Building Relationships with Funders: Why It’s Important & What Steps to Take

Taylor Paiz | May 17, 2023

When pursuing grant funding, whether from public or private sources, incorporating time for relationship development is critical.


Building strong relationships with funders can lead to partnerships that lasts several years, resulting in increased program impact. This insight highlights key components of developing relationships with grant makers, with input from Sarah Comerford, Grants Administrator for a Texas-based Foundation with a far-reaching impact.

Why relationships are worth the effort: 


1. Time Saving.

Connecting with a staff member at a grantmaking institution is a simple way to measure your chances of success.

If the staff member discourages you from applying, they have just saved your team (and theirs) a lot of time. If they encourage you to apply, you have just opened communication with a potential funder who is now anticipating your proposal.

When asked why relationship development with grantees is important, Comerford shared, “I like a trusting relationship so that we can be direct with one another and not waste time.” The time-saving benefits of open communication extend throughout the entire grant process, with the potential to save everyone a headache.


2. Customization.

Private and corporate foundations often have administrators dedicated to managing a portfolio of grantees. Administrators are keenly familiar with the funding priorities of board members and may become one of your organization’s strongest advocates.

They can advise you on how much to ask for, which project fits best with the foundation priorities, key components to highlight, and more. “I like to be helpful when people are applying for a grant,” Comerford said. “I encourage them to go back and forth with questions, etc. as they develop their proposal....and so that builds the relationship further.”


3. Feedback & Growth.

Open communication gives funders a chance to offer feedback. Listening to feedback can strengthen your relationship and future proposals, giving your project a higher chance of being funded.


4. Promoting Your Cause.

Relationships allow you to share about your work beyond what can be communicated in a proposal. Many grant makers enjoy learning from their grantees, asking questions, and becoming advocates for a great mission.


Can I build a relationship with federal and state grant departments?


YES. Federal and state funding announcements usually include a contact person, or at least an email for questions. This is a great place to start to learn more about a department, their priorities, or to introduce them to your work.


How do I develop a relationship with a grant maker?

It might be easier than you think.  


1. Start the conversation.

Reach out to introduce yourself and your organization. This simple action can go a long way.

Don’t forget to ask questions about the foundation and its priorities in this initial conversation. When asked about the most helpful components for starting a relationship with grantees, Comerford mentioned, “one way grantees build the relationship with me is by asking questions about the foundation and the focus and the founder, etc.”

Applying for a grant is more than convincing a funder to choose your project. It’s about how well your project aligns with a grant maker's mission.


2. Submit grant reports on time.

Submitting your report is the most fundamental component to stewarding any funder relationship. Even if no report is required, it’s a good idea to share an annual update at the minimum. Demonstrate to the funder the impact of their giving and how your organization is continuing to grow.


3. Keep communicating.

Checking in with funders regularly is key to keeping them engaged. Telling a story in a letter, arranging a call, or an in-person meeting are a few ideas.

Remember, it’s just as important to share the bad news with funders as it is to share the good news. Informing a funder when something doesn’t go according to plan builds trust. “I like to be informed so organizations that I have a good relationship with will let me know about any changes or unforeseen challenges,” said Comerford. “Knowing that a grantee is always available to talk something over is reassuring as is being kept in the loop.”


4. Say thank you!

Take the time. Remember, the grant maker is just as excited to award the grant as you are to receive it.


About Sarah Comerford

Sarah Comerford began her career in development at Montclair State University in New Jersey where she served as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. She moved on to Pacific Northwest College of Art as their Development Director, and then on to Grants and Contracts for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. She then took the Executive Director position at the Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango, Colorado where she met the founder of Karakin Foundation at the time of its establishment. She has served as grants administrator to The Karakin Foundation since 2012.