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How to ask your long-term funders for more money

Written on Jun 18, 2024

For a nonprofit organization, there’s nothing better than a grantmaker you can count on for regular support. Every year you ask for $5,000 in general operating support and they award you that amount. Such long-term funders’ support is essential—but it can also be limiting. What if you want to expand your services? What if you have short-term expenses, like a repair? Or what if your programs simply cost more than they used to?

Your long-term funder could be the one to go to for an increased or additional gift—but you have to know how to approach them. Your goal is to preserve and, if possible, strengthen your relationship with that funder.  

Here are some tips for how to decide which funder to approach and how best to make the ask. 

1. Approach consistent, long-term funders 

One of the main reasons to ask for more money from a long-term funder is growing expenses across the organization, so explain, “We’re increasing the number of users and reducing barriers to our data and resources. And like all organizations, we’re affected by rising costs.” 

While nonprofits are always trying to widen their base of funders, if you have a funder who’s given the same amount over five to 10 years, it might be a good opportunity to try to increase your ask.  

2. Ask for a modest increase  

Request an increase of no more than 10%. Avoid asking for a larger increase unless there’s a big change coming up—the launch of a new program, for example. Even then, it’s important to approach the program officer and see if there are funds available for a new program. The program officer might direct you to a colleague or revise the request in a specific way.  

3. Communicate with program officers before asking  

Stay in regular contact with the program officers. Connect with them before you make any request, give an update on what’s happening and what’s changed at the organization, thank them for their long-term support, explain why additional support is needed, and then ask for a modest increase. It can also be helpful to let long-term funders know that you’re making this request of other general operating support funders.  

You’ll also want to confirm that it’s the right time to ask. Some funders might support an increase but only as something to plan for in the future. Ask when the increased request should be made.  

If you’re in immediate need of emergency funding, start by going to the program officer for advice. They may have other ways of giving—such as discretionary funds—that could help with your emergency need. If they can’t help, they may also know of others to approach. The important thing is to tell the foundation about the situation and ask for their advice and suggestions. An additional grant, emergency funding, fast-track funding—all may be available. 

4. Don’t ask funders who have repeatedly refused—or recently increased funding  

Avoid approaching funders who have repeatedly said no to such an increase, as well as those who have recently increased funding on their own initiative. If they’ve recently given your organization a second grant for another program, they’re less likely to increase their general operating support grant.  

5. If there’s no program officer, just submit the request 

Sometimes the grantmaking process doesn’t involve frequent conversations with program officers—only letters or sporadic communication. What do you do when you can’t sit down and talk to the funder?  

One option is a “hard ask”—simply submit the request for an increased amount explaining the reason: new project, inflation, expanded service, etc. You can also make a “soft ask”—submit the request for the usual amount and either add in a request for an increase or invite them to discuss an increase.  

Building, maintaining, and strengthening relationships with long-term funders is more of an art than a science. Talk to your program officer, calibrate your ask, and always remember, ‘no’ might just mean ‘not right now.’ 

Story provided by Candid 

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