Communicating with Funders and Program Officers

Grantseekers are routinely advised to contact sponsors before formally proposing ideas, but most grantseekers would, in the words of proposal development specialist Michael J. Spires, “rather undergo a root canal without anesthesia than call a program officer.” Although people avoid contacting program officers, pre-proposal communication helps establish a relationship with the sponsor. In addition, the program officer’s immediate response to a project is a great predictor (although not guarantee) of success.

Robert Porter has outlined some valid reasons to contact a program officer:

  • To confirm if a project idea fits with the sponsor’s and program’s objectives.
  • To obtain guidance about a project’s design, collaboration, budget, and timeline.
  • To discover any underlying considerations, methodology trends, preferences, dislikes, and shifting priorities that do not appear in published material.

Confirming if a proposed idea fits with the program’s objective is especially important.  Marilyn Dickey writes that one foundation instantly rejects ~80% of proposals because they don’t fit program objectives.

Quick Tips

Before speaking with a program officer, be sure that you: 

  • Read the agency’s and funding program’s web pages, the RFP (more than once), any FAQs or supporting documentation.
  • Prepare a brief, one-page concept paper, or your overview section, or your list of specific aims or research questions.
  • Do not cold call. Send an email first.
  • Will be brief and direct. (Be ready to state the goal of your project and give an elevator pitch).
  • Have a couple of questions prepared.
  • Are ready to LISTEN to the program officer (especially for any information that does not appear in the RFP and particularly in regards to objectives or priorities).
  • Show passion for your project.

Click here to view a PDF with more information on communicating with funders and program officers. The PDF contains information about logistics, sample questions for program officers, more quick tips, what to do when waiting for notice of submission, what to do if a proposal is accepted or rejected, and information on preparing an elevator pitch.


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