Why nonprofits should consider serious polyamory

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by Laura Chynoweth, Founder & CEO

"Please list other potential and committed funders from whom you have requested or plan to request support."

Anyone who has ever filled out a grant application has encountered some version of this request. As a former employee of a small nonprofit, I understand the guilty tremor that--at first sight of this inevitable question--travels through the spines of the small development teams I now contract with. They are torn; on one hand, as fledgling fundraisers they want to flatter and give due respect to this prospective funder by telling them they are "the only one." On the other, they know that asking just one prospect for grant money is not realistic and will not allow them to financially support and fulfill their program/project/organizational mission. What is a small nonprofit to do?

I find it helpful to think of any grant application as a blank dating website profile page. Of course, you only get so much space to make the case for why you are worthy of a would-be funder's time and money. And in the fundraising world, the best-case scenario is that both parties seek serious polyamory. Allow me to explain:

  • Funders don't want to be your one and only. Prospective funders don't want the success of your program / organizational operations to fall solely on them. They, understandably, would rather share that responsibility with a group of corporations, foundations, government entities, and/or individuals who have also pledged their support.
     
  • Funders don't want monogamy from you. They want to hear about your other relationships with other grantors. What better evidence for your organization being a great partner with impactful, sustainable programs could you provide? Plus, support from other big-name organizations will lend credibility to your cause. Flaunt that secured funding!
     
  • Funders don't want you to expect monogamy from them. Supporters, especially large corporations, want to have the greatest impact possible in their community. The best way for them to do that is to invest in more than one strong, meaningful cause. Your goal is to become one of their go-to charities come grant-making time.
     
  • Polyamory does not mean having a fling. Though funders are happy to share the responsibility of supporting your nonprofit with other supporters, the last thing they want is a one-time, unsustainable relationship with you. Though the nature of support (e.g., seed funding vs. project support) may evolve over time, it is in the best interest of both grantor and grantee to put in the necessary work (e.g., stewardship, tracking, and reporting on the part of the grantee) to maintain a long-term partnership.

Remember: A grant application is an opportunity to connect your organization with (many) others working toward similar goals. Don't make the mistake of thinking that funders want to be your one and only. Telling a prospective grantor that your nonprofit only has eyes for them will likely send them running for the hills.