Grant Makers are People, Too

by Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC – Grants Consultant

On paper (where I spend most of my professional life), I am a grant writer. But in reality, I am a development professional. Why?

People give to people, not proposals.

That doesn’t mean grant writing isn’t important—of course it is (in my extremely biased opinion)! Grants should be a revenue line item in your budget, at minimum. And without grant writers, how would a nonprofit write and submit the 10, 50, or 500 page request for funds to support your organization’s important work? But that proposal will only get you so far, because grant makers are people, too.

Let’s look at the facts. The fundraising continuum has five basic elements through which every donor travels, regardless of whether that donor makes an annual, major, or planned gift to your nonprofit. Here’s how the processes compare to similar activities in grant seeking.

Activity What It’s Called in Development What It’s Called in Grant Seeking
Find people who may want to give Identification Prospecting
Find out how much they can give Quantification Prospecting
Engage to establish a relationship, emotional investment Cultivation Cultivation
Make the ask Solicitation Proposal
Nurture the donor’s interests and the relationship over the long-term Stewardship Stewardship and Grants Management

This table makes comparing and contrasting the differences easy: there is no difference between development and grant seeking activities, except that grant seeking requires that piece (or many pieces) of paper. The same skills—knowing how to listen to verbal and nonverbal communication, how to be humble, how to be assertive—and methods—picking up the phone, taking people to lunch, saying thank you—apply to grant makers as much as they apply to donors.

So follow the golden rule of grant seeking: Always treat grant makers like people and never like checkbooks or ATM machines. When was the last time you took a foundation program officer to lunch just to pick their brain or better understand the foundation’s long-term goals. When was the last time you sent information to a funder and didn’t ask them for anything? When was the last time you invited a funder to an annual meeting, special event, open house, or other venue through which they could be recognized for their investments (but not be asked for anything)?

I hope your answer to all of those questions was, “Why yes, Heather – I’ve already done all that this month!” But if your response wasn’t a firm yes, what will you do this year to improve the way you work with foundations?



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