Are Cultivation Calls Becoming Extinct in an Age of Online Grant Making?


Today’s Guest Blog is by Just Write Solutions Associate, Jennifer Rathburn.

Recently, I have noticed a distinct change in response when making cultivation phone calls for clients. When calling various Foundations, I have found conversations going something like this:

Me: “Hello! My name is Jennifer Rathburn and I am calling on behalf of Organization ABC. We provide X service to the Y community and are reaching out to see if your Foundation is funding. We believe we are a good match for your past giving and want to be sure that our focus areas still align.”

 Foundation Rep: “You can find all of the information about our grants online at our website. Do you have our website address?”

Definitely not an open door for conversation…

On a positive note, the rise in technology has allowed Foundations to put the majority of the grant information on their website including: Foundation history, Foundation Board of Directors, areas of interest, application process, deadlines, reporting requirements, etc. This allows grant seekers the ability to research funding opportunities with ease and provides the grant makers a streamlined approach to getting information out to the public and accept proposals online.

However, has the rise in online grant making made us lose the need for cultivation calls for relationship-building? As I am making phone calls and receiving the above response from many, I question the need to continue reaching out to funders who seem disinterested in engaging by phone. It is in these times that I go back to the words of a very wise women (Heather Stombaugh, JWS Principal Consultant and Grants Guru) who said “We know people give to people. Building and managing relationships through cultivation and stewardship are every bit as critical to the grants process as they are to major giving.”

We need to continue to reach out and foster partnerships with funders. Not for the good of our bottom line but for the good of the people we serve. So, let’s work to embrace technology in the grant making process while keeping alive the “dinosaur” of a relationship-builder that is the first phone call.

How are you cultivating relationships with grant funders?



Identify Best Fit Funders


Special thanks to Heather Stombaugh, for today’s post from her upcoming book, In the Trenches: Grantsmanship. Heather is HUB Philanthropic Solutions’ Grants Consultant

Let’s begin with a few questions.  How well do you know yourself? What are your organization’s needs? Can you identify trends in grant making?

Do your priorities match the priorities of prospective funders?

  • Geography
  • Areas of concern
  • Types of support
  • Similar projects
  • Ongoing relationships
  • Mission/Value

What are some tips to organize funder data? As you are prospecting, consider how aligned you are with prospective funders to sort, filter, and organize the grant prospect database you are developing. Use these tools to help you evaluate your alignment with prospective funders and create a list of prospective funders.

  • Grant prospecting questionnaire
  • Organization summary sheet
  • Grant prospect worksheet
  • Grant prospect database

Be strategic and don’t take shortcuts when looking for best fit funders. The time you invest in thoughtful research will yield far greater returns than the time you might waste using a shotgun, hit or miss style approach. It is not uncommon for grant makers to change their priorities, so be diligent in keeping your prospecting database up to date. Grant makers only fund a small fraction of the requests they receive. Don’t waste your time or a grant maker’s time by submitting a request if you’re not a good fit. Repeatedly requesting grants from a funder that isn’t a good fit could leave a bad impression and hurt your chances for getting support in the future.

The Holy Grail of Grant Writing (excerpts from In the Trenches: Grantsmanship)

Enjoy this excerpt on sustainability from Heather Stombaugh’s book: In the Trenches: Grantsmanship.  Heather is HUB Philanthropic Solutions’ Grants Consultant


Chapter 11: Why is sustainability so important?

For the most part, grant makers do not want the success of an ongoing project to depend entirely on whether or not they provide ongoing funding support. Grant makers want to invest in the impact of your project, not adopt your organization. Grant makers generally favor projects that receive support from a mix of sources and do not depend on their future support to continue providing services.

With rare exceptions, there are two situations that grant makers generally avoid committing themselves to:

1) Being the only source of support for an ongoing project or program.

2) Providing indefinite support to a project.

What should you include in your sustainability statement? You should describe present and historic sources of income for the project. This should include all the different types of revenue (not just grants) your organization uses to raise funds.

  • Do not exaggerate your income projects.
  • If your project includes sharing resources, be sure to describe any projected future cost savings.
  • Do include in-kind resources if they are pertinent to your program.
  • Describe your organization’s success rate in securing grants or other types of support to sustain projects.
  • Identify potential sources of funding support.

If a grant maker’s guidelines do not restrict you from providing future financial data, you might consider formatting your budget to include that information. Moreover, take into consideration what evidence might provide you with assurance if you were to make a significant financial investment and work from that perspective as you develop this section. Remember, impressing a grant maker does not happen by offering exaggerations, but by presenting them with a thoughtful, realistic plan.

