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Developing Relationships with Funding Agencies

Once you have identified a program to which you wish to apply for you should review the agency's website to gain a thorough understanding of their mission and programs. In cases of federal funding agencies, the mandates are developed through the legislative process, and the funding is then allocated to address the identified need(s). On the other hand, the missions of foundations and non-profit organizations are very specific, and they have very specific guidelines for submitting a proposal.    

Once you have a well-developed concept and have identified a possible funding source, the next step is to determine the initial approach.  While you and your group feel your proposal is a worthwhile, profitable concept, the funding agency you want to target may not feel the same way.  Pitching your idea to one agency may be rejected while another agency may be extremely interested.  Just changing the wording in a small fashion, or slightly modifying your concept, quite often will produce winning results. Preparation, good communication skills, and a little confidence go a long way in this aspect of the proposal process. In many cases you will work closely with the program officer at the funding agency in the development of your proposal.

 A faculty member that has a history with the targeted funding source can be extremely helpful.  His or her experiences and contacts can be of great importance in the proposal process in that he or she can share contact information as well as valuable experiences.  Having an experienced faculty member review your proposal can aid in determining the level of interest the funding source may have in your project.

Determining the best method of approach depends primarily on the funding source.  The majority of funding sources provide guidelines on the proposal process.  Look at the guidelines to see if they state a preference as to how they wish the contact to be made.  If no guidelines are available, a phone call to a program officer is appropriate in most cases.  Typically, the most up-to-date information is found on the Internet.  You should always "play by the rules" and respect the funding source's preferences for the initial contact, and understand your primary goal is to develop a working relationship with the program officer.  The following are examples of methods used in establishing a relationship with the funding source: 

  • Telephone call
  • Online inquiry
  • Concept paper
  • Personal visit

It is important to remember that funding agencies decline more proposals than they fund.  Some of the most valuable lessons in grant-seeking result from projects that did not pan out, thus redirecting the project, or redefining ultimate goals.  Most funding sources provide comments on proposals that were not selected for funding.  Reviewing these comments is highly recommended, and following up with the program officer is to your advantage.  Cultivating this relationship will work to your advantage while preparing your proposal, revised as per the comments, for the next funding cycle; or the program officer may recommend another opportunity he or she feels is a better fit for your project. Please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Research Support if you need additional information on developing relationships with program staff at funding agencies.