A Halloween Story: Turn Meetings With Funders From Scary To Successful

Jimmy was seven and had heard stories for years about the scary old man on Sycamore Street. It was Halloween night, and Jimmy and his friends stood at the end of the long driveway leading up to the old man’s run down house.

“I dare you to ring his bell Jimmy”, said Stewy, always looking to stir up trouble. “I’m not going up there,” Jimmy said. “Did you hear about the last kid that tried to get candy from old man Marley? He disappeared. Never found.”

Maybe it was because it was Halloween, but the place seemed scarier than it ever had before. There was a part of Jimmy that really wanted to go and see if the old man was as scary as everyone had said. He didn’t want to believe the urban legend. He didn’t want his fear to stop him from trying. But he couldn’t bring himself to walk up the driveway. Stewy pushed him, made fun of him, and taunted Jimmy the rest of the night, but Jimmy just wouldn’t go.

Sometimes Grant Writers See Funders Like Jimmy Saw “Old Man Marley”

Have you ever wanted to connect with a funder but fear or a lack of confidence or knowledge kept you from going? Maybe you understand Jimmy’s paralysis. Maybe you have metaphorically stood at the end of a funder’s driveway, wanting to connect, but doubt and uncertainty have held you back.

If you’re you unsure about how to set up a meeting with a funder, you can use our Email Contact Template for Funders. It has the exact, word-for-word script you can use to get funders to say ‘yes’ to your request for a meeting.

At GrantsEdge we know that funders are amazing, and that they desperately want to find incredible organizations to invest their funding dollars. And we want you to know that funders shouldn’t seem “scary” at all. We don’t want you intimidated by them, or feeling like you can’t connect. Although some may not be open to meeting, or may not have the time to formally connect, many funders are very open to taking some time to speak with you.

You need to have the courage to “walk up the driveway,” knock on the door, and look for opportunities to get candy…err…build relationship and get your questions answered

But what do you do when they answer the door and ask you to come inside? What does a meeting with a funder look like? What kinds of questions can I ask? How can I best take advantage of this opportunity?

Three Ideas You Should Consider To Ensure Your Meeting With A Funder Goes Well.

Friendly reminder: Be sure to prepare. Read through a funder’s website. Understand their purpose, and be sure you don’t ask any questions that can be easily answered by reading their application guide or through a little bit of research. Don’t be lazy.

  • Idea #1 For A Great Funder Meeting – Prepare A Concept Paper

    The whole idea of a concept paper is to capture the interest of the funding agency and demonstrate that your idea is worthy of further consideration and funding. The beauty of bringing a concept, or better yet, sending your concept paper in advance of the meeting, is that this will provide you with the opportunity to gain some feedback regarding the value of your project and potential proposal.

    The best concept paper is one to two pages in length, and doesn’t overwhelm the funder with unnecessary details, but provides a high level overview of your project and its eventual impact. This can be the basis for your meeting, and the funder feedback will give you lots to consider and work with when you get back to the office.

    In preparing for the meeting, you may also want to prepare a 30 or 60 second “pitch” so that you can verbally communicate your idea in a concise and engaging way. Practice it out loud before you go so that you know what it sounds like before you ever say it to a funder. It always sounds much better in your head than it does out loud, so trust us, don’t make the first time you say your pitch be in front of the funder.

    Want a FREE resource? For a Concept Paper Outline, click here.

  • Idea #2 For A Great Funder Meeting – Listen More Than You Talk

    You’ve likely heard the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much.” Epictus said that, and he was right (you have no idea who Epictus is, do you?).

    Answer questions when asked, but the purpose of this meeting is to hear what the funder has to say. You want to learn as much from them as possible, and it will be hard to do that if you are the one doing all the talking. Plan to have a pen and paper with you so that you can take notes and remind yourself of the advice that has been shared throughout the meeting.

    Also, work hard to not go on the defensive. Funders have told us stories of grant writers quickly saying, “that won’t work” or “we tried that once before” and in the process have completely shut down the conversation or made the funder feel like any advice or counsel they might give will be falling on deaf ears.

    By listening more and talking less, the funder will feel understood and cared about, you will have the opportunity to gain an insider perspective, and you’ll be sure to not say anything you’ll regret later.

  • Idea #3 For A Great Funder Meeting – Ask Good Questions

    The more questions you ask, the more answers you will receive. It seems simple, and yet too many fail to ask questions at all.

    By asking funders good questions, grant writers will gain deeper insights and have the information needed to develop more innovative solutions to their programs and their grant application. Asking smart questions will also go a long way toward solidifying a positive impression with the funder while also giving you valuable information to consider as you prepare to write your grant application.

