• Rachel Niemczyk

Grant Writing Questions: When Should I Contact the Funder?

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As a grant writer or grant researcher you have to make a lot of judgement calls to determine how well your project/program aligns with the funders interests. Inevitably you’ll end up wondering, “Should I contact the funder about this?” Several things can factor into that decision.

Does the funder have a website or social media platform?

This may sound like an odd question to consider if you’re new to grant writing, but it’s an important research question. Even though most foundations are going digital, some simply do not have any internet presence. (Small, local foundations often don’t, as do foundations looking to limit the amount of applications they receive.)

In this scenario, before calling the funder it’s best to look up their Form 990. The Form 990 lists what organizations the foundation funded, how much they gave, and where those grantees were located. You can use this to learn about their funding priorities and geographic focus - and save yourself a phone call if your interests aren’t aligned. (Learn more about where to find Form 990s here.)

After viewing the Form 990 if you think your organization may be a match with theirs it’s time to give the funder a call. Explain how you learned of their foundation, ask if they’re currently accepting new applicants, if they are what the application deadline is, give a brief explanation of your organization/program, and double check that they would be interested in funding you before applying.

How thoroughly have you researched the funder’s website or social media pages?

If the funder is online, have you read their mission statement, organizational history, funding priorities, funding exclusions, past recipients, etc.? While some funders keep all of this information together, not everyone does. You may have to comb through their website and social pages to find this info.

This research can be a time consuming (and patience draining) process, but it’s always best to learn as much as you can on your own before contacting the funder. When you do call you’ll be able to honestly say you looked through x, y, and z pages on their website but couldn’t find the info, demonstrating your thoroughness and leaving a positive impression of your organization.

Are some of their funding priorities vague?

This may sound odd considering I just said to scour the funder’s website for info, but sometimes that information is vague or nowhere to be found. This especially seems to be the case for geographic priorities, which can mention a general “area,” but not which specific cities/towns are included in that area. If you have the slightest doubt that your organization/program aligns with their goals it’s time to call the funder.

This contact doesn’t have to be very in depth - it could be a simple, “Can you please explain what you consider x in more detail? We’d like to check if we align with your funding priorities before applying.” More often than not they’ll be more than happy to clarify (and may thank you for giving them new information to include on their website).

Has the funder recently changed their funding process or overall mission?

Even if you’ve applied to a funder in the past, or multiple times in the past, if they’ve changed their funding process or mission you have to research them as though they are a new funder - for all intents and purposes that is what they have just become. Do all the research you normally would to determine if you align with a funder’s interests before contacting the funder.

If you have a strong relationship with the funder, you may want to call your specific contact at the foundation/corporation after your research to see how these changes affect your organization. They’ll be able to help you understand any changes you need to make with your approach, your program, if you need to apply for a different grant, ask funding for a different program, etc.

Have you received a rejection letter from them?

It’s always best to follow-up with a funder to thank them for the opportunity to apply if you weren’t funded. You never know what goes into a decision process unless you ask, and the results can surprise you. (Too many applicants, budget didn’t align with narrative, not enough detail, misunderstood funding priority, etc.) You can learn a lot from this contact, including ways to improve your application and chances of being funded next year.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Some funders explicitly state not to contact them for details on why they were rejected. If this is the case, I suggest you listen to them and don’t reach out. Even though it goes against common advice in the field, you don’t want to be remembered as the organization that purposefully disrespected their decision.

Hope these suggestions give you some more clarity on when to contact funders! Do you have any insights or experiences to share? Write about it in the comments so we can all learn from each other!

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