Rural organizations have long relied on state and federal funding to support their programs. The process for seeking federal funding is generally well-defined and largely organized around solicitations for proposals.
In contrast, the process for seeking funding from philanthropies is different and can be more complex. Grantmakers in Aging explains these differences in Successful Corporate and Foundation Fundraising for Nonprofits. Fundamentally, the process begins with building a personal relationship with the philanthropy. This relationship building requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can take years to cultivate a relationship with a philanthropy. It is important to begin this process before you have an “ask”: a specific need for funding.
This section describes emerging practices for rural organizations seeking to build a relationship with a philanthropy. We include both high-yield, underutilized strategies and traditional strategies suggested by philanthropies and rural organizations.
Rural organizations must have patience and determination when employing these strategies. Some philanthropies may not respond to outreach. Do not give up, even if initial efforts are unsuccessful.
High-Yield, Underutilized Strategies
These strategies were identified by philanthropies that invest in rural communities and by rural programs that have been successful in establishing relationships with philanthropies. They focus on developing a relationship with the philanthropy.
Introduce Yourself to a Funder at a Meeting
One highly effective yet underutilized way to initiate a relationship with a philanthropy is to meet staff at a meeting, workshop, or conference when they are speaking on behalf of an issue. If possible, share your elevator speech.
Reach out to a Funder by Phone or Email
Another way to introduce yourself to a philanthropy is to identify a point of contact at the philanthropy and send them an email with an introduction about yourself, the organization and program, and the ways it could align with their current work. In this introductory note, you can also share how you learned of their work — perhaps through their website or a recent publication. Taking the effort to read and digest available information and then reach out shows initiative.
After sending this email, you may follow up with a phone call. Philanthropies have noted that email outreach in advance of a phone call (as opposed to a cold call) is helpful and gives them time to learn more about the organization. They may be able to help the organization or refer them to other philanthropies if they cannot, simply because they had a chance to review background information on the program. Keep in mind that the philanthropy may or may not respond to the inquiry, but this type of outreach is an important step in building a relationship.
Invite a Funder to Visit Your Program
Rural organizations also invite philanthropies to visit their communities. Site visits provide an opportunity for rural program leaders to tell the story of the program and its impact and help the philanthropy to understand where they may be able to fit in. An in-person visit is an opportunity for the philanthropy to see the program in action, better understand the needs in the community, talk to community stakeholders, and identify how the program can address the community's needs. This meeting is an opportunity for rural program leaders to tell their story to the philanthropy in a way that is not possible to convey in a short grant application.
Respond to Requests for Proposals
Philanthropies may issue a request for proposals (RFP) on their website. Rural organizations can apply with or without an existing relationship with the philanthropy. To increase chances of success, consider implementing High-Yield, Underutilized Strategies first. It is important that your first introduction to the philanthropy is not a call about an RFP.
Prepare a Proposal in Response to an Invitation
As a result of an existing relationship, rural organizations may be invited to prepare a proposal about a specific topic of interest to the philanthropic organization. Many resources describe best practices for writing grants. The Rural Health Information Hub's Applying for Grants to Support Rural Health Projects guide describes several considerations for rural programs seeking to secure grants and tips for grant writing.
Considerations for Implementation
While it is not necessary to develop a complicated strategy to reach out to a funder, rural programs should be aware that relationships with philanthropies are cultivated over time. Many philanthropic organizations do not consider unsolicited requests for funding. Relationships with philanthropies may lead to an opportunity, such as an invitation to prepare a proposal, in the future. This can be challenging because programs have immediate funding needs; it is not always possible to spend two or three years developing a strong relationship with a philanthropy prior to asking for funding. Additionally, rural program leaders often wear multiple hats in their organizations, operating under-resourced programs; there is little time to build relationships, identify RFPs, and submit proposals.
It is also important to note that, while persistence is a key strategy to philanthropy engagement, some philanthropies may not return calls or emails or may decline to engage about a program. Additionally, some philanthropies may not provide a detailed explanation of why a grant application was not successful. In these cases, it is important to thank the philanthropy for their time and move on to the next opportunity, retaining the possibility of a relationship in the future.
Resources to Learn More
a Fundraiser, Do You Have Any Tips on How to Network Effectively at Events?
Post from a fundraiser and networking expert describing the benefits of networking for programs seeking funding. Provides a 10-step guide to successfully navigating a face-to-face networking event, including follow-up after the event with individuals or organizations that may potentially be interested in developing a more substantial relationship.
Author(s): Hockman, D.
Organization(s): The Big Give
in Rural and Suburban Communities
This paper discusses some of the unique challenges and some key strategies for fundraising in rural and suburban communities compared to urban ones, including ways to engage with diverse types of potential donors.
Author(s): Barsness, K.
Organization(s): The Collins Group
PLTW Fundraising Toolkit
Created by Project Lead The Way, this toolkit provides tips on identifying potential funders and sustaining partnerships with them.
Organization(s): Project Lead The Way
Funds for Rural Health Care
This manual provides information about fundraising and working with donors to support rural health care priorities using a variety of mechanisms, including annual funds, capital campaigns, and endowment funds. It includes suggestions to guide many different funder or donor interactions and systems that organizations can implement to support their fundraising efforts.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Resource Center
Corporate and Foundation Fundraising for Nonprofits
Provides a brief overview about building relationships with corporate funders and foundations for nonprofit organizations.
Author(s): Feather, J.
Organization(s): Grantmakers in Aging