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Five Keys to Successfully Partnering with a Grants Consultant

March 30, 2017

 

Many years ago, probably about a decade, Erin and I went to two meetings on the same day with prospective clients of TGP. Afterwards, we remarked on how different those meetings were. At one, we were embraced as the newest member of the family, and at the other, we were met with a big ego and a sense of skepticism. We discussed in the car the differences between the two, but did not listen to our sixth sense (that was speaking loud and clear) about not taking on the second client.

Sure enough, those two contracts worked out completely differently. One of them became a long-time client and the other one was fraught with miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, and a glimpse into infighting among the client’s staff. Guess which was which? The latter relationship dissolved fairly quickly, once the development director threw us under the bus to save face with her boss…but later contacted us when she subsequently worked for another client and excusing that behavior as, “well, you know how it was to work for her.” (We even had to remove Oxford commas – a TGP treasure – and comp the time spent to make said edits.)

Over the years, our ears have learned to perk up (or down) when we get red flags during an initial exploratory meeting. That sixth sense is important. We understand due diligence, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. An ears-perk-down moment happens when we realize that if we take on a new contract, the relationship might become high maintenance because it could become purely about the transaction, which is not the most favorable environment for a high-impact grants office. The most favorable environment is a high-trust, forthcoming relationship.

This got me to thinking, what do our ideal clients have in common?

  1. They trust us. In all grant proposals we’ve been part of to date, the more information we have, the better. And the more we are a trusted partner, the better it is for all of us.

  1. They respond to information requests in a timely manner and adhere to an agreed-upon delivery schedule. We have experienced several times in which requests for information have gone ignored, or in more comical instances, we receive a reply but the reply doesn’t actually answer the question or get us further in our quest for information. The phrase, “I like cheeseburgers” is our code-phrase for “well, that didn’t answer the question.” Cheeseburgers are especially frustrating if we are not feeling valued as a trusted partner.
  1. They give credit where it’s due. This doesn’t mean that we get credit for grant awards; after all, we aren’t the ones doing the work that’s being written about. But sometimes, we are the ones figuring out the program logistics, researching best practices, creating slideshows that exhibit an enhanced level of professionalism for site visits, identifying and making connections with program partners, etc. We always appreciate the pat on the back when our clients email their stakeholders, thanking us for whatever role we played in securing that particular grant.

 

  1. They understand our role. Our role is not to win the grant award. It is to present the best case for funding possible. Often, we can get a client to the next step – the site visit, the presentation, the due diligence – but then it’s up to them. We do what we can, but ultimately, it’s their financials, it’s their presentation, it’s their choice on how to present themselves. When we get the client to that next step, and then it doesn’t work out, our ideal client understands that we did the legwork to get them there and the rest was up to them. Or even that the funder had a difficult decision to make, in a world of limited resources. It may have been the best written proposal, but the funding was given to a different organization for one of a variety of reasons (focus area, geographic preferences, board president’s pet project, etc.)

  1. They take us with them. As we all know, the nonprofit sector has a lot of turnover, especially among human services providers. This is a natural reaction to compassion fatigue. However, most of them stay within the sector, perhaps moving laterally to another organization that relieves some of that weight held too long over one’s shoulders to improve lives, or moving vertically into more of a management or leadership role with another organization. We have worked with some of our ideal clients for more than a decade, not because of the organization, but because of the person at its helm taking us with them when they move onwards and upwards. This is when we know, really know, that we’ve hit that trusting relationship we all crave.

Yes, we track return on investment, grants outcomes, and average award size. (We also track type of funder, location of funder, request versus award amount, and other quantifiers that are on the grant maker versus grant seeker side.) Those quantifiers are in addition to our qualifiers – working in partnerships, in trusting relationships, and as friends – that create grounds for success.

Thank you to our clients who have become trusted partners and friends, as we work through this process together of improving the quality of life for New Mexico residents.

 

With appreciation,

Tara Gohr, President/CEO

tara@thegrantplantnm.com

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