photo by rennan
I suppose the first thing most of us do when receiving checks in the mail for unimaginable amounts of money is to shriek and start to twist and shout uncontrollably. At least, that is what I do.
It seems almost counterintuitive to do anything else but there is something that I do that does seem strange.
I take a deep breath, shake myself out of my celebrating frenzy and I pick up the phone to ask the person why they are giving me money.
That’s right. I question their judgment. Politely, of course, but determined to understand why.
I want to know what was it about my letter, my application, my anything that impressed them. I want to know how well my request reflects their needs. I want to know what was weak. I want to know if they are excited about my project and why.
Most of the time, people will be very nice about sharing this information with you. A lot of them are surprised that I am asking, “Usually it is the person that did not get money that calls asking why, not the person who did get money.”
Let me share a little secret with you
I am a funder too. Every year I read a stack of applications and actively participate in animated conversations over who deserves funding and how much.I would love to talk to an applicant and encourage them to tweak something in their narrative or rethink their workplan. To share some insight that could transform their application into a success one.
I am in the business of funding creative people. I want to help people become better at pitching their story and writing successful grants, especially the ones who call for panel comments when they are not given funding. It will demonstrates to me that you are passionate about what you do and you care about what people think of your work. Do this whenever you get money too. This is not done often enough and it should be the one of the first things you do.
I also send out letters of inquiry, grant applications and requests for funding to support the work I do. I win some and I lose some. But regardless of the outcome, I always call. I can’t think of a better place to really start building a strong relationship with a person than in this very situation. Your dream, their money. Face it, it’s like being married.
Here’s what I include in every conversation with someone who gives me money and who doesn’t give me money:
Start every conversation with a thank you
Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge. Let people know how much you appreciate their support.
Ask for panel comments
By understanding how people judge merit is often an eye opening experience. It can help you be more competitive if you know what criteria are more important to them than others. You can also get a sense of the pool of applicants and the kinds of projects you are up against.
Listen and take really good notes
You are not going to remember anything if you don’t write it down. Repeat an answer for clarity if you need to. Make sure you keep a record of your notes so that you can refer to them quickly the next time your speak to them.
Thank them for their time
Be grateful for their help. Always begin and end with acknowledging a person by thanking them. Be sure they are left with a good impression of you as a conscientious and gracious person.
Someone it would be a pleasure to continue giving money to.
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