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Positive Relationships: The Art and Science of Writing Grants

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

I’m not a grant writing professional by any means. I have, however, spent many an hour writing grants for clients or as part of the projects and initiatives I’ve been involved in. I’ve learned about the logic model (outputs and outcomes); I’ve gathered stories that show impact on the community; and I’ve studied the statistics and assessed how to best present them for maximum impact.

I’ve even had one grant that I wrote for the Alcan Prize for Sustainability be in the top 10 worldwide – gaining significant exposure and PR for the organization that I wrote it for.

Grant writing is a specialized skill. Good grant writers weave the statistics (science) with the stories (art) in such a way that it’s difficult to say no to the request.

Good grant writers – especially if they are also good negotiators or have someone on their team who is – often get access to the best opportunities and advance warning of new funding pools. All because they weave the stories and the results in such a way that they consistently showcase their organizations positive impact.

Okay, so maybe that’s a little simplified.

Relationships with funders also factor into being invited to play in the new funding sandbox before others and to the best funding opportunities. These relationships open doors to new conversations by:

  • engaging funding partners in the storytelling

  • communicating the results in writing and also verbally

  • backing up the stories with “show-and-tell” (such as a site visit, a conversation with a client, or an invitation to sit in on the program)

Positive relationships with funders are crafted throughout the year over coffee, phone calls, or invitations to Open Houses. Good grant writers know that the relationship doesn’t start and end with the grant itself; it’s also based on the goodwill of those who are backing it, who sit at the decision-making table. They take the time to get to know their representative from the funding agency by asking questions, inviting them to the planning table, or involving them in some other creative way.

In my experience, non-profit leaders who have invested in relationships are more successful. Their funding requests are more likely to be approved – and the negotiations less stressful – as they’ve already explained their rationale for why the funds are needed in particular pots.

Having a funder who knows what you are doing, why you are doing it, why you’ve structured it in a particular way, and where you are stretching to achieve greater results can only be of benefit. So, be the one who phones with questions, asks for clarification, and invites the funder to come visit your programs and office.

Be bold. Be upfront. Be curious.

Experiment with what works with the different funders. And see what evolves.

As you enter the grant writing season, consider where opportunities exist to deepen your connection with your funding partner(s):

  • How can you better engage them in your work?

  • How can you show them the impact of what it is you do so that they can personally understand the outcomes?

  • How can you showcase your clients and the great work they are doing to make change for themselves, without putting the client on display in a negative way?

We’d love to hear how you connect more deeply with your funders and invite them into your organization to showcase the amazing work you are doing – and how this engagement changes your relationship. Share the results of your experiments in engaging funders in the comments below, we’d love to hear about what you learn.

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