What steps will you take to ensure that your grant funder invests in your project?


The Holy Grail of Grant Writing (excerpts from In the Trenches: Grantsmanship)–What is your ask?

42069871 - male hand wearing a business shirt pointing a finger at the phrase just ask in white text on a blackboard

This is one in a series of excepts from HUB Philanthropic Consulting’s Expert Grant Guru, Heather Stombaugh, GPC, CFRE from her latest book.  In this excerpt, Heather reviews who is your audience and what is your ask?

Chapter 5: Part II:

 Who is your audience and what is your “ask?”

What is the difference between passive versus active voice? Passive voice clouds understanding, is vague, and often sounds awkward when read aloud. The active voice, in contrast, includes the action in the sentence.

More than likely, there will be such a combination of reviewers and decision makers involved in reading your proposals. You can speak to the broadest audience possible by balancing all three elements of persuasive argumentation.

Pathos:   Do weave testimonials, quotes, and images throughout your proposal.

Logos:     Do include statistics, charts, graphs, or algorithms in your statement of need or project description.

Ethos:      Do  emphasize your organization’s credibility by including recent achievements, information about staff longevity, or leadership’s history of success.

How do you make the ask? In your proposal, the ask will comprise a single sentence, maybe two. It’s such an important sentence to your argument and to keep the reader engaged. With the ask statement, you indicate exactly what you need from the foundation. Be direct, and include details about what their gift will accomplish. Moreover, use transitional language between every section of the proposal.

How will you make your grant proposal stand out?

The Holy Grail of Grant Writing (excerpts from In the Trenches: Grantsmanship) – Statement of Need

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This is one in a series of excepts from HUB Philanthropic Consulting’s Expert Grant Guru, Heather Stombaugh, GPC, CFRE from her latest book.  In this excerpt, Heather reviews the ever-important Statement of Need.

Part II: Chapter 6: Telling your story by the numbers

The Statement of Need provides the evidentiary basis for your persuasive argument.  The purpose of the Statement of Need is to establish the rationale for your proposal and lay the foundation for the development of the other sections by answering the fundamental question, “Why is this project (or organization) needed?”

As you develop the Statement of Need, there are three points you must consider: answer the real question, collect and synthesize data,and balance emotion and evidence.

The outline for the Statement of Need is comprised of the answers to the following questions.

  1. What is the problem/need?
  2. How long has the need existed?
  3. Who is in need?
  4. Who will benefit primarily from your proposed solution?
  5. Why is there a need?

The Statement of Need must lead the reader from acknowledging there’s a problem, to feeling like they can do something about it, and finally to choose to invest in the changes your nonprofit wants to make in the world. But they will ever agree with your argument without a logical progression of facts.

Here are a few points to remember when writing your Statement of Need.

  • Write the most important information first
  • Statements should be clear and to the point
  • If there are multiple needs, focus only on those that your proposed project will address
  • Present data that will support your case, but do not overwhelm readers with numbers

The first place you should go for data is the nonprofit. This is called primary evidence, because it comes directly from the source. Once you have primary evidence, pair it with secondary evidence from reputable sources. What types of data should you collect?

  • Demographic data
  • Problem or issue-specific data
  • Data to support the proposed solution

We recommend that you use the CRAAP test to evaluate your sources before including them in your proposal. CRAAP is the acronym for:

  • Currency
  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Accuracy
  • Purpose

Most importantly, you must pair good data with the human element. Remember that people give to people, not proposals. Grant funding is never about your organization and it is always about the people or communities you serve. Describe how the proposed solution will benefit clients and improve their condition, not how your organization will benefit.

How will you tell your story?

The Holy Grail of Grant Writing (excerpts from In the Trenches: Grantsmanship)

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This is one in a series of excepts from HUB Philanthropic Consulting’s Expert Grant Guru, Heather Stombaugh, GPC, CFRE from her latest book.  In this excerpt, Heather defines goals and objectives and their roles in grant writing.

 Part II: Chapter 7

 What will you accomplish with your proposal goals and objectives?

Now that you have identified the problem and established your rationale for addressing it, the next step in developing your proposal is to describe to the grant maker how you intend to solve the problem. While you develop this section, it is important to keep in mind that each section of a grant proposal builds on the previous section.

  • Goals are the statements of general intent that guide your project. They are broad, abstract and generally cannot be measured.
  • An objective is a measurable step that you take towards achieving a goal. Objectives are concrete, narrow in focus and can be measured.

