PSGA Ken's Corner

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

Please, read the website first

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I had a phone call the other day from someone who wanted to know about the foundation’s giving program. After three or four questions, I asked, “Have you read our website?” The answer was, “No.”

I told the caller that it would be best to look at the website first, then if there were questions it was fine to call. I added that, “…it’s bad form to call any funder with a significant website until you’ve read the information there.”

The caller seemed a bit upset. Perhaps the caller felt that since I had answered the call, why not just answer any and all questions. What do you think?

There are several reasons that I was candid with that caller, and I’ll say it again, “It’s bad form to call any funder with a significant website before you’ve read the website.”

Why?

The foundation I work for isn’t special. I have to assume that callers who call to ask me basic questions about funding areas, geography, and type of grants—all quickly found on our website—are probably doing so for all the funders they’re looking at. That approach to funder research reflects on an organization’s competence. Reading a funder’s website has become a basic step in any funder research. Is the organization overlooking similar steps in its programming? Governance?

That haphazard approach suggests that the organization isn’t using basic funder search tools. That may mean they aren’t looking very hard and may be missing some obvious funding options.

Finally, “What if just calling the funder became the default approach?”

I look at Google Analytics each month to see how the foundation’s website has been used. It tells me what pages people are using, what pages seem to get ignored. And again, I’d generalize what I see people doing on our site to what they probably would do on other funders’ websites. By far, the very page(s) that tell people where we fund, what we fund, and how to submit a request are the ones used most.

Websites are available 24/7; funders aren’t. If you convert webpage contacts into the average business week, the foundation where I work would get over 30 calls a day—almost 4 calls an hour. All asking the same basic questions. Imagine how hard it would be to get through to me at such a rate. And I get grumpy repeating the same information again and again.

When we designed the website—and I think this is true for most funders—we looked at those basic questions because they were the ones we’d been asked again and again back in the days before websites. And we wrote the best answers that we’d been giving time after time.

Websites are not perfect. And funders may not update them as often as they should. So most funders welcome calls with questions about their websites. For example, a good question might be “I heard you’re going to start funding X, but I don’t see it on the website. Is that true?” Or another example, “I just started writing grants for Organization Y. Unfortunately it isn’t clear if they’ve gotten a grant from you in the past. Can you help me with that?”

These types of questions show that you’re approaching grantwriting seriously, creating a positive impression with the funders you talk with.

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Author: Ken Ristine

Over 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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