CULTIVATING INSTITUTIONAL DONORS; OR, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

Working to develop a relationship with an institutional donor can take hard work and time—sometimes years! — and because of the reporting requirements that many of them have, the hard work doesn’t end when the grant is awarded. So, what can you and your team do to keep your corporate, foundation, and government funders happy—and keep your organization on their roster of grantees? You’ve got to figure out how they tell their story.

Institutions tend to take one of two approaches to grant-making. Most government agencies, although certainly some foundations and corporations, place greater value on data. How many people did you serve? How many events did you host? How many email inboxes did you reach? At what times of day and in which locations? How are you quantitatively measuring the impact of your work? These are the institutions whose stakeholders are taking tallies, making sure that they are meeting certain metrics with their grant-making strategies. For these funders, you’ll need to brush up your bullets, graphs, and tables – make it as easy as possible for them to quickly pull exactly the information they are looking for.

Conversely, many foundations want you to tell them a good story. They may be more moved to continue giving by an anecdote about a single program participant who underwent a massive transformation, than by knowing that your event attendance increased by 15% this year. These are the institutions whose stakeholders are intrigued by why your work is important, not just what you do. To them, photos and videos are more than just proof that you’ve done the work you said you would do, they are evidence that you’re touching real lives. For these funders, put the handy tools in Microsoft Office to work: pull quotes, sidebars, and even the right photo formatting can make clear on the page what you already know to be true about why you do what you do.

Here are two ways to go about figuring out which kind of institution you’re dealing with:

ONE: Develop a relationship with your grant or program officer.
This person’s job is to make sure that grantees like you are helping their institutions meet their funding goals. The fact that it’s not their money doesn’t make your grant or program officer any less important to the process. If they’ve already awarded you the grant, they only succeed if you succeed—they’re on your side! Pick up the phone once in a while when you have good news to share, invite them to events your organization is hosting, and most importantly, DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. Sometimes, finding out what the funder wants in a report—or a future proposal for that matter—is as simple as that.

TWO: If all else fails, read between the lines.

Sometimes there is no grant officer. Sometimes, there’s nothing standing between you and the President of the Board, and picking up the phone doesn’t always feel right. Sometimes, literally all you have to go on is a PO Box and calling isn’t even an option (okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get the point). That’s when you have to look hard at what the organization is asking for. Do they severely limit the number of characters, words, or pages you can submit? If so, they’re not looking for long anecdotes or quotes, they want just the facts. Do they encourage you to submit photos, videos, and links to social media pages? They’re probably looking for a more fleshed out story—a bigger picture.

The key to your success in this process is to resist the urge to send your best statistical data to the institutions that want to be moved emotionally, and to stop yourself from sharing inspiring anecdotes with those that only care for numbers and facts.

In navigating how to report to different institutional funders, it helps to keep in mind that, unlike individuals, these organizations are not choosing between writing you that $5,000 check and using it to go on vacation. Foundations and certain Government Agencies are required by law to make contributions to charitable organizations and, as such, have to turn around and prove that they’ve upheld their own set of obligations. Your reporting doesn’t only help you stay on their good list, it helps them remain in good standing. So yes, your strategy for cultivating and reporting to institutional funders is technically about you, but it’s also very much about them.