We recently started working with a national education reform organization. We’re structuring a sales system and process on the national level. We’re also providing coaching/training to regional executive directors. Over time, we’ll have a simplified sales system, a cohesive funding culture and a developed team that generates more revenue, more effectively (greater return-on-energy).
I had a first call with John one of the regional ED’s. He was prepping for a site visit from a major foundation as part of the foundation’s grant making process.
John asked, “What questions do you think she [program officer] will ask that I could prepare for?”
My response: “In terms of strategy, I’m much more concerned about what questions YOU will ask.”
We came up with these power questions to engage and learn from the program manager:
1. “Obviously, I’m familiar with your guidelines but would you mind bringing me up to speed on the foundations key priorities?”
There’s alignment already or the program manager wouldn’t be making a visit. Let’s get a sense of the foundation’s vocabulary and priorities.
2. “We’ve submitted grant applications in the past. This was the first one to make it to the site visit stage. What caught your eye this time?”
The grant narrative was 15 pages in length!!! No way to know what the heck foundation was interested in. Theory of change? Education reform? The schools in which we worked? The programming officer’s answer is pretty important on this one.
3. The grant was a one-time grant for $75K. Foundations (like any of us) want relationships, partnerships and a return-on-investment. Advised John that if things were going well to ask, “Would it be possible to look at this as a three-year partnership? In other words, how do we talk about helping us with this impact for this year and the two years after?” I guarantee the foundation’s already thinking bigger picture anyway – let’s ASK the question! Let’s have the dialogue.
Also gave John a really authentic line, “Of course, we would love to explore that but forget I even asked if it makes this request muddy.”
4. And a get out of jail card: If for some reason the program manager starts to go down the well-we-don’t-fund-that-route, bring the conversation back up to 30,000′. “At the highest level we see to be in strong alignment around what we’re doing. How do we structure a request in a way that makes sense for XYZ foundation?” Then just be quiet; you will get the roadmap you need.
I think John’s first inclination – to focus on HER questions – should be resolved using the Messaging Framework. It addresses 95% of the questions ever asked by any funder. You should then engage with questions to tailor that message to the prospect.