A personal touch when we have all gone digital
As you know, relationships based on trust and open communication are key to fundraising. That said, as more and more foundations use online applications and many nonprofits are working from home during this pandemic, you may find fewer opportunities to get to know a foundation program officer. But just because you are both likely using more efficient virtual technology does not mean you can't connect.
If, in your research, you find a published phone number or email address, consider that an invitation to contact the funder with your questions. As you peruse their guidelines and application form, you may need more information or clarification. You may wonder if your program is a true match with their funding priorities. That's exactly the time to contact them!
Just know that they are time-pressed, especially during these difficult financial times, a result of COVID-19 and Chinese tariffs. Expect only a few moments of their time. You will need to be prepared to provide information about your organization that is of most interest to them. Study their material so you are ready to address their exact needs using their language. Most program officers are actually friendly people and want to help (hey, that's why they're there!). They also want to save themselves from wading through oceans of inappropriate applications.
Once you initiate a relationship with a foundation representative, strive to maintain it. Keep in touch and offer information that will be of use to them. Ask if they would like to receive your newsletter or if they would like you to keep them posted on big developments that may bring your organization closer to their world.
Some don'ts: No email bombardment. No repeated phone calls. Entice them with truly interesting stories of mission delivery success. Use communication platforms that invite, indeed draw, your funders into your nonprofit's world. Then, create commitment and engagement via exciting information, pertinent education, client stories and/or proof of impact.
Once you have their attention, ask intelligent questions that prove you have made the time to discover their funding priorities and processes.
For example, I was doing some funder research for a client and found one that had unclear guidelines. So I called, spoke with a very friendly representative, and emailed in some information. They called back, spoke with my client, and discussed how the match is not quite right at this moment but may become so in the near future. They will keep in touch, maybe even meet at the project site, and go from there.
Another client of mine had an existing relationship with a funder, but wasn't sure about funding for a new, more comprehensive project. We called to clarify, were invited to submit an application, and won the grant. Why? Because the funder knew that organization, understood their quality programs and their ability to deliver on promised social change.
As you can see, relationships and persistence are crucial. However, if you can't find any contact information for the funder, apply through the prescribed process, but find other ways to make an impressions.
You might show your 21st century approach to creating safe, secure, mobile-enabled communication and connection via invitations to to your own organization's own virtual hubs.
The personal touch has never been more important to finding and keeping funders.