The article ‘The power of personal connection’ first appeared in Pro Bono Australia.

I recently took my first interstate business trip in longer than I can remember. 

In teeing up meetings with both Strategic Grants colleagues that I had not seen outside video chat for the better part of two years and funder friends whose recent exchanges have consisted of emails or LinkedIn messages, I felt a mixture of emotions – excitement at the thought of being ‘out and about’ again, curiosity at what in-person meetings even look like in this new time, and even a little bit of trepidation.  

Being located across Australia and New Zealand, the Strategic Grants team is well used to video chats and online exchanges, but we are also frequent speakers at fundraising conferences and terribly miss delivering our grant-seeker workshops in person – there is just no denying the power of face-to-face interactions. There is much to be said about having a genuine chat over a coffee, or the ability to brainstorm a new idea in the same room as someone. But what would that look like after so much time learning – and getting used to – connecting in other ways?  

Once on the ground, I quickly realised that even though my communications with colleagues over the past two years have been primarily virtual, the connection was still very much alive. Meeting in person reinforced our relationship and allowed us to connect in a way that simply is not possible when you are separated. 

I believe this transition back to face-to-face meetings felt so seamless because of all the communication we maintained virtually – whether it was phone, video chat, email, or commenting on a social media post. 

While many of us are looking forward to physically getting back out there, or are already doing it, there is no denying that the sector is still navigating challenging times. Depending on your organisation, or your role, face-to-face meetings may not yet be possible – or it just does not feel quite right yet, especially with the recent natural flooding disasters on the east coast.  

The important thing to remember is to continue to develop and nurture your relationships – whether it be with friends, colleagues, or donors – even if you remain physically separated. The day will come when you can be in the same room again, and it will feel like no time at all has passed because of all the connecting you maintained virtually. 

In our years of working with both grant-seekers and grant-makers, the team at Strategic Grants has seen some prime examples of exceptional relationship management.  

Those who pick up the phone before they even apply for a grant application, and then keep the lines of communication open throughout the life cycle of the grant and beyond, are those who often see increased interest from funders, repeat gifts, and an improved success rate.  

And we know from our relationships with funders that they want to be seen and treated as people. Once again, given the flood recovery in progress, if your program delivery has been affected, be sure to communicate with your funders immediately about what this means.  

Here are some of our top tips for developing and nurturing that all-important funder relationship, and keeping connected – whether it be via phone, email, or if you are lucky enough – in person. 

Start the relationship early

Yes, this means contacting the funder before you even begin to write your grant application. But naturally AFTER you have read the guidelines and honestly self-assessed you are grant ready. Pick up the phone to introduce yourself, your organisation and ask if they have a few minutes to answer some questions you have. Remember, this is not the time to bounce ideas off the funder. Come prepared with questions you can confidently ask about the project you are pitching.  

Keep the communication going

The funder will have specific requirements and requests in terms of reporting on how the grant funds are being spent – these are essential communication requirements that you need to be meeting. But take your relationship beyond the grant funding. Are there organisational changes you should communicate with them? Have an exciting milestone to share? And, if meeting face-to-face is on the cards – can you invite them for a tour of your facilities or an upcoming donor appreciation event? 

Always communicate with honesty and transparency

If the project they funded is not going according to plan, let them know. And if your expected outcomes deviated from what you originally outlined in your application, offer any explanations and learnings.  

Remember, you do not just want to meet funder expectations – you want to exceed them! Never underestimate the power of personal connection – whether your relationship is held primarily online, or some face-to-face interaction is in sight. 

Did you know that writing only accounts for about 20% of the grant application process? Robust project planning, evaluation and developing and nurturing funder relationships play a huge role in a successful grants strategy. The Strategic Grants team is here to help. Get in touch or find out more.