It was more than a year ago that the astounding Fran Kirmser gave me this bit of Fundraising 101 advice: “Your application should not be the first time a funder hears from you.” Duh! Of course, that sounds right. Imagine inviting someone to a cozy movie on the couch without a first date. Imagine inviting someone to lovely candlelit dinner without a history of awkward laughter and accidental hand touching. Not a good idea. The same goes for funders. Before you wham-bam-thank-you-Ma'am ask for money, it is a good idea to try to get to know your potential John first. Here is a simple breakdown of Pre-Proposal Contacts with funders.
First Step, initial contact with the Program Officer. Each grant has a contact person. This communication has two objectives: 1) obtain the application forms and guidelines to follow should you decided to submit a proposal, and 2) it is the first step in building a relationship. You want to find out a couple things from the Program Officer: the names of past grant winners, and the names of past grant panelists. This is not the time to overwhelm the Program Officer with excessive questioning or your life story. That is no way to get a first date.
Step Two, contact a past grant winner. Most people are hesitant to take this step, especially us New Yorkers who compete with each other for everything from seats on the train to corporate and government funding. Truth is though, most artists feel a shared camaraderie and would be glad to help you storm the funders gates for the hidden treasure. This is not a time to receive feedback on your proposal. Your main objective here is to get information that would be helpful towards developing your grant application. Some questions to ask: “Who was most helpful on the staff in developing your proposal?” “How close was your initial budget to what you were awarded?” “What would you say was the most important to pay attention to in the grant guidelines?”
(The pros might suggest you contact past panelists next. I’m not up to that stage yet.)
Step Three, back to the Program Officer. Early in your communication with the Program Officer, you should find out their preferred method of communication: email or phone. Thank the Program Officer for their prior assistance, let them know briefly who you are and let them know you have some additional questions. Some important questions to ask during this follow-up phone call are: “Would you review a pre-proposal and give feedback?” “Who reviews the final proposal?” “What is your process for reviewing applications?” “What are some of the most common mistakes people in the applications you receive?”
Contrary to this blog entry’s title, these pre-application communications are less about romancing the funder as much as it is about acknowledging the steps it takes to build an intimate relationship. And receiving money from a funder is definitely a partnership. At best, it is a long-lasting, googly-eyed love affair. At worst, it is you turned down yet again because you have not taken the necessary steps true love demands.