Sunday, July 10, 2011

Foundations: Program Officers and the Funding Process

Reading an excerpt from the Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals, edited by Darian Rodriquez Heyman, ed., published as a Top Ten Fundraising Tips list by helped me realize how daunting starting the conversation with a Program Officer can when you're about to apply for grant funding. In item number two of the Top Ten List, "How to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Grant (Never Apply for a Grant without Contacting the Foundation First)", has some helpful tips. However, it takes more than a phone call to a foundation program officer to learn about the the program officer's role.

The point about taking initiative to call a funder is well-taken. Calling a funder is a wonderful way to get a conversation going. In my experience, program officers don't always decide how funding is allocated. I think it is more accurate to say that they are in a position to influence decisions about how funding is made. They do though serve as the liaison between the foundation and the applicant nonprofit facilitating communication and compliance during the application process and later once the award is made (or not).

My recent experiences with program officers at larger and smaller foundations are that they are willing to provide some coaching through a process for organizations with a great concept and less experience in creating proposals. On occasion, these program officers are willing to read drafts of an application. More often than not, I'm finding program officers who are available by phone or email rather than in person. You also want to attend pre-proposal conferences or workshops offered by a funder even if the sessions are advertised as not being required. Those sessions - as it proved for me recently - may be a perfect opportunity to get better acquainted with the funder's application process, the program officer, and what projects for which other organizations may be requesting funding. Happy Applying!

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