How to Build Relationships with Grant Funders via Email

By Beverly A. Browning

Prepare, prepare, prepare! If you don’t prepare and cultivate the relationship before asking for grant money, you and your organization have a double loss when it comes to winning grants from newly identified potential funders.

In order to build a relationship with a potential funder, you need to start by researching corporate funding sources thoroughly.

When you’ve thoroughly researched funding sources, you’re ready to review all the language in the funder’s profile to find its initial contact information. Typically, funders will state one of two possible initial contact preferences: a phone call or a letter of inquiry. Calling to introduce yourself and your organization or ask for a face-to-face meeting is preferable, but the funder may prefer that you write an email instead — and if that’s the funder’s preference, you should honor that request.

If you contact your funder by email, follow these steps:

  1. Introduce yourself and your organization to the funder.
  2. Explain why you are contacting that funder.

    For example, maybe you have a shared mission, you’ve gotten funding from it in the past, maybe you know someone on its board of directors, you’ve attended one of its technical assistance meetings or webinars, or you have some other attention-grabbing connection.

  3. State your problem.
  4. Give the solution.
  5. State the amount of funding you need.
  6. Ask for permission to submit a full funding request based on the funder’s guidelines.
  7. Thank the person you are speaking with for his or her time.
  8. Proofread and send your official request.
  9. Follow up in five days.

If you’re able to make telephone calls to potential funders, here are some tips:

  • Write a script of what you want to say on the call. Your script should provide the same information you would provide if you were sending an email.
  • Time yourself and make sure to keep your spiel under three minutes. Keep that timer in front of you during your phone call so you don’t start to ramble.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Speak with a smile. It’s true: When you’re smiling, people can hear it.
  • Take copious notes.

If you get lucky and score a face-to-face meeting with a potential funder, take advantage of that opportunity! Write a script before the meeting and practice it over and over until you can say it naturally, without referring to your notes. Your script should communicate all the same things you would by email or over the phone.