I’m hoping that this will be the first in an ongoing series of posts that pulls back the curtain on what nonprofits wish they could say to their major funders, including foundations. I invite other consultants and people who work closely with nonprofits to chime in, as well!

Funders, here’s what your grantees are saying:


We want to be able to experiment, to “fail fast,” to try something new. It’s crucial to innovation, and it’s how we can remain responsive. But we don’t think you are willing to support things that might not work. Can we both agree to take some chances?

Thank you for your increased willingness to provide general operating support (GOS) grants, and not just grants that are for a specific program. Please keep up this trend! GOS helps us attract and retain our staff. Staff continuity is one of the most important things (if not THE most important thing) that helps us operate effectively and efficiently. When we experience “staff churn,” are short-staffed, and/or have to go through lengthy hiring processes, the program suffers and your grant dollars are not as effective.

You know that when there’s a tight grant deadline, we drop everything else to work on the grant proposal, right? Even if you tell us “Don’t put too much time into this. Don’t stress. We just need something brief!”… we still drop everything. It’s still a scramble. There still are other programs and priorities that get the short end of the stick.

Can you help us meet some other potential funders?

You know that question you ask us about “How will you financially sustain this program after the grant period is over?” There truly is no great answer to that question.

We love it when we can talk to you, whether it’s on the phone, via Zoom, or in person. Even if we stress out in preparing for these meetings, we really like getting to tell our story and getting to know you better.

We know that your program officers and other staff change jobs sometimes. It makes us hella nervous when our closest contact leaves their job. Will our new contact person “get us”?

We really want to be our “authentic selves,” and we know you want to get a holistic picture of who we are, what we are good at, and what we struggle with. But we are afraid. We know there is fierce competition for your funding, and we just don’t feel like we can show you anything that is not working or is a struggle. Let’s figure out how we can build the trust that will let us show you our whole selves without worrying that we are taking a risk that we just can’t afford to take.


There’s plenty more to say here. What do you have to add to this list?


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