December 1, 2016
First, establish real relationships with your funders, and classify them into three basic categories:
These funders want all the details, good and bad. They approach their relationship with you as a partner. They will support you during the hard times and might even be concerned if they do not know what is going on inside your nonprofit.
These funders want enough details to feel invested and ‘in the loop’ but they might get antsy if you shared all your ongoing problems. Remember: not all funders have been fully exposed to the ups-and-downs of running a nonprofit. Sometimes, these funders simply trust you, and know that you will handle the inevitable challenges you face. They do not think it is the best use of their time to know everything you are working on, even the challenges.
Some funders really enjoy reading about your successes and your stories of transformation. These funders do not value reading about all the problems you face. Alternatively, they might not be used to reading about nonprofits’ challenges. Sharing your problems when they are not welcome or when the funders are not getting the same transparency from their other grantees is unnecessarily risky.
Elevate does not have a preference or opinion on which of the above is better. Everyone gives for their own reasons, and wants to run their giving programs in the way that makes sense to them. We have noticed trends, however.
In general, smaller, unstaffed private family foundations prefer to hear your successes, with a light touch, at most, about your challenges. Stick to your successes with them.
The less close your relationship with your funder, the more you should stay in the second lane – just sharing enough to be credible and framing your challenges well. This is particularly important with funders who have broad, rather than deep, interests and and where a flailing organization or program will raise concerns.
Finally, the more closely you work with a funder or program officer, the more important it is that you be fully transparent about your challenges and response. Relatedly, the more sophisticated your issue area, and the more knowledgeable a program officer is about the issue, the more transparent you are going to have to be to gain their trust and appear credible. Sometimes, program officers will even want regular meetings with you if they have fully invested in your work.
A final note: the relationship you can have with your funder depends a lot on who the ultimate decision maker is, and the role other people have in influencing their opinions. For example, at public agencies, the decision makers might be a selected group of experts and the program officers are helping you to prepare your application for review by those experts. You can be more transparent with them and even ask for advice about what they recommend.
You should always share the following with your funders:
It goes without saying, that you must always be 100% honest about the activities you have completed and your achievements or lack thereof. Your job is to frame it honestly and effectively, but never incorrectly.
Depending on your relationship with the funder, discussed above, you should sometimes share the following (and frame them well):