Sara Buesing from Catholic Charities was one of the recipients of the 2017 Apra-MN Professional Development Grant. Below is her report of what she learned from the grant. Check the Scholarship Page to see the current opportunities from Apra-MN!
Apra-MN’s Professional Development Grant or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Corporate & Foundation Relations
By Sara Buesing
Last year, I was assigned to be the dedicated researcher for our organization’s corporate and foundation relations team. “Okay, great!” I thought. This sounded like fun! I was excited to take on a new project and a new set of responsibilities. I like being challenged – I think it’s the best way to grow. Not that this stopped the creeping existential dread from setting in.
Soon the “okay, great!” became “oh no, I gotta do what now?”
I didn’t know anything about how to do prospect research for corporations and foundations. I’d worked with our Corporate & Foundation Relations (CFR) team to put together some profiles, but my focus had always been on our individual donors and I only had vague ideas of how the grant-writing process even worked. I’d never had to worry about it before.
Our CFR team, I should mention, was (and is) great. Right from the start, they welcomed me in as a member of the team and included me in their meetings and conversations so I could get a better sense of how they worked. And it helped! But they weren’t always sure how to use me, either – they’d never had their own prospect researcher before.
As soon as the Apra-MN Board announced their professional development grant, I knew I wanted to find something CFR-related I could put it toward. While I found a few online resources that had given me some good ideas for rating and evaluating prospects, it was becoming pretty clear that I would have to get creative and figure some of this out for myself.
I decided the best thing I could do was focus on the basics, and that meant getting a better understanding of the prospects I was researching. I found a series of on-demand webinars from the Chronicle of Philanthropy that touched on just some of the different prospects I needed to know: Seeking Grants from Corporate Foundations, Winning Grants from Private/Family Foundations, and how to Win Support from Local Companies. I closed out each webinar with new and valuable insight on what many corporate and foundation grant-makers are looking for and what could make them good prospects for our organization.
One common thread was the importance of looking beyond applications and proposals. Even corporate givers are looking to build relationships with the organizations they support – they want to stay engaged, not just write a check and disappear. Many are looking for offerings beyond just grants – such as volunteer opportunities that give their employees a chance to get involved. It’s important to take a holistic approach – grants can lead to more volunteers, but volunteers can turn into grants, too.
Grant requests to private foundations, too, benefit from a relationship-focused approach – most family foundations are small, without any staff, and many of their funding decisions are made informally. While getting on their radar can sometimes be difficult – many don’t like to consider unsolicited requests – they can be loyal donors, and tend to repeat grants once they find an organization they trust.
In both cases, it’s helpful to make use of your networks, especially when it comes to getting in front of the organization in the first place. Even corporate givers will give more weight to recommendations they receive from their employees or other contacts.
Identifying these links, as well as finding other opportunities for engagement, is a prime area where research can play a role. While research wasn’t the focus of these webinars, they did stress the importance of doing your homework before trying to get a meeting or submitting a proposal. Finding where your organization fits within a corporation or foundation’s giving priorities is a key step in building these relationships, and an opportunity for researchers (like me!) to make themselves useful.
All together, these webinars gave me the chance to learn about an aspect of fundraising I wasn’t familiar, and gave me the foundation I needed to be an effective researcher for our CFR team. Having a better understanding of the wants and needs of funders has helped me to better evaluate and identify our best prospects, and I’m working towards putting new processes in place (a scoring system, for starters, as well as regular reviews) that will allow me to provide better and more proactive research.
Big thanks, of course, to APRA-MN, for awarding me this professional development grant and giving me the opportunity to expand my knowledgebase. It goes to show that a little can go a long way, and I hope to keep building on this in the future!