Advancing Nonprofit Capacity

People Give to People, not Proposals

At JustWrite Solutions we frequently chuckle about being “little writer monkeys.” That is to say, as grant writers we’re often at our desks for hours at a time, listening to classic rock and churning out good words in compelling proposals. OK maybe the classic rock part is just me, but this should sound about standard for most professional grant writers. My Zenbook is like a fifth appendage.

Though the actual writing is of course paramount to any grant writer’s success, we’re so much more than writer monkeys. We’re development professionals, and foundations aren’t so different from other donors. Why? Because they’re staffed with people. People give to people, so the same development strategies and tactics apply—especially cultivation.

Still, the cultivation process can be daunting for some grant writers. Perhaps by trade, training, or personality, many of us are reticent to be involved in cultivation.

What’s a good grant writer to do?

When I first started my career, I was terrified of making the ask and interacting one on one, in person with major donors and grant makers. I was too inexperienced, but I was also afraid of asking for money. It was a psychological barrier I had to break, and thankfully the AIDS Service Organization I worked for offered some training to demystify the process. What I learned was that my own perceptions and attitudes about money were skewing my ability to make the right ask at the right time to the right funder. I’m not going to tell you that after that training I was cured. Far from it. I still get anxious, but I know why now. I can also relate to lots of kinds of people, so I use that to my advantage. And ultimately that’s what we’re talking about here: sometimes it’s essential professional development for grant writers to step away from the computer, pick up the phone, or buy someone coffee. Because (in unison now)…

People give to people, not proposals.

I recently addressed some common questions about cultivation in an article When Should I Call a Foundation?As a team, we’ve written frequently about cultivation because it’s just that important. If you’re looking for additional input, check out:

Here are some other resources you might find interesting:

 And in case you think we never have fun with cultivation:

I encourage you to read our blogs and anything else you can get your hands on about cultivation. But I also urge you to jump in and just do it. Pick up the phone and call a funder. It WILL build your confidence, and you’ll gain some fundamental development skills in the process. Still nervous? Don’t be afraid to create a script and practice it. (I’ve done that many times.) And wear a smile during your call—the person on the other end of the line will notice.

How do you reduce anxiety during cultivation?


Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC

Principal Consultant

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