Mind Your Manners (and Other Practical Tips for Calling a Prospective Funder)

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Calling a prospective funder shouldn’t just be another phone call to quickly check off your to-do list. At the point of actually picking up the phone, you should be confident the funder is open to your communication (Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect) and have spent time researching and preparing to make the call (Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone). Now (and hopefully only now) is the time to actually make the call.

Remember – this is not just any old call. This call could be the beginning or the beginning of the end of a great relationship with a funder for your organization.

Here are tips to make the most of the call.

Be Ready to Talk Now or Later

When you make the initial phone call, you may or may not get through. Be ready for either scenario. First, if you get through to the funder and they say, “Let’s talk now” be ready to go. This does not happen often, but you have to be ready for it every time. Conversely, if you get voice mail or talk to a gatekeeper, be ready to explain why you are calling and make an appointment to connect at a later time.

Location, Location, Location

One wonderful benefit of our modern, connected world is our ability to conduct business from anywhere – coffee shops, sporting events, and conferences. This however is not one of those times. Find a quiet, private place and make sure those around you know that you are not to be interrupted for the duration of the call.

Be Prompt and Respectful of Their Time

Place the call on time and be respectful of the time allowed for the call. If you asked the funder for 20 minutes, stick to that. When the allotted time has passed, you can ask if they are able to keep going, but be prepared for them to say “no” and conclude the call.

Smile!

This might sound silly for a phone call, but it really matters. If you smile while you are talking, it will show in your voice. Practice this on a family member if you are skeptical. The smile in your voice projects a positive attitude and shows your enthusiasm.

Be Enthusiastic

Avoid the trap of being “all business” and not letting your passion come through during the conversation. Make an effort to find the inspiration that you need. Consider a photo of the ultimate beneficiary of the mission – that might be an animal that will be rescued or a child that will be educated.

Manners Matter

You’re building a relationship and first impressions matter. Remember the little things:

• say please and thank you,
• don’t interrupt,
• listen carefully to their answers,
• speak in a clear voice.

Take Good Notes

This conversation is where you can ask for answers and clarification to the questions left unanswered by your research. As you ask your questions, take good notes. Make note of any questions the funder has of you and be sure to record any promises you make or any information you need to provide following the conversation. If you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t panic and just be honest. Explain why you don’t have that information and offer to find out and follow up as soon as you can.

Ask for Clarity

If you are asked a question you don’t understand, speak up and ask for clarification. The nonprofit sector is filled with jargon and the funder might use terms you haven’t heard before, ask for a definition. Sometimes we are afraid to admit we don’t understand something for fear of making a bad impression. It’s much better to understand than to answer incorrectly on the application when the funder feels they told you what they wanted.

Finish Strong

As you conclude the conversation, review anything you promised to provide and confirm your next steps. Hopefully, you have determined that they will consider your grant application so confirm the deadline. If you determine that a grant application is not appropriate, restate any follow-up action that is appropriate. No matter the outcome of the call, thank them for taking the time to talk to you.

Follow Up

A thank you/nice to meet you note is always appropriate to send after a call. If the funder requested information be sure to follow up and provide it within the agreed upon timeline. If someone else has the information, contact them immediately and confirm that the deadline is appropriate.

The funding community is smaller and more connected that most people think. So while it’s true that if you know one funder, you know one funder – they also talk and a good impression on one can translate to introductions and a good reputation among many funders. Taking the time to do your research about the funder’s process; researching what you can on your own while preparing; and making the most of your time while on the call can make a big difference not only on this particular opportunity but perhaps even more opportunities in the future.

Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone

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So, you have decided to move forward with a call to a prospective foundation funder (after considering this information we shared in our last post, Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect).

The most important thing to remember: the contact you make with a potential funder can make or break your grant application before you write a single word.

That being said, prepare and prepare some more. Do your research on the funder and the person to whom you will be speaking. Think of this as you would a job interview. Just as you present your best self during an interview – for this conversation, you want to do the same for your organization. Here are five things to consider during your preparation.

Only Ask Questions You Couldn’t Find Through Research

Before you make a call, seek to find the answers to your questions using the funder’s website and third-party sites like GuideStar. If you use a phone call or meeting to ask questions that you could have answered with a little research, you will have wasted the funder’s time. That will make a terrible impression and likely have a negative effect on any future grant applications.

Anticipate Objections

After doing your research, think of possible objections the funder might have to considering a grant request from your organization. I once met with a funder who assured me he would never fund an organization as large as mine. I quickly explained that the program actually benefited grass roots organizations that were the sweet spot for this funder. I was only ready for that because I had done my research and anticipated the objection.

Make the Most of Your Time

Go into this conversation knowing that this could be the only time you talk to the funder. Never think, “I’ll ask that next time” because there might not be a next time. Prepare thinking, “this might be my only shot” and make the most of your time while being respectful of their time.

Prepare an Elevator Speech

Don’t wing it. Even if you are good at extemporaneous speaking, this is not the time. Prepare a two-minute elevator speech that summarizes your organization and your request. End with, “Does this sound like something in which your foundation would have an interest in learning more about through a written proposal?” Once you ask the question, stop and listen carefully to their answer.

