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Cecilia Blanford

About Cecilia

Moves Management: Contrasting Grants to Other Major Gift Strategies

Like many grant writers, I have worked in a “silo” where I was expected to garner grant funds without access to information on agency priorities and strategies. I soon learned the value of good relationships with program, finance, and communications staff. I worked to cultivate relationships with foundation representatives. At other times a development colleague would ask me to write a proposal after meeting with an individual donor who preferred an application to their family foundation. In a few cases, I was ill-informed yet expected to capture their discussions as if by osmosis. Working as a team, we have found value in including the grant writer when visiting the larger foundation. Not doing so may be compared to being commissioned to paint a portrait and everyone except the artist meets with the person to be painted.

Such shared strategies were reflected in a joint presentation to the Ascension Health Council on Philanthropy by me and our vice president, Charley Scarborough, CFRE. The presentation, “Turbo Charging Your Grant and Major Gifts Program,” focused on moving major gifts from transactional to transformational. We provided case examples and tools with strategies scalable to any size shop. This fresh approach to moves management rests on applying to grants the same strategies and techniques proven successful with individual donors. From prospect research to cultivation and stewardship, we are doing similar work with respect to major gifts.

Fundraisers are acquiring a new appreciation for impact reporting and follow-up with individual donors. Both the fundraiser and the grants professional know the value of shared success stories; however, those working with donors are seeing more value in tracking, measuring and quantifying the difference made by an investment in a program or service. Sure grants are more detailed than appeal letters, but that is often a good thing when moving from transactional to transformative major gifts. It all aligns within the following ten steps to moves management that contrast grants to other major gift strategies.

Ten Steps to Moves Management That Contrast Grants to Other Major Gift Strategies

#1 Research

Consider the intent of the original donors and foundation back story, current interests, staff size, restrictions, geographic preferences, and giving history. Make certain that this foundation is a good fit for your for-profit’s proposed project.

#2 Connection

Build relationships after exploring existing ones with trustees, foundation leadership, program staff (if any) and the gatekeeper—e.g., executive assistant, receptionist, et al.

#3 Discovery

While fundraisers may strategize and prepare for a meeting with individual donors based on interests and ability to give, the grant strategy may be limited to a discovery phone call. “Know your ask” and be able to respond to questions from the foundation contact. Demonstrate that you have done your homework such as connecting the project to their stated interests.

#4 Strategize

Fundraisers determine the right approach, time, and people to ask for a major gift. However, grant professionals have the benefit of prescribed guidelines and defined processes to follow.

#5 Engage & Involve

Again fundraisers discern donor interest and probable engagement level, while grant professionals look at what the foundation prefers (high engagement to virtually no engagement). We can seek participation via site visits, consultation on evaluation plans and outcomes or, for the greater good, in funder forums or meetings of the Grants Professional Association.

#6 Repeat Moves as Necessary

Fundraisers review the current results of these moves and whether to increase engagement, postpone the appeal, or drop. With grants, we have to consider more than the application deadline. For example, the nonprofit may have to raise a certain level of funding before submitting a propos al for capital support if such is required in a foundation’s guidelines.

#7 Ask

Fundraisers speak to a direct ask or a soft ask, believing that it is better to get a “slow yes” than to get a “quick no!” A rejection letter causes us to consider whether we should try again or move on, etc. Again, if it is a fit, persistence pays in either case.

#8 Stewardship

Feedback on impact of the donation or grant is critical, along with saying thank you in multiple ways, offering recognition opportunities or publicity, and through impact reporting.

#9 Strategy for Next Gift

With moves well documented for donor solicitations, such as noting the goal of the next contact, any revisions to the initial ask, and anticipated timing, strategic planning continues to be a necessity. Grants are similar in that we must track what we request from whom, the results, and when to again approach each funder. To the extent possible, and in both cases, remove any reason to say no.

#10 Transactional to Transformative

Now that we have moved from prospect to first-time and repeat donor, it is time to further involve, interest, inspire, and invite them to become a major, committed donor. I leave you with an example of moving a funder relationship from transactional to transformative.

After a few years of cultivation, a foundation that typically awards program grants in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, recently committed $1 million to a capital campaign. Further, they convened other foundations who may likewise be interested in transformative giving. Think outside of the box—when everything aligns, private foundations may make transformative grants that far exceed their normal range and interest areas. So when you have successfully discovered, connected with, cultivated, and engaged a funder, move the relationship and giving from transactional to transformative. Success is all about better utilizing integrated major gift cultivation strategies to boost returns in grant and major gifts.

Fittingly, the conference at which Charley and I presented our workshop was themed “Perseverance & Resilience in Fundraising.” This theme surely captured the sentiments of many of us as we develop shared strategies for the greater good. I trust that you will persevere and find greater success, whatever your chosen field of expertise.


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