Objectives can generally be categorized as either “process objectives” or “outcome objectives.” Process objectives focus on the delivery of services or the implementation of a program that is needed to achieve results. Outcome objectives focus on demonstrating results. As you develop objectives, keep in mind that the sections of the proposal are not independent of each other, but are connected and should align with each other.

How will you ensure that the sections of your proposal align with each other?

Who is your audience and what is your “ask?”

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What follows is an excerpt from a new book, In the Trenches: Grantsmanship,.written

by Heather Stombaugh,MBA,CFRE,GPC – Grants Consultant for HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Part II: Chapter 5:

 Who is your audience and what is your “ask?”

 Grant writing is persuasive writing. Through the introduction, we must make the reviewer want to keep reading. In order to capture your audience early, you must make your introduction shine. And you must know who your audience is.

Who will read your grant proposals? Who will you be writing to?

  • Family members of the original donor?
  • Program officers who have advanced degrees in philosophy?
  • Scholars in your organization’s particular subject?
  • Community relations officers at a national corporation?
  • Bank vice presidents for a local private trust?
  • A panel of community members?

Did you know that research suggests there are significant differences between generational giving? Baby Boomers tend to be more (traditional) pathos-driven givers, Generation Xers seem more likely to give based on logos, and Millennials seem more inclined to give based on ethos.

Keep in mind that if you are writing to a foundation that has funded you in the past, thank them. Show them why they should continue to support your successful work. If you are writing to a foundation that is entirely new to your organization, show the funder why your organization is a good match for its mission and priorities.

Too often, grant writers overlook the importance of how their written page looks.

  • Use at least 1” inch margins minimum to maintain minimum white space
  • Use heads and subheads to lead the reader through the proposal and arguments
  • Add more white space by using block paragraphs without indents and by adding space after heads, subheads, tables, etc.
  • Use bullets and tables or charts to replace lengthy passages
  • Use graphics

Different fonts resonate with us in different ways. Our personal perceptions about fonts affect grant reviews, too.

  1. Use sans serif fonts for heads and subheads
  2. Use serif fonts for the body of the proposal

How will you make your grant proposal stand out?


How to Become a Pre-Selected Organization in 3 Steps



by Heather Stombaugh, CFRE, GPC – HUB Philantropic Solutions, Grants Consultant

Spring is in the air, and as a gardener, I could not be more delighted. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty this weekend. But just as you wouldn’t just throw a tomato plant in the garden and expect it to grow with no supports, you can’t just throw a proposal at a foundation and expect a reward.

That advice goes double for organizations that contribute only to pre-selected funders, because “Seventy-two percent of the nation’s 96,000 foundations now do not accept unsolicited proposals from nonprofits.” (Pablo Eisenberg – Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 20, 2015)

  • Does that mean you can never get funding from these foundations? Absolutely not.
  • Does it mean it takes more time to secure funding as a pre-selected organization? Indeed.
  • Is it worth the extra time? Unequivocally, yes!

Here’s how. First and always: assess for strategic alignment. If it’s not a great fit, it will never be worth your (or their) time to proceed. If you are aligned strategically in terms of mission and priorities, then follow these three steps.

Step 1. Find someone on your leadership team or board who knows someone on the foundation’s board. Work those spheres of influence!

Step 2. Have your contact talk to the person he or she knows at the foundation. This can be by phone or in person, and the foundation should do most of the talking.


Step 3. Follow up on that conversation with an RFI, or request for information. The RFI can be as simple as a one-page letter (never more than two) highlighting your mission, why your organization is a fit for their philanthropy, why support is needed, and why your organization has the right solution(s). This letter should NOT include an ask; that will come in a future proposal, at the funder’s discretion and request.

And it works. We use this method all the time with success. Here’s a quick case study. We worked with a large FQHC who had depended on state and federal funding for years. They were losing money in that arena and wanted to look for private funding. As part of our strategy, we identified a local funder who was strategically aligned but didn’t contribute to (or even review) unsolicited proposals. So, we found a connection, started a conversation, and sent an RFI. About 14 months later–after completing a full proposal at their request–the organization secured an entry-level grant of $20,000 from the funder. They also secured a new relationship and got on that ephemeral pre-selected list. The system works!

What tips do you have for becoming a pre-selected organization?




