We have a goal at the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health that our grants and work be transformational, not just transactional. We want our funding to create impact that leads to change that lasts for generations.
This philosophy starts with relationships and encourages co-creation, which is different than traditional grant making, where the funders’ only roles are to cut a check and wait for a post-grant report when the funds expire.
I’m writing this to encourage nonprofits and other organizations who rely on funding to think about their relationship with funders differently. The relationship should be — and needs to be — about more than asking for funding. It’s essential to build relationships and partnerships that can grow and lead to the transformational change that both sides want.
I’m approaching my sixth anniversary as a program officer for Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health, where I focus primarily on community grants that help address the root causes to some of Idaho’s most pressing health issues.
Prior to my current role, I spent six years in a nonprofit fundraising role. I understand the reality of organizations relying on funding, and that’s why I want to help shine a light on a few things that can help you build trusted relationships.
FIND LIKE-MINDED PARTNERS
First, identify organizations who are a mission match. Relationships are easier to build and maintain when both sides share common goals, principles and ideals. There are easy ways to learn about different funders — read their annual reports, visit their website and social media platforms, and subscribe to their newsletter to find out the type of work they support.
Next, if you find alignment or see potential, ask to meet with someone from that organization. An introductory meeting will connect you and help you learn more about how the funder operates. You can learn their funding cycles and how to apply for funding. Each funder has a unique grant cycle, so understanding it will best position you when the time is right to submit a grant proposal or apply for funds.
This initial meeting may not lead to receiving funds. That’s OK, but a common mistake is thinking that no funding means no relationship. That’s not always the case. While a funder may not grant you dollars, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. Perhaps there are ways to partner – you may be a subject matter expert that the funder needs or uses in their work. That may open opportunities for you with other organizations, too.
STAY IN TOUCH
Maintaining and building the relationship is the logical step. The funder might just wish to see a project or program piloted before committing. Maybe the funder is worried about sustainability? Is there a plan that proves it can be sustained after the grant funds are used. The funder also could have loved your proposal, but the timing wasn’t right.
If you focus on the relationship, the chances of better positioning your organization for funding increase. You also gain important allies when you build meaningful, trusted relationships. These allies can advocate for you and perhaps open doors for you and your organization, which can lead to funding that helps create transformational change.