From the Program Officer's Mouth

March 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

A recent webinar delivered by the Chronicle of Philanthropy offered a rare opportunity to hear from a program officer who was willing to talk about how grants really work.

Some of her advice challenges the conventional wisdom about how to be successful winning foundation grants. Especially when it comes to that very elusive process of "building relationships" with foundations.

But her first piece of advice was that successful grant seekers are honest about their place in the world and the community. Demonstrate that you know who else is doing work like you. Claims like "no one else is doing (our mission)" or "we are the only organization who . . ." make the foundation think you are operating in a silo and not plugged into your community.

You've heard it before. More and more, foundations are looking for evidence that organizations are cooperating and partnering. You do yourself no favors if you try to build yourself up at the expense of your colleagues.

Second, she reminded us that foundation staff can be inspired by stories. She urged grant seekers to tell stories about those the grant will serve or successes your organization has experienced in the past. You can even share "victories" your clients/students/patients/patrons experience outside of the grant-funded program.

Now, on to that building relationships problem. Sometimes development officers think of foundation staff as just another major gifts prospect and try to lure them out for coffee or lunch or to fancy events. No, no, no, our program officer said. She was firm, "we want to be inspired, not wooed."

She also shared one of those insider secrets about how it "really" works that you don't often hear from foundation staff -- going over or around the staff through the foundation board is "not viewed favorably." Find a way to follow channels and reach out to the staff.

Last one. If you are asked to host foundation representatives for a site visit, they want to see an "honest showing" of how your program operates and the people you serve. Don't be afraid to reveal flaws, and don't lock them in an office with the Executive Director all day. They want to meet the people who are doing the front-line work.

Wow. This information only scratches the surface of what we learned that day. And, to be honest, I've only touched on the content of one of the two speakers! Another post altogether will have to cover those invaluable tips.

Two more webinars are scheduled in the Chronicle's series of grants-related education. April 11 will focus on winning corporate grants, and August 13 will focus on winning government grants. Visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy website for more information or to register.

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