Practice

After preparing but before dialing: practice. Find someone outside your organization and practice your questions and elevator speech. Use a stopwatch and make sure you are getting it done in the time allotted.

This may seem like a lot of work to make a phone call, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. This could be the start of a long and worthy relationship for your organization – that alone makes it worth the effort.

Next time, we’ll talk about actually making the call and how to make the best impression possible in a short amount of time.

Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect

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To contact or not to contact? That’s the million-dollar question (okay, let’s be realistic – the $40,000 question). You’ve identified a new private foundation that might fund your organization, so you want to make contact with them right away and tell them all the ways your organization is a great investment opportunity for them. Now’s the time to stop and make sure it’s the right thing to do.

Raising money from private foundations certainly has some things in common with other types of fundraising, but there are some major differences. One major difference is whether or not to contact a funder before submitting a grant application. The three steps below will help you determine the best course of action before you pick up the phone.

Before deciding to contact a prospective funder, determine if calling them is an appropriate option. You should consider these scenarios before picking up the phone.

When Not to Approach

  • They Ask You Not To
    If the funder has specific instructions not to contact before applying, don’t! Each funder has their own specific process for receiving applications. Research the funder to determine if they are open to discussing your application before its submission.
  • You’re Not a Match
    Don’t approach the funder if your project does not meet the criteria they have for funding. For instance, you might be within their program specifics but outside their geographic boundaries. Or your request for general operating support or capital campaign funding does not fit their type of giving.
  • They Have a Letter Of Intent/Introduction Process
    In the vast majority of cases, if a funder has a Letter of Introduction or Letter of Intent process, they want that process to be the initial contact. Be considerate of the funder in this case. An LOI is a fairly simple document that will most often give the funder an opportunity to learn more about your organization than through a phone call. Be respectful of the funder’s time by making the LOI your first inquiry.

This may seem like overly simple advice, but many times in our enthusiasm for our cause we overlook the obvious.

When Approaching is Okay

  • They Accept Calls
    As you do your funder research, pay attention to how they accept contact. Some funders are open to phone calls, some will have meetings, while others do not allow any contact before an application. If they state that they are willing, then you are safe to reach out.
  • You Are Connected
    Foundations are staffed by people and people have connections. When you have identified a potential funder, review the list of their staff and board members. Show the list to your organization’s board members to see if they have any connections. If you identify a connection, ask them to reach out on behalf of your organization or to make an introduction.
  • You Have Specific Questions
    Just because a funder will accept calls, don’t make the assumption that you should make the call. Only make the initial outreach if you are prepared and have specific questions. After you carefully review their published materials and their website, determine what additional information you need from them to complete your application. When you call, you want to make the best impression – so be prepared.

If you attempt to contact a potential funder and are not able to reach them or don’t receive a return phone call, take that as their way of saying, “we don’t want to have a conversation with you until you submit an application.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you decide to move forward with making a call and share tips for preparing.

If You Can Read This . . . You Aren’t Out Meeting With Donors

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Many years ago at a conference I picked up a give away from Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, a large fundraising consulting firm. It was a table tent – a piece made of card stock that folds in order to stand up. It had a simple saying: If you can read this…you aren’t out meeting with donors.

I think this should be the mantra of every fundraiser, especially those who are responsible for raising major gifts for their organizations. But it is easier said than done. There are many things in the jobs of fundraisers that keep them from the most important tasks.

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are focusing on the most important work.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – I’m not one for dwelling in the past but look at your calendar over the past 6 months and evaluate where you’ve spent most of your time. Was it out meeting with donors? For the times you were in the office, did you spend quality blocks of time reaching out to donors for in person meetings? Once you have reviewed your calendar, commit to making changes for the next 6 months.

2. Make calling on donors your top priority – create a list of your top prospects and commit to contacting them on a regular basis. Contact should include writing to them, meeting with them, and bringing them to your organization for tours. It takes time to plan and execute donor cultivation. It will include many phone calls and correspondence.

3. Be relentless in protecting your priorities – after you commit to making calling on donors and prospects your priority, there is a danger that other things will creep back onto your calendar. Things like internal meetings, special events, and temporary assignments. Don’t let that happen. Always give donor interactions the highest priority.

4. Be open with those you work for and with – sometimes fundraisers are tethered to their offices by the expectations of those around them. Talk openly with your supervisor and explain why you aren’t always at your desk. Be sure they are clear that this will lead to increased results for your major gifts efforts. Same goes for those who report to you or are on your team. Help them to understand why you are often out. If those people are also fundraisers, work as a team to encourage each other in being out more.

5. Don’t judge your productivity by how much time you spend in the office – when you create a ‘to do’ list (and I LOVE lists) make sure that your meetings with donors are at the top. Don’t fall into a trap where your productivity is judged by things that are accomplished inside the walls of your office. In major gift fundraising the most effective thing you can do is get out and meet with people.

So let’s get started now. Who should you call first and ask for a meeting? What are you waiting for?