Engage the Funder: The Good, The Bad and The Believe it or Not…

Effective communication with funders (and major donors) is integral to a robust, viable fund development program and creating sustainable relationships with funders.  Just like everything else, communication with funders requires an ongoing commitment at the highest level of the organization.  It is a commitment of organizational resources, strategic capital and accountability. 

Does your respective organization have a commitment to a funder communications plan at the executive level?   Is it effectively operationalized?  

If the answer is yes, bravo!  The organization is on the right track.   If it hasn’t been done so recently, it would be a good idea to perform a diagnostic, an assessment - a reality check of sorts to evaluate the process and the efficacy of the plan. 

If the answer is no, then now is the time to make that commitment and develop a funder communications plan that the leadership team can effectively execute.   Keep it simple and practical but most importantly – get started.  Sending the message to funders that they are valued relationships and not just last minute deadlines will help position the organization for greater funding success.  It makes it worth taking the time to develop a plan. 

 In either case, here are a few ideas to help get started: 

  1. Convene the team including the Executive Director/ CEO, Fund Development leadership, Accounting/Finance, programmatic leadership, a line manager on the front lines doing service delivery,  IT, (if your organization tracks impact via technology), and Marketing & Communications.  (The team will vary depending on the size of the organization and the org chart)    
  2. Review the list of current, potential (pipeline) and past funders – generate the list based on  the past three to five funding cycles or fiscal years and answer some of these key questions – Are we communicating with funders? If yes, is our funder communications plan working with each individual funder? Overall?   How do we know?  Are we maximizing the opportunities to build relationships with funders?  Could we do better and where specifically is there room for improvement?
  3. Grade Your Performance as a peer or self evaluation exercise that measures what works and what doesn’t.  Start by creating a grid of key performance indicators based on the salient points of the review discussion.  Each team member should assign a grade to each key indicator.  This can be done on a per funder basis and/or overall.   Keep it simple but meaningful and measurable.   Here are some examples: 
  •    Master Mailing List – i.e.  Is the funder on the mailing list so that the program officer received an invitation to the grand opening of a new site?
  •   Communication Tools and Frequency- how, when, who and how often did we “touch” the funder  
  •   Compliance – did we comply with their standard reporting requirements of the grant?
  •   Financial Data:  Overspend?  Underspend?  Why?  Were we fiscally responsible with their funds?  Did we share pertinent financials even if they didn’t ask for them?  Did we contact them if we had budget questions or any changes we needed to make during the funding cycle?
  •   Outcomes:  How did we communicate what we did with their funding?  Did we “show” them impact i.e. Invite them to a 6 month site visit, or email them a video link showing results of the program they funded.  The organization may not have solved homelessness in the city yet but, telling a program officer what has been accomplished in three key zip codes is worth picking up the phone and then sending a follow up summary email.    

4.  Final Assessment - compile the key performance indicators grading and review the results within the group.  What do the results tell you? Is your organization’s funder communications strategy fully operationalized?  Is it working?  What is not working?  Why? 

Proactive always trumps reactive but, it is rarely simple and not always easy to be in a proactive mode.  Unless they specifically tell you, the majority of funders do want to hear from you and not just at proposal or report deadline time.  They want to hear the good, the bad and the “you may not believe this but…” Communicating will involve them and that is really what they want, to be involved and to know how their support is making a difference.  Engage the funder or the donor – you will be glad you did. 



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