It’s Not About You


by Heather Stombaugh, MBA, CFRE, GPC, HUB Philanthropic Solutions, Grants Consultant

True story: Last year, I reviewed a federal proposal that was written as a screenplay. While interesting (if only because I was curious as to why someone thought that was appropriate), the writer completely missed the point. The application was for a health grant, and it did not score well. Throughout the review, everyone wondered why the author thought health reviewers would want to see the request in a screenplay format. It’s creative, sure, and I give them props for trying something new, but the writer forgot a fundamental rule of writing: write for your audience.

That’s a pretty stark example. But it makes clear my Tip #1: in order to write for your audience, you must know your audience. For private and corporate requests, do your homework to learn about the program officers, board members, donors, and family (as appropriate). For government requests, find out all you can about the program officers and the type of review panel(s) you should expect. Who are they? Where do they live? What are they interested in? Read the bio pages on websites to try to decipher why they are affiliated with the funder. And essentially, learn about your potential reviewer’s academic background. That’s an important one, because education and reading level are intertwined—in most cases, you’re not going to send a doctoral thesis to a family foundation for the same reason you’re not going to send a three-page letter in response to a state Request for Proposals. It wouldn’t be appropriate to the audience. Also, don’t assume anything about a reviewer’s politics, interests, religion or anything based on what you read about them – that’s why grant maker cultivation is so necessary.

Tip #2: Keep your voice, or your writing will seem phony. Authenticity is essential in fundraising. Writing for your audience is not about mission drift or completely reworking your program to bend to the will of a funder. Quite the contrary. Be true to your organization’s mission, vision, and culture, but use the funder’s words against them when you can. For example, I once worked on a proposal for a nursing program in Texas. The targeted funder supported only nursing programs, but they called nurses caregivers. Nowhere in their literature was the word “nursing”, except in the names of the programs they funded. It was easy to use Word’s find/replace funding to change the work “nurses” to “caregivers” throughout the proposal. Otherwise, the request remained faithful to the organization and the project. We just used a word that made the funder more comfortable.

Tip #3: It’s not about you. In far too many grants I’ve reviewed, the organization can’t stop talking about itself, such as “XYZ Organization provided shelter for 200 people last night” or “ABC Nonprofit provided 25,000 health care visits last year.” To the reviewer, this language comes across as self-serving. It’s not about your organization. It’s about the beneficiaries of your programs. Nonprofits are conduits for good work, so we should remove ourselves to some extent from this language. We could revise those two examples to “Two hundred people in need in our community found a safe, comfortable bed at XYZ Organization last night” or Last year, X number of people had access to affordable healthcare at ABC Nonprofit.” In these examples, we turn the focus back to the people who benefit from your work – the group the funder wants to hear about the most.

How do you write for your audience?

People Give to People, not Proposals



Heather Stombaugh, MBA, CFRE, GPC, Grants Counsultant – HUB International

Grant writers frequently chuckle about being “little writer monkeys.” That is to say, as grant writers we’re often at our desks for hours at a time, listening to classic rock and churning out power words and Logic Models to craft compelling proposals. OK maybe the classic rock part is just me, but this should sound about standard for most professional grant writers. My Zenbook is a fifth appendage.

Though the actual writing is of course paramount to any grant writer’s success, we’re so much more than writer monkeys. We’re development professionals, and foundations aren’t so different from other donors. Why? Because they’re staffed with people. People give to people, so the same development strategies and tactics apply—especially cultivation.

Still, the cultivation process can be daunting for some grant writers. Perhaps by trade, training, or personality, many of us are reticent to be involved in cultivation.

What’s a good grant writer to do?

When I first started my career, I was terrified of making the ask and interacting one on one, in person with major donors and grant makers. I was too inexperienced, but I was also afraid of asking for money. It was a psychological barrier I had to break, and thankfully the AIDS Service Organization I worked for offered some training to demystify the process. What I learned was that my own perceptions and attitudes about money were skewing my ability to make the right ask at the right time to the right funder. I’m not going to tell you that after that training I was cured. Far from it. I still get anxious, but I know why now. I can also relate to lots of kinds of people, so I use that to my advantage. And ultimately that’s what we’re talking about here: sometimes it’s essential professional development for grant writers to step away from the computer, pick up the phone, or buy someone coffee. Because (in unison now)…

People give to people, not proposals.

I encourage you to read our blogs (here and from Hub partner JustWrite Solutions) and anything else you can get your hands on about cultivation. But I also urge you to jump in and just do it. Pick up the phone and call a funder. It WILL build your confidence, and you’ll gain some fundamental development skills in the process. Still nervous? Don’t be afraid to create a script and practice it. (I’ve done that many times.) And wear a smile during your call—the person on the other end of the line will notice.