Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
Over the last week or so, I have had conversations with two friends that revolved around the relationship between nonprofits and funders or potential funders. (Don’t you wish you had cool friends like I do to have these kinds of conversations?!) Both of these friends have worked on both sides of the equation – as a funder and fund seeker – which gave them interesting perspectives.
Bottom line in both conversations: nonprofit volunteers and staff need to do a better job communicating and responding to funders, especially those who express an interest in giving you money! In short, nonprofits need to adopt more of an attitude of gratitude.
What do I mean by that?
1. Respond to emails or phone calls (or text or social media messages) in a timely fashion. Funders have deadlines and responsibilities too, and your lack of responsiveness may cost you a gift this time or next time. Some phone calls or emails may present opportunities for funding that you never imagined, as one person shared with me. They may also need information to complete a gift, as someone else shared with me. In any event, common courtesy suggests that you acknowledge and respond, even with a simple “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
2. Follow-up promptly. Did a funder express an interest in a program or idea you shared? If so, send a proposal or whatever else the funder requested as a next step. Sounds simple, but one person I talked to never got a proposal for a project that he or she said would fit perfectly within their priorities. If things change on your end and you no longer need the money, communicate that back to the funder as well. Depending on the type of budgetary control your contact person has, he or she may “reserve” funds for your project. When you never ask for it, other worthy projects may get overlooked or underfunded. You have also lost credibility when you go back again. We all know the “I’ll believe it when I see it” people – those who have disappointed us so often that we no longer trust they will follow through.
3. Ask for deadlines. I learned this in my previous job. I had about a million things coming at me at once and would ask the requester for help prioritizing when they wanted things. I still do that to make sure that we both have the same expectations of timeliness. A simple “by when do you need that?” can help prevent bad feelings on either end. I also hate it when I kill myself to get something done that I think has a short deadline only to find out that the person didn’t need it for a few weeks so I could have taken my time … or eaten lunch.
4. Communicate delays. Life happens to all of us. We get busy, sick, or simply forget. But if someone asks you for information by a certain deadline, you meet that deadline or call them as far in advance as you can to let them know you can’t meet it. Period. Often, they built in a cushion anyway, but knowing when to expect something from you will enhance your credibility and social capital. When my dad died last year, all my work deadlines took a backseat. Going through all of those obligations to let people know when I would get back to them helped maintain my relationships … and no one balked at all.
5. Be gracious. You may have 500 things going on, but the funder doesn’t need to know that. Give him or her your undivided attention for the time it takes to discuss the issue(s) at hand or get the requested information. That also happened to me recently. In the midst of a HUGE grant deadline, I had a potential funder calling and emailing me for additional information … repeatedly. Inside I may have screamed “LEAVE ME ALONE!” but on the outside I hope he or she only hear me trying to get the needed information in a timely fashion.
The bottom line goes back to the golden rule: Treat people how you want them to treat you. Say thank you and when someone asks you for something (reasonable) – especially when it helps them help you – give it to them promptly and graciously. You don’t want to get the reputation as someone difficult to work with or, worse yet, hard to give money to!