1. Sit down with a tasteful piece of stationery or a cheery card and send a thank you note to the funder.You don't need to gush or grovel, but hearty thanks are an excellent way to cement your new relationship. Have a board member sign, or have all the staff in your small office write something, or send some other token of genuine appreciation. Even an e-mail is OK, but just do it.
2. Then put the funder on your mailing list—prudently.What you don't want to do is behave like the funder's kids—you cash the check and aren't heard from again. And you want to avoid the funder looking at your material 11 months hence and saying, "Who?"
Instead, gently and judiciously keep your group in front of the funder. Maintain that feeling of connectedness and create the impression that you're all in this together.
If you have a monthly or quarterly newsletter, put the funder on the list for a free lifetime subscription. I don't actually think the funder should have to pay extra for information, but one group we recently funded with over three-quarters of a million dollars did indeed charge me $25 for their materials. We live in a diverse world.
If your organization holds events, and the funder is local, make sure he or she is invited to every public event. Don't expect the funder to attend, but people like to feel included, and events illustrate your group's activities.
3. Take an empty file folder, label it "Foundation Reports," and place it right on your desk.As successes or interesting events in your organization are documented, remember to slip a copy into that folder. News clippings are an obvious choice, as are attractive invitations to events, concise reports, and work products such as published data and articles.
When it comes time to report on a grant, reach into this file, go back 12 months in what you pull out, and walk to the photocopier. A third of your reporting work may be finished.
A major aspect of reporting is the financial accounting. There may be some person on the planet who likes this part of the grantmaking process, but I haven't met him or her. Yet this section of the report is central, because the law and common sense say, if someone gives you tax-subsidized money, you need to show exactly what you spent it on.
This is one time when you should suppress every bit of your creativity and do exactly what the funder says about reporting requirements. There's a good chance that the financial part of the reporting specifications was written by a CPA or a lawyer, and you cross those kinds of people at your peril.
I want to suggest three reasons for paying close attention to grant reporting.
First, most groups hope to receive repeat funding. The group that is late or fails to comply with reporting requirements will be on shaky ground for a renewal grant. And even if you know you're not going to receive a second grant from this funder, due to certain rules and restrictions, you still have to assume that funders talk to each other, because we do.
So when I run into a colleague and he says he has a proposal from your group and notices we used to fund them, you don't want me to say either "Who?" or, even worse, "Oh yeah, those folks never reported." Reports are a way of building relationships, and relationships underpin all grantmaking.
Second, you might actually teach the funder something. Let them know how the grant turned out, what was a great success and what was unanticipated. Share the lessons. We funders study at the University of Grantees. In my foundation, the board is very interested in how their grants turn out, and they enjoy reports, or at least summaries.
Finally, even though some might smirk at this, I think you can learn from your own reporting. Sitting down and summarizing what you did over the past year is an excellent way to improve your work. It forces you to step back from the daily struggle and think about what you accomplished, what your greatest challenges were, and what you've learned.
And as long as you're going through the trouble of writing the report to comply with grant terms, get some mileage out of it. Share the document with your own board and staff members—give them an opportunity to feel proud, too.
© 2006. Excerpted from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.
Martin Teitel is executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation, a private foundation headquartered in Boston. Previously he served as senior fellow and executive director of the CS Fund, a philanthropic foundation, and also Western field director for a public charity, The Youth Project.