Going Over The Head Of A Foundation Program Officer

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    Recently, a disgruntled grant seeker I know told me that he was so upset with what he said was a “blatant” turndown from a foundation Program Officer that he was going to go over that official’s head to appeal to a board member of the foundation — someone whom he knows.

    My immediate reaction was that he needs to know how to take “No” for an answer. By not doing so, he increases the likelihood that he will poison that foundation’s “philanthropic well.”

    The rejection should be followed by a gracious acceptance of that program officer’s decision.

    It’s best to leave the grantor better conditioned for the next time the organization wants to go back to that “well” for funding — which will probably be sooner than later. To do otherwise risks burning that “funding bridge” beyond repair.

    Going over the head of a program officer promises nothing but trouble. My rule of thumb is never leapfrog over anybody. In general, woe befalls the fund-raiser who goes around the program officers.

    There could be double trouble, should the higher-level contact be displeased to be put in the middle of such a thorny issue – that of needing to rule on what a subordinate has already decided.

    Consider that some program officers may zealously guard their positions of authority – even to ensure they are the last resort in the granting process.

    For us not to accept that stance can imply that we question their expertise and judgment – even their integrity. Any instance of real or perceived criticism, or the suggestion that a program officer can do a better job or that they did not do the job at all, may well evoke the real risk of a seriously negative reaction to the next proposal we submit.

    We should have it fixed in our minds that program officers always do a great job, even when they deny our requests for funding and we think they erred in their judgment.

    Even if we think they made a major error, we should not be foolish enough to suggest that by going over their heads. We have got to be smart, and not to risk making an enemy of a person who could very well have a commanding position to decline our future grant requests.

    A highly regarded foundation authority once said: “The grant seeker always comes to grantors, psychologically, on their knees. Most grantors work with care and diligence to find a way to lift them to their feet.”

    To that I say, “While on our knees before grantors, even if we don’t like being in that position, we don’t bite them on their ankles.”

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    If you have a question for Tony, he can be reached at Tony@raise-funds.com. There is also a lot of good fundraising information on his website: Raise-Funds.com