At a recent Grant Professionals Association Conference in Chicago, program officers from the Polk Bros. Foundation and Lloyd A. Fry Foundation joined grant writing professionals to discuss successful strategies for securing an invitation to apply for funding.

Here are some of the takeaways:

Email outreach as the first contact is preferred

This is the best way to approach a funder when you don’t have an existing relationship. It provides program officers the time to review and respond to your inquiry. Include a one-pager about your project. Following up with program officers is OK if you don’t hear back.

Do your homework before your meeting

Take a deep dive into a foundation’s website. Learn and understand its programs and why they exist, including from the perspective of individuals being served. Become familiar with organizations the foundation has previously funded, its program models and level of grant support.

Reach out to current or former grant recipients

Learn more about the funder by connecting with a current or former grant recipient. Grantees are open to sharing knowledge. Ask about their experiences and compare notes.

Bring more than one person to the conversation

This helps develop multiple points of contact at your organization and can be helpful if there are future transitions. Be cautious about involving too many people.

The stakes at initial meetings aren’t that high

There’s no need to be nervous or anxious in your first meeting. Be authentic. Funding is more about mission alignment than first impressions.

Use candor when discussing challenges

Program officers know that projects/programs rarely meet all goals. Be open and honest about the challenges your organization or project faces.

Handle rejection well

Grantmakers remember if you do not respond well to rejection. Be gracious and know it is not a personal decision. They may love your organization or project but their hands may be tied to organizational directives.