PSGA Ken's Corner

Observations and advice on grant writing from the other side of the desk

Funder Forums

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It’s that time of year again for the South Puget Sound Funders Forum. It’s on the campus of UPS again on Friday, December 4th. If you haven’t signed up yet you can go to the new PSGA homepage at and link to the registration.

Funder Forums are important even if you don’t have a project on your desk right now. And that’s especially true for the December Forum. Since it can take you three to nine months to navigate the process at some larger funders, what you hear at the December Forum may be important to ideas you’ll be working on for mid-to late 2016 and on into 2017.

Also, I encourage people to sit at one table that may not be directly related to their current work. Why?

  • The more funders you hear from the better idea you have about how funders work in general
  • Your organization may have a project in the future that is relevant to that funder
  • You may change jobs, and this funder might be important to your work in the future

Even though your goal for the Forum is listening, there is one thing you should be prepared to say. You need to have a short elevator speech ready if a funder asks who you are and what your organization does. The key is short. Grantseekers often feel a pressure to say more and more and more in hopes that something they say will resonate with a funder.

The problem is that the more you say, the less memorable it is. So a short elevator speech that hits the key points is better than going on and on. What are those key points?

  • Your name
  • Your organization’s name
  • 1 sentence about what the organization does
  • 1 sentence about where it works, i.e., geography

If you’ve never been to a Funders Forum here’s a checklist of things to listen for:

  • Why does the funder make grants?
  • What are the funder’s priorities?
    • Geography
    • Type of program
    • Type of grant
      • Operating support
      • Capacity-building
      • Capital grants
      • Project grants
    • What’s the process for an initial approach?
    • Deadlines, if any
    • Range of grant amounts
    • Frequency of grants

If you talk to other grant writers you may hear about other key questions that are helpful.

Over the many years I’ve sat in the hotseat at Funder Forums I’ve learned a lot from the people sitting at my table. I see new faces, hear about new organizations, and often people I know, some of whom are now at new organizations. And that brings up the last benefit of attending.

You need to be there just to be seen. It’s always a good idea that you get a chance to meet a funder, put a face and a voice to your organization, before you have a grant request in hand. While there’s a rule that you don’t come to the Forum to push a proposal, the fact is that it’s just a plain good idea.

I hope to see you there.


Author: Ken Ristine

40 years experience in the nonprofit sector; Senior Program Officer for a Pacific Northwest family foundation. Co-author with Goodwin Deacon of the recently published Grantsmanship for the Genius.

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