The Art of the Phone Call: How to Stand Out With Funders

 This was first pubished in PhilanTopic - The blog of opinion and commentary from Philanthropy News Digest, Foundation Center, on May 3, 2013. 

In today's world of high-speed communications, it can be hard to make a meaningful connection. Remembering the art of the personal phone call is a great way to stand out in the crowd. Here are some tips when reaching out to a potential funder by phone.

1. Leave a short but detailed message. Most funders receive dozens, if not hundreds, of phone calls a week. Voice-mail messages that don't include the right amount of detail will be ignored. Leave your name, phone number, and the elevator pitch for your organization/project. Speak clearly and slowly.

2. Make a plan to connect. Be sure to include a time (during regular business hours) when you can be reached. Mention that you'll call back in two days if you haven't heard from them. Follow up with an e-mail that includes your contact information and a link to your organization's Web site.

3. Don't drop the ball. If they call back and you miss the call, call them back within forty-eight hours and follow up with an e-mail. Be persistent but respectful.

4. Once you've connected. Someone from the funder's office returned your call and is on the line! Don't ramble. Take detailed notes. If it turns out the funder isn't interested in your project, politely thank him/her for their time. Don't argue.

It never hurts to write down in advance what you plan to say when a funder does call back. Here's a framework for a couple of scenarios you're likely to encounter in that situation.

Before submitting a proposal: "I've looked at the information and guidelines on your Web site and have determined that a funding request for our youth development program is a good match for your [_____] program. I'm ready to submit a grant proposal and wonder whether there's anything specific I can include in the application that would be of interest to you and your colleagues."

After the proposal is submitted: "I submitted an application two weeks ago. I'm checking to make sure you have all the information you need and to answer any additional questions you might have."

If your proposal is declined: "I received the declination letter and wondered whether you would be willing to spend a few minutes telling us how we could improve the proposal for next year."

It goes without saying that you should never argue a decision. Ever. If the funder's letter says they didn't fund you because your organization doesn't meet their guidelines and you can prove that you do, you might mention it, but don't push it. At that point, it's likely the money has been committed to another project and arguing will only ensure that your application is declined next year as well.

You received a grant: "I just received your letter. Thank you! We're delighted to have an opportunity to work with you and your colleagues. What can we do to keep you informed about the project over the coming months?"

During the grant period: "I wanted to let you know that the youth development project you funded has received an additional grant from the ABC Foundation. We're delighted to have additional support for the project."

Of course, some funders do not accept phone calls -- under any condition. Respect their wishes and follow the application instructions on their Web site or in tools like the Foundation Directory Online.

Whatever you do, don't get discouraged. Grantseeking is a marathon, not a sprint.