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The 'More Asking – Less Writing' Approach to Grantseeking

September 12, 2013

(Marilyn Hoyt has been active in the philanthropic sector as a funder, teacher, grantwriter, and consultant for more than thirty years. A co-author of the Foundation Center book After the Grant, she also serves as a trustee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-New York Chapter and is program co-chair for Fundraising Day in New York. A version of this post appears on the Philanthropy Front and Center - Washington, D.C. blog.)

Headshot_marilyn_hoytWhen I moved from being a grantmaker to a fundraiser, my first thought was "Where am I going to find funders for our work?" Today, after raising over $200 million and working as a consultant, I find it's still the most common first question in fundraising.

As soon as we start researching potential funders, though, the question should be, "How are we going to find time to approach all of these folks?" It's a key question, and how you answer it will determine your success in raising resources to advance your organization's mission and work. Obviously, you can't approach them all. You need to develop a time-efficient method for prioritizing those most likely to fund your work in the near term, and then see what stands between you and securing funds from some of the others.

Funds are not raised by writing; they're raised by asking. Which means you want to increase the time you spend on tasks related directly to asking and reduce the time you spend on writing proposals. To that end, I always tell clients to identify the most fundable parts of their work and learn how to write generic base proposals -- essentially, templates -- that can be revised as needed for individual funders. Just a few of these will go a long way to reducing the time you spend writing proposals and will increase the amount of time available to focus on refining your potential funder list and building relationships with your current funders.

You also need to focus your efforts on funders who actually make grants for the kind of work you do. In other words, "fish where the fish are." And to find the best fishing spots, you need to do research to determine not only which funders are interested in funding the kind of work you do, but also the size of the typical grant they award to programs like yours. It's in no one's best interest to approach a funder whose typical grant award is $5,000 with a $50,000 funding request.

Finally, it's important to consider a funder's expectations with respect to frequency of contact, site visits, reporting, and so on. The good news is that foundation program officers are just as busy as you are, so anything you can do to streamline the process and make their lives easier is likely to be appreciated.

Where does this all lead? Well, as the title of this post suggests, "more asking and less writing." More importantly, it should lead to better relationships with your funding partners, which, in turn, should result in more consistent funding streams and enhanced capacity to advance your work and have an impact.

If you’re wondering how to put all this advice into practice, you might want to register for a new webinar series I've developed with the Foundation Center. Over three weeks, we'll focus on the primary tool for foundation decision-making, the proposal, and explore strategies to move your organization to a place where it's doing more "asking" and a lot less writing. Best of all, you can participate in the entire series or just drop in for a single session -- and if you miss a week, you'll still be able to access that session.

I look forward to seeing you!

-- Marilyn Hoyt

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