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August 2, 2016 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

Grantmakers share how nonprofits can deepen relationships beyond dollars

By Hudson Kaplan-Allen
WRAG’s 2016 Summer Intern

The second in WRAG’s Nonprofit Summer Learning Series, “Navigating the Grants Process: From Initial Contact to Long-Term Partnership,” focused on how nonprofit organizations can build and maintain strong and positive relationships with their funders after receiving a grant. The session was led by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s (CFNV) president, Eileen Ellsworth, and featured a panel of experienced grantmaking professionals from across the Greater Washington region.

Ellsworth started the discussion by asking one of CFNV’s grantees to speak about her organization’s experience throughout the grant process. Jessica Fuchs from Serving Together shared her nonprofit’s relationship over the years with CFNV and made the point that, while the funding has been extremely helpful, “it’s really about the connections the [Community Foundation] has helped make.” She emphasized that the support and partnership CFNV has provided has helped validate and promote Serving Together’s work to other funders, individual donors, and the general public, and has helped expand the organization’s reach as a nonprofit organization.

The panelists — Timothy McCue of the Potomac Health Foundation, Danielle Reyes of the Crimsonbridge Foundation, and Naomi Smouha of Capital One — shared insights into the grantmaking process and gave examples of strong nonprofit relationships they have formed in their time as grantmakers. All of the panelists agreed that they find it important both to compare notes and best practices with their grantmaker peers and network within the nonprofit world to find the best partners.

Smouha compared the process to dating, pointing out that it’s smart to go on a few dates and get an idea of who she is working with before she “brings you home to mom.” Every quarter, Capital One hosts one-hour information sessions to allow potential grantees to get an idea of the partnerships they are looking for. They want to make sure they are being completely transparent every step of the way.

Reyes pointed out the importance of nonprofit organizations using Twitter to form connections with funders. At Crimonsonbridge, one of the ways they look to see who wants to partner with them is by checking their Twitter feed and followers. She uses the social media platform to research whose work best fits the foundation’s mission. “We don’t just follow back anyone,” she said.

All of the funders drove home the importance of developing and maintaining an honest and open relationship. “Don’t wait to tell your funder that something is going awry with one of your projects,” said McCue. “Be forthcoming with them.” On top of that, nonprofits are often tempted to follow the money. Instead, McCue said, organizations should be sure to stick with their missions. All three panelists said they use interim or progress reports to check-in with their grantees and make sure they are on track with their projects. If a nonprofit hits a roadblock and decides to change their approach after receiving a grant, they should be open with their funder about the changes. If you go through a staff turnover at your organization, give your funder a heads up that you are going through a transition, said Reyes. “Nonprofits should look at their funders beyond just a dollar relationship,” she said. Explore the partnership by asking questions and being open to suggestions. The next in the Nonprofit Summer Series, “Having Tough Conversations with Your Funder,” on August 19, will address the ways that some of these more difficult conversations between grantmakers and grantees can be resolved and can be used to deepen the relationship.

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