    A few questions to consider asking a funder include:

    • Does our program fall within your current priorities?
    • What recommendations could you give for how we might make our application or project most effective?
    • Do you have any suggestions for others we might involve in a project of this kind?
    • What is one thing we can do to make this process better for you?
    • What are some common reasons for proposal rejections?

    A question you should never ask:

    • Can you rate my chances for obtaining funding?

    Don’t ever put a funder in a position to have to answer that question. It has the potential to make someone feel uncomfortable. If you listen well enough to the answers of your other questions, you should know everything there is to know about your chances of getting funding.


Be sure to send a thank you once you have returned to the office. Let the funder know that their time was valuable, and how you plan to implement their advice.

If the funder asked you a question that you were unable to answer during your meeting, be sure to take some time in your follow up to provide some insight for them.

Don’t Be Like Jimmy

Don’t be afraid to approach funders. Don’t sit at the end of the driveway wondering if it is safe to approach the front door. Approach funders, set up meetings, and implement the ideas shared here to ensure you leave those meetings with value information that will enhance your chances of success.

Having meetings with potential funders will become one of the most important factors of success in your grant writing. You may just start the beginning of a relationship that is the key to impacting your community.

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How To Quickly And Easily Get Funders To Notice Your Proposal

Have you ever felt intimidated to connect with funders? At GrantsEdge, we’ve heard from grant writers who have admitted funders do scare them a little bit, so you’re not alone if you answered “yes”.

Fear is often a result of not having enough information. If you really understood how funders feel and what they think, I am sure you would realize very quickly that funders just want to find great places to invest their money. Yes, they have expectations, and yes, as organizations you need to deliver results. But funders ultimately want to realize amazing impact in communities.

A Funder’s Perspective

To help break down any walls that might exist between grant writers and funders, GrantsEdge wants to continue to find ways to bridge the gap and ensure grant writers and funders understand each other. To do that, we’ll regularly bring you thoughts, insights, and ideas from funders’ perspectives. The more information you have as a grant writer about how funders think and what makes them frustrated or gives them a smile, the less intimidating they may seem and the more success you can have in your grant writing.

So, what is the most important piece of information a funder could give to you? What thoughts do they have about grant proposals that would be helpful for you as a grant writer to know? Do they have any big secrets they can share? If funders had one main piece of information to share that would help you approach grant writing with even greater confidence, what do you think they would have to say?

It Boils Down To One Thing

After studying funders, talking to funders, and listening to what funders have to say, there is one very important piece of advice they desperately want you to have so you can write great grants that get funded.

Are you ready for it? You should probably lean in and read carefully, because this is gold.

Every funder wishes grant writers knew one main secret, and it can be summed up in one word. Any guesses?


The word is “different.” Many funders have been in “the game” for a long time and they understand the subtle nuances and tricks of the trade in grant writing. They have seen hundreds of programs, hundreds of projects, and read thousands of grant proposals. If you can’t bring something different to the table, you may be limiting your opportunities.

Let’s Break It Down

The idea that you need to be different, can be highlighted in three separate ways, by asking three different questions:

  • How is your work different?
  • How will you be making a difference?
  • How is your grant proposal different?

1. How Is Your Work Different?

There are an estimated 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada, with 85,000 of them being registered charities recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency. That’s a lot of organizations doing great work! Within that 170,000, there may be a few organizations that are doing similar work (there really needs to be a font for sarcasm… go back and read that last sentence with sarcasm). With that many organizations out there, it only stands to reason that funders get proposals all the time that look eerily similar. Not because people have copied someone else or plagiarized a proposal, but because different organizations have a lot in common. A growing trend within the last few years has seen funders encouraging organizations to pursue collaborations and partnerships because too many groups overlap in the work they do, and funders have to work hard not to duplicate the areas of their funding.

Within the grant proposal process, and as you interact with funders along the way, it is extremely important to find ways to demonstrate that the work your organization does is unique to the work of others. What sets your program apart? What makes you stand out among the crowd? How are your outcomes different or better from others? If your organization closed, what gap would it leave in the sector?

If your grant proposal can begin to identify the exclusiveness within which you serve your stakeholders, funders will take notice. Study your “competitors.” Do some research and look to create newness within your organization. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.

Make sure potential funders see how the work you do is different.

2. How Will You Be Making A Difference?

Impact, influence, results, and transformation are important concepts. Funders need to be able to quickly identify through your grant proposals that the programs and services you offer will make tangible differences in the community and for the groups you serve. You need to demonstrate results. You need to clearly establish that your goals and outcomes are reachable and realistic. A funder wants to know their investment has a solid return.

