How to keep going when funders aren’t helpful

21 Jun

Most private and corporate funders are happy to answer your questions. Government entities sometimes not so much. Or so it seems.

There are myriad reasons why, but I think we all have to keep in mind that these questions are fielded by government employees, not foundation officers or community relations managers. They simply are not allowed to play favorites or give the impression that they are advising you to take a certain direction with your application.

Still. Sometimes you run across someone who is being, well, down right obtuse. You get stuck. Your question isn’t answered, isn’t going to get answered; you have some decisions to make.

However, never make decisions in a vacuum. Get your team involved, show them the email exchange (always ask questions via email so that you have a trail) and ask for their help in interpreting what was said and in setting a course of action. They may be able to determine what the answer is. They may be able to direct you to resources that can shed some light on the situation. You may decide that you don’t and won’t have the information you need to continue. That’s fine, too. Whatever happens, you make a group decision and share the benefits and the consequences.

This happened to me last week. Below is an actual (although abridged) email exchange with a contact at an unnamed federal entity. The names and details have been deleted to protect the innocent.

 Me: I see this RFP requires that the program is offered in an area with high prevalence of [condition] among [population]. What do you consider to be a “high prevalence”? Is this on a nationally comparative basis or do you mean high prevalence locally? Do you have a list of areas that [federal agency] considers to have a high prevalence among [population]? Thank you so much in advance for your response—I am trying to determine if we are eligible to apply.

The Feds: You may visit the [federal agency] surveillance website [link] and check out incidence rates for various parts of the country. From this you may judge whether your area is high prevalence.  Make your case in the application with your local data.

Me: Thanks, Ms. [name]. The link for state reports seems to be broken. What would be considered to be the threshold for high prevalence? In comparison to the rest of the country, do we have to be within a certain ranking? I can find my local prevalence rates, but I don’t know how they compare to the rest of the country without looking at the link that doesn’t work. Thanks for your help!

The Feds: Talk to your state [agency]. Talk to folks in your community doing the work.  Good luck.

Brrrrrrrrr! You can almost hear a chilly “with that” at the end of “good luck”! And the irony is that my client is the “folks in [our] community doing the work.” What I need to know is what the funder means by high prevalence and if that is compared to other communities nationwide or if the target population has a high prevalence locally, compared to other local population groups. Because the answer to the first is yes, and the answer to the second is no.

So far this opportunity isn’t dead yet, Jim. I contacted a friend at an unrelated federal agency, and she was able to refer me to another website with some relevant data. While I wasn’t able to definitively determine what the funder was looking for and who the heck peed in the federal contact’s Wheaties that morning, I did find data that could help me make some kind of a case for high prevalence. We are still in the game.


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