How to Communicate with Foundations: Clarifying Questions

by | May 13, 2020 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research, Grant Writing

Are you researching foundation prospects for a program, project, or nonprofit organization? Have you discovered questions that you can’t find an answer to?  Is there simply not enough detail on the foundation website or the 990-PF? These are the questions you ask Program Officers. It’s important to effectively communicate with Foundations. Clarifying Questions will determine if your organization is a good fit for their current priorities or upcoming grant cycle.

The Top 4 Reasons to Communicate with Foundations with Clarifying Questions:

  1. You were advised to submit a proposal for an upcoming grant cycle. You need clarification on the process.
  2. A natural disaster or economic crisis may affect a pending proposal. Clarification is needed regarding the Foundation’s funding priorities.
  3. Your research suggests a Foundation is a great prospect for a project. Now you want to clarify that you are a good fit for their current priorities.
  4. You hope to submit a proposal in the Foundation’s NEXT grant cycle. You already have a relationship and need to ask some clarifying questions.

These situations are daunting when you are a new Grant Writer or haven’t had a reason to regularly communicate with foundations. Rest assured, you are not alone. Many folks are nervous about reaching out to foundation staff. They don’t want to bother Program officers. I’m here to tell you, you are NOT being a bother.

A Program officer is there to answer your questions. These clarifying questions actually HELP them present the highest quality prospects to their Boards for consideration. Foundations want to be fiscally responsible. Therefore, they align their funding priorities with nonprofits whose impact will be the greatest. Communicate with foundations and their program officers, and you build a relationship. Program officers learn who you are, what you do, and the successes you have. This shows the potential ROI of awarding your nonprofit a grant.

I started my business during the 2009 economic downturn. I see lots of similarities to those times now. Things changed with a lot of Foundations and I learned so much during those years. With 2009 in mind, I will give you some questions to consider as you work to secure dollars for your missions right now. These are questions that have become very important over the past few months in 2020. It’s more important than ever to communicate effectively with Foundations and Program officers.

Clarifying Questions to ask Foundations

Grant information is found in the 990-PF, on the Foundation website, and various research tools. However, there are key pieces of information you may only get after directly communicating with foundations. Consider these 5 Clarifying Questions:

  • “When should I submit a request to be considered for the next grant review cycle?”
  • “If we are selected for funding, when could we expect dollars in-hand?”
  • “If we start the project before funding is in-hand, can we reimburse ourselves for expenses we already spent once funds arrive?”
  • “Would you like to come for a site visit?”
  • Ask clarifying questions on anything that you don’t understand. Example: A foundation asks for audited financials. Let’s assume you don’t have those. In this case, ask if they will accept a 990 or compilation report (which is less expensive).

7 Clarifying Questions for nonprofits who recently submitted proposals:

  • “We recently submitted a proposal and wanted to check on the current process for review and awards. Has your foundation made changes to current priorities in light of the current situation in our region?”
  • “Are proposals still being reviewed on the same timeline?”
  • “Will awards still be distributed on the same timeline?”
  • When could we expect dollars in-hand should we be selected for funding?
  • “If proposals are being pushed to a later cycle for review, what is that timeline and award period?”
  • “Our organization is planning to submit a proposal. Should we submit, or hold for a later date?”
  • Scenario: You submitted a proposal. Then you learn the foundation is pushing the grant cycle to a later date. When you communicate with foundations in this situation, make sure you ask:  “Are there aspects of our proposal that need to be rewritten? Should we adjust our budgets, timelines, or evaluation methods? If so, when is that due?”

4 Clarifying Questions for nonprofits who feel like they are a good match and need confirmation:

  • “Based on our prospect research we feel that we are a good fit for your Foundation’s current priorities. Due to current issues in our region, we want make sure we are still a good fit for your next grant cycle.” [Then go into detail about what makes you a good fit and ask for their confirmation that they agree.]
  • “I found your Foundation while conducting grant research for our upcoming program/project/capital campaign. I think our organization is an ideal candidate for your current funding priorities. I’m reaching out, in light of current issues, to clarify if the foundation has changed funding priorities or deadlines.”
  • If priorities have changed for any reason, clarify if the foundation anticipates the new priorities remaining permanently. Similarly, clarify if the traditional priorities will come back after a certain period?
  • If there are special grant cycles due to a regional or national situation/disaster, ask about that. “Does your organization qualify for that special funding? Will that special cycle replace or be in addition to a regular grant cycle?”

I have asked and been asked these questions over the last 25 years. We decided to record some sample conversations and link them here. Check out these video clips of Funding For Good role-playing these conversations. If you want to learn more about our various Grant Writing Solutions or Development Coaching, we’d love to speak with you.

Click Here to find all of these videos on our YouTube playlist: Grant Conversations with Foundation Program Officers. [remember to Subscribe to our page to get the latest videos when they are posted]

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