering relationships that you didn’t know you had: But what if you look for an existing relationship and don’t find one? Well, there are still processes that can help you uncover “inherent” relationships that your charity already has with a foundation, but for the moment are hidden.  

Again, the key to success is having an exhaustive list of every director that serves as a board member on every foundation in Canada. Your first step would be to use your research tools to uncover those foundations that compliment your charity in terms of mission and vision. The next step is to print out a list of every director that serves on those boards and distribute it among your charity’s friends and allies.  

As a local charity you have lots of people that either work for your charity, volunteer for your charity, or donate to your charity. All these people are your allies. Distribute this list among your friends and allies and ask them to identify any foundation board members that they might know. You might be surprised to find out that someone in your organization belongs to the same golf or book club as one of the directors you identified.  

In this context “name dropping” is a good thing. You can ask the person with the connection to reach out directly and offer to introduce them to your Executive Director (or other senior director of your charity), or if you think the person with the connection is a good communicator, they can personally deliver a Letter of Inquiry for the foundation to consider.  

Either way, you have leveraged a personal relationship and escalated the priority of your request through a personal relationship with an influencer on the board of a foundation. 

Establishing relationships through cold calling: Finally, not every charity will uncover a direct or inherent relationship with a foundation director. As valuable as that might be, it is not the only way to establish a relationship. In fact, in most cases, especially if you are developing a long-term strategic plan to expand revenues from foundations, it will be the exception, not the rule.  

So how do you develop a relationship with a foundation where there is no previous connection or communication? We often refer to Grant Advance as a “dating site” for charities and foundations. In our current social structure, a large part of the population relies on these dating sites to find their perfect match. We have already discussed the importance of identifying these “perfect matches” in our section called “Research Tools.” So, if you now have a list of appropriate matches, what would be the normal next step in making a connection? Depending on the information that a foundation provides, you would write to them (good), email them (better), or call them (best).  

Unfortunately, not all foundations provide all these options. In fact, in most cases you will be limited to a snail-mail introduction via a Letter of Inquiry. This is because many foundations only provide a mailing address in their contact information. Of course, a well drafted Letter of Inquiry (see Writing Tools) can be extremely effective. However, you must be persistent, and you must send out a lot of letters to a lot of foundations. Why? Because a considerable number of foundations will never respond in any way to an initial Letter of Inquiry.  

Some people can be discouraged by that, but they shouldn’t be. No response is not the same as rejection. Let us repeat that – no response is not rejection! This is the common experience of every charity and every grant writer across the country. You might think it is personal, you might think you have wasted your time, you might even think the foundation is RUDE! But that is not true. Let’s look into this a little deeper and see what is actually going on. 

Some of the best matched foundations you will discover will be local family or private foundations. In fact, private foundations make up 56% of all foundations in Canada. Many of these private foundations do not operate as a year-round business and many of them do not even have full-time staff running the foundation. They do of course receive many requests for funding, but they do not always have the capacity to fully respond to all the requests. Do they even read your Letter of Inquiry? For the most part the answer to that is “yes.” But responding to every request is simply not within in their capacity. Instead, they focus their time and energy on the requests and proposals that they have decided to fund. So, you see, it is not an active rejection of your request, it is simply a matter of time and resources – a challenge that every non-profit is capable of understanding. 

The best way to respond to this reality is to continue to apply to these foundations year after year (we recommend every 9 months), unless they specifically ask you to not apply. Repeatedly we have had clients tell us that they sent our 5 Letters of Inquiry and received no response at all – on the 6th campaign, they received a cheque in the mail! And now, you have a relationship, and many of those relationships will blossom into long-term, multi-year funding partners for your charity. So again, persistence and patience will help you to establish new relationships with these key funding organizations. 

One final thought. Foundations and foundation directors are often very inter-connected. If you are known in one circle, you will very likely get some airtime in multiple circles. Also, by being persistent, even in the face of what might feel like rejection, they can see that you consider yourself a serious player. By persisting in sending requests, they will come to understand that you believe in your vision and that you are simply not going to go away or be deterred by setbacks. They also tend to like it when an individual charity has several foundations funding them. This is because they feel that other foundations have already done their due diligence and have discovered that you have a well-run, financially responsible charity. It also takes a little pressure off in terms of being the only foundation “holding the bag” so to speak. A broad base of support (donations, fund-raisers, government funding, pay-for-service, and other foundations) is always something that strengthens your appeal. In other words, the more foundations you have on your side, the more that will want to join in. 

So, relationship building, just like in life, takes time, persistence, patience, and hope! 

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