Evaluation has also become a key component for funders. Most funders want to know that you have already evaluated your work and are driving toward success, or they want to understand how you will evaluate your program to carefully measure success.

If you can’t show a funder the difference you are making, why would they give you any money? Do your research to make sure your facts are correct and your methodologies effective. Measure everything and analyze your data to look for weaknesses, strengths, trends, and areas for improvement. And share your stories! One of the most effective ways to engage a funder is with stories of transformation.

3. How Is Your Grant Proposal Different?

Everyone talks about the power of a first impression. Think of a networking situation or a blind date (no thank you) scenario, and how quick we are to begin to form judgments about people based on the first few seconds or minutes. We do it all the time. We gain an impression of someone based on very little information.

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule

I’ve heard a rule that’s supposed to help one manage the perception others gained of a person. The 12 x 12 x 12 rule was this:

  • How do you look from 12 feet away?
  • How do you look from 12 inches away?
  • What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

That’s a lot of pressure on a person. I look terrible from 12 inches away!

But this rule can be applied to the grant writer, grant proposal, and funder relationship. Let’s just change it slightly.

Imagine it’s midnight (12 am). The funder has been working for 12 hours straight. Yours is the 12th proposal they have pulled off the pile. How do you get their attention? What makes you different from the other 12 proposals they have just read? What impression will you leave with them? What is their perception of your organization and your program based on what they have just read?

Does that change your perspective at all as you think about writing your next grant proposal? It’s not easy being a funder. There are often many more asks than dollars available. They have hard decisions to make, and some organization is likely getting a “no”… don’t let it be yours!

How Do You Plan To Be Different?

So, what are you going to do the next time you sit down to write a grant proposal? Take a personal inventory and ask the three questions in this blog to make sure you are setting yourself up for success. How is my work different? How will our organization make a difference? How will my proposal be different from many other proposals? Don’t be average. Don’t be the same as everybody else.



The #1 Step You Must Take To Improve Your Grant Writing

Many of my favourite memories, from working as a Program Manager at the Ontario Trillium Foundation, relate to meeting with potential grant applicants. I’ve sat in coffee shops, at kitchen tables, on park benches, and in boardrooms meeting with people who had ideas to transform the community. There were lots of laughs, a few tears, and incredible stories of resilience.

So How Can This Benefit Me?

For grant writers, there are many benefits to meeting with a funder before you submit your grant. Besides building relationships, the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated, meeting with a funder provides opportunities for you, as a grant writer, to:

  • Check for alignment. Meeting with a funder gives you an opportunity to better understand their priorities. Through the discussion, you can make sure your program activities match with what the funder is interested in funding.
  • Improve your grant. Most funders have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals. If you take the time to listen, funders can be a wealth of knowledge in terms of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing your proposal.
  • Save time. At an initial meeting, many funders will tell you whether your program appears to be a fit for what they fund. They obviously can’t guarantee your project will be funded. But, if you know upfront your project isn’t a fit, it will save you hours of time writing a proposal that will never be granted. This way, you can spend your time writing proposals where you do have a real chance.

Do you have to meet with the funder? No, you definitely don’t have to in most cases. There are some funders who won’t meet with you at all, and there are others that make it mandatory to meet with them.

It’s been my experience though, that meeting with a funder can help you write better grants.

If you’re not having success in grant writing, the number one step you can take is to meet with funders.

I’m Sold, How Do I Go About Meeting With A Funder?

  • 1. Do Your Homework

    Before contacting the funder, become well versed in their language and with their programs. Review their website and access any resources they may provide, including Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). You might be able to answer many of your own questions in this way.

  • 2. Prepare Your Questions

    Write down your questions before you contact the funder. This will help you formulate your thoughts in advance and will help you feel more confident, which will be noticeable to the funder. This will also show a respect for the funder’s time. The funder will receive many inquiries from many different organizations about granting programs. If you have spoken to them in the past, don’t assume they remember you or your program. This is not a lack of interest on their part, but rather a product of the volume of interactions they have.

  • 3. Reaching Out

    Different funders have different ways of interacting with potential grantees. The key is to determine the funder’s preferred method of communication, and then use it. If they say they prefer to use email, don’t phone them – use email! Here are some ways you can connect with funders:

    • Information Sessions. Some funders have information sessions delivered in person or online. If they do, it’s a good idea to start there.
    • Telephone. Set a time to speak to a funder on the phone. Remember, don’t just call them up and expect them to be able to talk. Making an appointment respects the time of both you and the funder.
    • In Person. You can also request to meet with a funder in person. This will allow you to meet at a convenient location and discuss your idea together.

