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The past year proved to be an unpredictable one for fundraising. A Giving USA report showed individual giving was down while foundation giving remained steady, buoyed in-part by positive investment returns in 2021. Our 2023 Report on Private Philanthropy also showed the number and size of grants and the total dollars granted increased on a year-over-year basis, which is consistent with the Giving USA report and helped to offset the decrease in individual giving that occurred during 2022’s difficult economic environment. These reports perhaps indicate a need for fundraisers to focus more on foundation giving, rather than relying as heavily on individual donors. As we enter a new year, deepening relationships between foundations and nonprofits will arguably be a key part of making an impact. Here are three tips for foundations and nonprofits to help strengthen their partnerships.

#1: Reach out and ask questions.

Some view nonprofit organizations and grantmaking foundations as parties on opposites ends of the philanthropic equation, however they are really partners working toward the same goal. “Foundation and nonprofit partnerships benefit most from communicating clearly and early in the process,” said Alexis Fish, director of product marketing at Foundation Source. Being honest and upfront with what your organization needs can go a long way toward a lasting partnership, but speaking up can be challenging for a nonprofit organization. “A best practice is for a foundation to always include an open-ended question at the end of an application or discovery conversation that provides a dedicated place for a nonprofit to add in anything that they haven’t already had a chance to ask or say,” said Alexis.

“Grantmaking foundations are just people looking to do good,” said Kate Piatt Eckert, mission sustainability initiative director at Forefront. “Many foundations have dedicated program staff whose job is to help the foundation make grants. Contact them and ask what they are looking for and what they want to fund.”

“Consider starting with smaller foundations,” said Margaux Ancel, director of foundation engagement at Foundation Source. “Often times, grant writers will only spend time applying for larger grants because of the time and effort, but spending a little time on the smaller grants is a great way to get to know the foundation and build meaningful relationships.”

#2: Bridge the divide.

Funders often only see the broader view and lack insight into the work happening on the ground at nonprofits. The charitable giving space is often likened to a tree, with nonprofit organizations down at the roots and funders up in the branches. By offering a holistic description of an organization’s funding needs, foundations may not only express interest in contributing financial support but envision opportunities for a more substantive relationship. For example, Foundation Source client, Carrie Morgridge, actively bridges this divide by not only making financial donations, but also facilitating relationships.

“We don’t give money and walk away,” said Carrie. “Not only do you get a grant from our foundation, but we also roll up our sleeves and connect people in our network, from great nonprofits to great philanthropists. Because we’ve done so many grants and come across so many wonderful people, we’ve put together an amazing group, and we’ve organized them into sector categories in which they work. They’re sharing ideas and amplifying their capabilities just by connecting.”

#3: Utilize technology.

Long-lasting partnerships can be difficult to build and maintain, but technology can help maintain ongoing relationships and close communication gaps. For example, an online portal can offer space not only to complete an application, but also for a nonprofit to invite colleagues, track grants, payments, manage progress and view outcome reports in one place. These technology-enabled features can help nonprofits and foundations align in real time, allowing for a deeper connection. They also provide a great opportunity for nonprofits to showcase the impact of foundation commitments.

Christa Chu, a private client advisor at Foundation Source, shares her advice as a former fundraiser who now works with private foundations: “Nonprofits should demonstrate how the organization’s overall health is essential to the success of the program and frame a proposal that incorporates requests for both designated program funding and general operating support.”

Making an impact as a nonprofit organization while juggling multiple tasks is a challenging but possible feat with the right tactics and infrastructure in place. Frequent and transparent communication between foundations and nonprofits cultivate meaningful relationships that yield more than just financial support.

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