Jesse Lutabingwa, Associate Vice Chancellor of International Education and Development at Appalachian State University, has written over 300 international project proposals and earned over $5 million in grants. He says even excellent projects need help from outside supporters. These are his tips on how to meet and work with partners and funders for your next project.
If you decide that your organization does not have the capacity to run a project successfully, consider partnering with another organization. Together you may be able to carry out a project (and win a grant) that neither one could have done independently.
When looking for partners, do so cautiously. Partnering with a bigger organization can help develop your organization’s resume. However, Lutabingwa advises against it. A partner with more resources can take over your good idea. The smaller of two organizations is typically considered a subcontractor, while the bigger organization is the main contractor, regardless of where the project originates. Write down the things you discuss — responsibilities, deliverables, etc. — as an agreement to be clear on roles from the beginning and to use as a reference.
Making an initial approach to funders is very important. Go out and research them first.. Once you have found an organization that looks promising, look into the kinds of projects they have previously supported. Send introductory emails or make cold phone calls to introduce your organization and inquire about their work. Be precise!
Spend time in the places where your funders are: the central region of an industrial sector or a capital city, for example. You may invite them to visit your organization or the communities where your project would take place.
Don’t talk about money immediately
Lutabingwa thinks that talking about money with a potential funder at the first meeting is like proposing marriage on the first date.
“If all you see when you meet a funder is money written on their face, you’re not going to get there,” he says. “You’ve got to develop the relationship.”
He suggests first letting them know the kind of work that you do and explaining the need that you are trying to meet. Let them hear the stories of people who have benefited from your work.
Use the opportunity when you have funding to connect directly with your funders. This allows you to continue the relationship. Take good-quality photos of your project in operation and send them to the funding organization with brief project updates on a regular basis.
When you don’t have a project with funders, make an effort to build relationships with them. You might learn about opportunities or simply increase your chances of being recognized in the future.
Are you ready to take the next step and develop a grant proposal for your project? Use the strategic planning worksheets to think through writing your proposal: The Grant Proposal Planning Template will help you take the first step. You can also find resources by reading Grant Writing: How to develop a grant-winning project and Grant Writing: Proposal Tips and Best Practices.