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From The Lips of Grantmakers

Recently, Marshall Howard delivered a keynote address at the KPM Philanthropy Summit in Boston for nonprofits and grantmakers. One outspoken admission: "I fund people, not programs," said Henry L. Berman, co-trustee of The Edith Glick Shoolman Children's Foundation. "Probably 50% of my grant-making decision is based on the people involved," he said "I'd rather fund a good program run by dynamic people, then fund a dynamic program run by mediocre people. People will outlast a program and they will make it successful." The foundation he helps run, The Edith Glick Shoolman Children's Foundation, supports programs that encourage early childhood literacy and well being for children from birth through the elementary years in the New York City metropolitan area and southeastern Massachusetts.

Here's why he says yes:

"I don't have a long list of specific metrics or a formal rubric where I assign points for each attribute in the grant application. But I do consider the people involved. We try to visit programs and meet with the appropriate people in the organization. Often two of us visit so we have a second set of eyes and ears. We look far beyond the facts and figures on a site visit. Each step or piece of the process is like a snapshot: the paper application, the financials, the site visit, conversations and correspondences. Together they comprise an album of images that collectively tell a story." "I realize people are often walking on eggshells when we do a site visit because we hold the purse strings," Berman said. "When we talk to the Executive Director, the program staff or teachers, we try to get the whole picture. Is the organization working together? Are they firing on all cylinders? It's rare that we ever meet the Board Chair or a Trustee but I'll bet I could give their speech." Relationships Matter! A few years ago, Berman made a one-time distribution of medical and educational grants from another trust and 80 - 85% of the money went to organizations, "where a key person was involved - one who was nice to me when they didn't have to be." "For instance, a decade earlier my former dentist networked me to his clients, introduced me to many people in the community and was an amazing supporter! Years later, long after he moved away to teach at a dental school and I had this trust to distribute, I called him at his new position and asked him how a grant could help the university and his students. Of course, it had to fit the criteria of the trust but he was at the top of my list because we had forged a relationship." How to Forge A Relationship with Grantmakers "It's a fine line between staying on our radar while not being a dive bomber. It has to be based on an understanding and respect for what we do. Just like Oscar, in Marshall's book, it's a slow building process. I'm happy to chat with applicants and answer their questions as best I can, but I'm not thrilled when flooded with emails and newsletters that are repetitive or only tangentially related to the program" Berman counseled. Six Ways to Connect with a Funder
  1. Connect! There is usually an opportunity to ask questions (often by email). "I'm always happy to call back and talk to the applicant," Berman said.

  2. Engage the foundation member's strengths and talents. "I'm excited when grantees go beyond just cashing the check and ask for help. My background is in communications and marketing. Last month, I helped one of our grantees take a look at the new social media and how they might integrate that into their fundraising. I'm not implementing their program, or making decisions for them, but I was happy to share my expertise." he said.

  3. Stay connected. If you have been funded and then are not funded again due to shifting priorities or the calendar, stay in touch. "Occasionally I get a newsletter from a former grantee. It is engaging and informative and I do read it. In fact, it keeps their program in front of me and we may fund them again. Just don't bombard me with an email every two weeks," Berman advised.

  4. Show progress. Send a note with a press clipping or a letter from a participant about a program funded by the foundation. This can keep you engaged and promote a positive relationship.

  5. Take time to send a hand-written note. "I know this is old-fashioned but it causes me to open an envelope and read it," Berman said. "Say something beyond the junior high student note, which is just a generic thank you for the money. Remember who you are writing to and that it is about the relationship. This is another, some might say perfect, opportunity to foster that relationship."

  6. Stay on the radar by being "predictably unpredictable." Berman remembered an example from being the cook at a summer camp. "The director had me make an 8-day menu so the campers would not look at Monday as 'macaroni and cheese Monday' And, then with each cycle of the menu, he had me shuffle the days. The result was unpredictable predictability. A sure way to get me NOT to read communications is to be predictable in both timing and content. Communications is terrific and encouraged, but ONLY when you have something relevant AND worthwhile to say"


Henry L. Berman spent the first 30+ years of his career as a writer/director/producer of films and video for education, training, motivation, and fund raising. He holds a B.S. in Communications from Ithaca College, both a Masters and Doctorate in Education from Boston University, and completed a certificate program at Harvard University concentrating in non-profit management. He has served on several non-profit boards, taking leadership roles in fund raising, strategic planning, governance issues, team building, and communication policy making. Currently he is the President and Co-trustee of the Edith Glick Shoolman Children's Foundation.

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