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June 21, 2016 / Ciara Myers, Editor

Authentic relationships are key to fundraising success

by Hudson Kaplan-Allen 
WRAG’s 2016 Summer Intern

How important is it for funders and grantees to have authentic relationships? Very important, according to the “Dos and Don’ts of Working with Grantmakers,” the first session of WRAG’s 2016 Nonprofit Summer Learning Series. Keynote speaker Rick Moyers of the Meyer Foundation, and panelists Julia Baer-Cooper, consultant with the England Family Foundation and Prince Charitable Trusts, Ben Murphy of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Tracye Funn of Washington Gas shared advice ranging from how to initiate a partnership with a grantmaker to how to craft an effective proposal.

Nonprofits often view funders as if they were an ATM machine, trying to figure out the right pin, Moyers said. It is a game of cracking the code with the hope that the prize will be a blank check. Fifteen years ago, Moyers was an eager nonprofit leader looking to increase support from his biggest funder. Moyers found himself at a reception with the executive director of the foundation. His first instinct was to approach the E.D. and get straight to the point – and that is exactly what he did. Fast forward to the present, Moyers has, on occasion, found himself in his former funder’s shoes. Interactions like these are never authentic. Conversations should not be about a transaction, but about cultivating a common vision for the future. It’s important, too, to be a good listener.

Moyers and others addressed the question that every nonprofit leader has contemplated: what is the most common reason grant requests get turned down? Funn responded that if a funder truly believes in a program, they will find the money or try to connect the applicant with another potential funder. Murphy pointed out that if there is a great project hidden behind a poor proposal, it deserves a chance. Baer-Cooper noted that requests are frequently turned down by small family foundations because they don’t have enough resources to fund everything that comes their way.

Participants asked about strategies and practices for approaching grantmakers. Nonprofits should have an idea of what the foundation is looking for, the panelists said. No one wants to receive a generic cookie-cutter email. It’s frustrating to sit down with someone who hasn’t done his or her homework.

Moyers concluded where he began, with a discussion of authentic relationships between funders and grantees. To Murphy, authenticity is about reaching a point in the relationship where he and his grantees can have honest conversations and work hand-in-hand to effectively address organizational and societal challenges. Baer-Cooper defines authenticity as transparency and honesty. Funn emphasized the importance of being true to your values. “Don’t change who you are, just bring me into your world,” she said. Ultimately, programs that connect authentically are the ones that will succeed.


To learn more about the 2016 Nonprofit Summer Learning Series, please check out our recent announcement in The Daily WRAG. To register for the next two events in the series (July 14 and August 19), please visit WRAG’s online event calendar.

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