A personal touch in the digital age
As you know, relationships based on trust and open communication are key to fundraising. That said, as more and more foundations use online applications, you may find fewer opportunities to get to know a foundation program officer. But just because they are using more efficient technology does not mean they don't want to talk to you.
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. 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.
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.
As you can see, relationships and persistence are crucial.
However, if you can't find any contact information for the funder, they probably do not have the staff to field your questions. Respect that. Apply through the prescribed process.
For more tips from Dalya Massachi, visit Writing to Make a Difference.