#nplove: Funders and Grantees

#nplove: Funders and Grantees

Early on in my time as national director for YNPN, I was hanging out with a group of other, new-ish EDs and almost right away, talk turned to fundraising.

“I just have NO idea when I’m going to hear back from this guy,” one said. “He said there was a good chance we’d get funded this year but that was in February. IT’S AUGUST!!!”

“Yeah, I’m in the middle of writing this grant and I have no idea how much I’m supposed to ask for,” the other said. “I got a good vibe from the conversation but I just couldn’t figure out the actual ask. Does she want me to pitch $5000? Does she want me to pitch $500,000??? I literally have no idea.”

I remember staring back and forth between the two of them for awhile completely bewildered. Finally I offered what I thought was the obvious answer:

“Couldn’t you just call your program officer and ask her what’s up?”

They both looked at me for a moment, turned to each other, then burst out laughing. I remember they didn’t even bother to explain to me what was so funny.

Despite how it sounds, it wasn’t a mean girls moment. They weren’t actually laughing at me. They honestly thought I was making a joke. After a few months on the job, I figured out why they thought my suggestion was so absurd.

When I took the YNPN national director job, I was pretty new to fundraising. I’d worked on teams where I’d been deeply involved with fundraising but, to be honest, the only grants I’d ever written at that point were for our two major funders at the time--the Annie E. Casey Foundation and American Express. After a few months on the job, I had a much wider set of funder interactions to draw from, so I could understand a little better why my ED friends looked at me like I was an alien when I suggested treating their program officers the way you would any other colleague.

I feel fortunate, though, for my first experiences with Rafael Lopez from Casey and Richard Brown from AmEx, because they set the tone of partnership and mutual respect that grounds all the funding relationships YNPN seeks now and will seek for the life of our organization. Not only because it’s better for everyone involved, but because it’s the way that it’s actually supposed to be.

A few things that I’ve learned from those relationships that I carry with me:

  • Great funding partners recognize that it’s their job to make grants. So they make it as clear and as simple as possible to do so.
  • Great funding partners recognize that they can offer recommendations based on what else they are seeing in the field, but at the end of the day you know your organization and what your organization needs best.
  • Great funding partners seek out ways to strengthen your work beyond writing a check. Offering meeting space or access to consultants or introductions to other like-minded funders can be just as valuable.
  • Great funding partners make you feel like just that--a partner.

Over the past two years, our list of funding partners has been lucky enough to grow to slowly but surely include other amazing organizations like the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Packard Foundation, and the Newman’s Own Foundation, and the tone set by our early partners has held true.

We’re sending #nplove to these folks not only because of their financial generosity, but also because of the generosity of spirit that our partners have shown the network and the lessons they've taught us about how fulfilling relationships between funders and grantees can be.

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