    Set telephone and in person meetings through email or phone. I personally think email is better, because the funder can respond to your request when it’s most convenient for them. But, if you can’t find their email address, a phone call might be your only option.

Where Do I Go From Here?

It’s time to get started! If you have a funder in mind, review their website, prepare your questions, determine how to best contact them, and then connect.

Are you nervous about contacting a funder to set up a time to meet? Don’t worry, the GrantsEdge Email Contact Template For Funders will provide you with everything you need.

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Two Simple And Strategic Ways To Become A Grant Writing Superstar

Being a superstar is about being a “big deal,” being “the cheese” (yeah, it’s true, look it up), being a “hotshot,” and a “name.” Now, maybe you’ve never thought about being a superstar in the context of grant writing, but imagine what you could accomplish for your organization and your community if you did. And the reality is, it’s totally doable.

In an earlier post, I shared the Two Actions That Are Sabotaging You From Becoming A Grant Writing Superstar. In this post, I explore the two solutions that take you from saboteur to superstar.

By strategically implementing the two ideas outlined here, you’ll become instantly stronger and more successful in your grant writing. So what are the two solutions?

1. Start By Creating Your Program First

Start By Creating Your Program First

To experience success as a grant writer, it’s imperative to stay off funders’ websites until you have a program or project firmly established. While in pursuit of your vision and mission as an organization, you’ll naturally begin to think of and create new and different ways to serve your target audience.

Before you search for a funder, develop your idea, test assumptions, and establish the need for your program.

Once the hard work is done to create your much-needed program, it will be considerably easier to pursue funding opportunities. With your mission clearly in sight, the pursuit of the ultimate funder can begin. Your research will be more robust and your search will be more focused. With this type of approach, finding the right funders for your idea will take significantly less time and be much less frustrating.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Make the effort to find the right funder. Don’t bend your program beyond recognition just to fit funders’ priorities. Like a dog smells fear, many funders will sense the desperation in your proposal, and it won’t be funded.

By creating your program first, you can confidently begin to search for grants that fit. You’ll find funders whose mandate aligns with your mission and you’ll start to build strong, strategic relationships with funders. It’s win-win for everyone!

2. Build A Detailed Work Plan

Build A Detailed Work Plan

Making your way toward becoming a grant writing superstar may not be “rocket surgery” (thank you George Bush for your mixed metaphors), but it does take time, effort, and a good dose of planning.

Building a work plan and getting organized at the front end of a project can take some time. If incorporated properly, it can save you hours in the long run, can keep your hair from turning grey or falling out altogether, and can provide you with the margin needed to complete the grant with time to spare.

I’m going to show you how to build a work plan, so you can submit your proposal the day before it’s due – after having completed a full review and revision cycle too!

To build a work plan:

  1. Outline key phases. To begin, you’ll want to map out the key phases that need to occur to write and submit the grant. Phases are the larger categories of work that need to be completed. Examples of phases include, Conduct Research, Build Partnerships, and Complete Final Edit.
  2. Plan specific tasks. It’s important to determine the detailed tasks that need to be completed within each phase. The more detail you can provide in this section, the better. It will help you avoid last minute panic. For example, if the phase is Building Partnerships, tasks may include approach potential partners, meet to discuss partnership opportunities, and ask for letters of support.
  3. Set deadlines. Critical to a work plan are firm deadlines. They help to communicate expectations and ensure the necessary work gets done. Deadlines can include month, day, and year. For example, September 25, 2016 or 25/09/16.
  4. Determine accountability. Putting a name beside a task, gives each task an owner. It helps all team members identify the role they’ll play in the preparation and submission of the proposal. Only assign one person to a task in a work plan. When more than one person is assigned to a task, it’s too easy for the task to fall between the cracks. Everyone ends up thinking someone else will do it. Keep it simple, one person per task.

Work plans will change your grant writing forever. You’ll work with less stress and more focus. You’ll also write better grants and complete the process with time to spare.

I Know What You’re Thinking

Some of you may be wondering, “That’s it? That’s all I need to do?” Well, this isn’t absolutely everything you need to be a grant writing superstar. That would be the longest blog post you’ve ever read. But these two steps will be an amazing start!

Not approaching the right funders and writing grants without a plan are two mistakes I’ve seen result in a significant amount of wasted time and energy. Not to mention, rejected proposals. Yet, they’re mistakes that are so simple to solve.

Get Started Now

So, here’s what I want you to do. Start now. Implement the two foundational principles outlined in this blog. Add them to your toolbox. They’ll help you to achieve grant writing superstar status.

Use the GrantsEdge Work Plan Template to become more organized, than ever before, in your grant writing. Complete your next grant on time and stress-free.

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