Communicating with Grantmakers: Targeted Questions to Increase Your Nonprofit’s Chance for Funding


by Maddie Ziegler

In a normal year, many nonprofit organizations find the task of searching for potential donors and funders to be daunting and arduous. Given this year is anything but normal, even nonprofits with extensive fundraising experience are finding it increasingly difficult to find funding for their programs and services.

As previous sources become unavailable, the search for new funding will become more critical than ever. As a result, it is important to know how to find grants by reviewing best practices for finding potential funders. Put your organization on a funder’s radar and increase your chances of getting funding by forging personal connections with grantmakers and asking well-crafted questions.

Who Is in Charge of Delivering Grant Funding?

Funding comes from a variety of sources, including private foundations and the government (in the form of federal/state/county grants). Both task program officers or employees with the job of allocating funds that serve their mission and accomplish their goals or objectives. Depending on the size of the funder, these program officers may be responsible for various grant initiatives and funding objectives. They will likely not have the time nor flexibility to communicate personally with every prospective grantee.

However, it is important to remember that these individuals are simply that: people. Applying for grants, at its most basic level, means connecting with humans. Considering this, there are simple, but pointed strategies you can implement to help increase your chances of ultimately receiving a grant: Introduce yourself prior to any grant submission, and create a memorable connection with the potential funder.

(A note on federal funding: These grants are highly competitive and often require a lot of pre-existing infrastructure. If your organization is small or cannot demonstrate a history of managing large-scale funding, applying for such grants is not likely to be the best use of your time and resources.)

Always Prepare Before Reaching Out to a Funder

Before communicating with potential funders, it is important to collect relevant information about them, as well as your own organization. Doing this research and any corresponding prep work before making contact will position you as a competent grantseeker, thereby increasing your chances of being funded.

Depending on the funder, spend some time gathering pertinent details from grants.gov, online foundation directories or the funder’s own website. Make sure all information pertaining to your own nonprofit is up to date and, if necessary, enlist the help of other employees who can assist in collecting relevant data. This information should include, but is not limited to the items listed below.

From the funding organization:

  • Contact person, title, email, phone number.
  • Average grant award, maximum grant award.
  • Mission and areas of interest.
  • Eligibility requirements.
  • Specific grant initiatives and deadlines.
  • Past grantees and amounts awarded.

From your organization:

  • Mission.
  • Recent history.
  • Project details (existing and/or future).
  • Target audience served.
  • Past grants/awards.

Some organizations may only have a contact email, while others may only include a phone number. Each has its pros and cons. On the one hand, using email allows you to include all relevant items, however, it can be challenging to ensure it will be read completely, if at all. When sending an email, remember to be compelling, but concise. A detailed and long-winded email may be overlooked, so get to the point. Phone calls, on the other hand, ensure a connection, but you may not be able to cover as much ground or supply as much information. If an organization provides both contact options, I would encourage you to do both.

Start with the phone call, but send a brief email beforehand, requesting to schedule the call, rather than simply making a cold call. This introductory email should include a short sentence or two about your organization, as well as the grant initiative you are interested in discussing. If after a week you receive no response, send a follow-up email asking to schedule the call. If there is no response to the second message, reach out to the funder by phone and indicate you are following up to email messages that may not have been received. Remember program officers are busy people, so the lack of a response does not necessarily mean the grantmaker is not interested in hearing from you.

Communication Strategy: Questions to Create a Connection

Because you do not want to waste their time nor ruin your introduction, keep your initial phone call short. This is your first opportunity to present your organization as a hopeful recipient of their funding, and you want to do that in the most effective way possible. With that in mind, start by briefly familiarizing the program officer with your organization, but quickly move on to questions you have prepared. It is crucial you accomplish the following during your conversation:

  • Compliment the funder on their work.
  • Introduce your organization and your accomplishments.
  • Demonstrate the mission alignment between you two.
  • Articulate the future positive impacts on your community.

Achieving this in a phone call will require nuance and skill (and practice!), but it is entirely possible. Each question should be structured as follows:…READ MORE