How do you plant the seeds for a funder partnership?

Seeding funder partnerships

In my last post, I wrote about the alternative ways in which we can define growth as fundraisers. One of the main themes discussed was the way you can leverage your existing funders to create new opportunities for growth. But this had me thinking, how do we first get there with our funders?

Understand not only your funder’s mission, but also their philosophy and approach.

When developing relationships with funders, we often focus on how our nonprofit fits within their funding guidelines and priorities. However, it is just as important to understand the institutional funder’s philosophy and approach to their grantmaking strategies. (e.g., What kind of impact does XYZ Foundation hope to achieve with its grants? How can my nonprofit help XYZ Foundation make the impact it seeks from its grantmaking?) From this perspective, your nonprofit can change the space in which it engages, and change the conversation from: “How will your grants support my nonprofit’s work?” to “What can we each bring to the table, and how can we work together towards a common goal?”

Understand and speak your funder’s language.

Each funder brings its own perspective, and uses its own language, when talking about an issue or strategy it funds. Understanding and speaking your funder’s language can go a surprisingly long way towards starting your relationship on the right foot. As a former grantmaker, I can attest that I was more likely to resonate with the vision and thinking behind a grantee’s strategy when they spoke my organization’s language. For me, it demonstrated true alignment of values between both our organizations, and that we were both working towards a common goal. Funders just use grantmaking as a vehicle to achieve impact, just as your organization uses direct service, community organizing, advocacy, or other strategies as a vehicle to achieve impact.

Learning is a two-way street.

Institutional funders are often viewed as experts in their field. They have a unique birds-eye view, which provides them with valuable insights on best practices and common challenges your nonprofit, and others in the field may encounter. However, the wealth of knowledge they bring often comes from the grantee organizations they fund and the grant portfolios they manage. Just as funders can inform your nonprofit’s work, your organization’s successes, struggles, and lessons also informs their grantmaking. Understanding and recognizing that learning is a two-way street with your funders can really change the relationship dynamic you have with them. It also creates the space for your nonprofit to have ongoing conversations about your organization’s work, to share ideas about strategies, and to engage your funders as thought partners.

What first steps will your nonprofit take in creating partnerships with your institutional funders?


I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on what you just read. I am always looking for ways to provide useful insights to nonprofits seeking to increase their impact and effectiveness through fundraising and program strategies. Feel free to drop me a line here.

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