“You Never Call, You Never Write. . .”

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Many nonprofits are probably “guilty” of this understandable habit: you contact a foundation to see if you can apply; then you submit a proposal; and if you’re awarded the grant, you wait until the required report to contact them again. Perhaps three communications in the lifespan of a grant.


Evidence suggests that more frequent and more substantive communications might strengthen a relationship between grantee and funder. What kinds of messages might a nonprofit send (other than “give us money, thanks for the money, here’s what we did with the money”)?


Share news as it develops. A grant’s impact ought to be notable during the course of a program year, not just at its conclusion. Better test outcomes? Higher enrollment? Local media coverage of an event? These things might be shared with the funders to let them know good things are happening.


Share challenges as they become apparent. Funders want to know about problems as soon as you discover them because (a) they might be able to help, (b) they might alert you to other resources, (c) they might have had similar experiences and can share ideas, and (d) they don’t like surprises—"sorry we forgot to tell you, but our lead researcher moved to Iceland and we never finished that study.”


Ask questions. Grant-making foundations working in a particular field or discipline gather information and might be able to help you with new data, new people to talk to, new resources to help you carry out the work. Nonprofits are not supposed to have all the answers (no matter how credentialed in a field) but they are expected to know the right questions to ask.


Finally, communicate. Because if William James knew you wanted to engender more giving on the part of a funder, he would urge you to do so. The “Father of American psychology” famously said “What holds attention determines action.” In the practical world of how funders think and work, that rule applies. They tend to get involved with (and make grants to) organizations that catch and hold their attention. Catching attention is relatively easy, holding it is hard. Holding a funder’s attention to your work, to your outcomes, to your impact is the product of ongoing and informative communications.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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