I was greatly saddened recently to learn of the death of a key foundation official in our area whose generous and caring philanthropy was instrumental in giving me a running start as the new and first development director of a major non-profit organization. In my early months on the job, his was the very first large donation made to our organization. Over the 20 years of my business and personal association with Bob, I learned a great deal about the workings of granting foundations and how best to interact with them. Of all those relevant and meaningful lessons, one pithy incident has often come to mind, and it seems to me that it may offer good instruction for grant seekers.

While preparing a fund-raising workshop, I wanted to add to the process of courting foundations in ways that would further build and maintain receptivity and loyalty to my organization. Principal among the tactics was the importance of showing proper recognition for the support given. I was thinking in terms of the usual display of gratitude for gifts given. But when I asked Bob if in the main, he was satisfied with the way in which grantees displayed their appreciation when they were awarded grants, much to my surprise, he responded by talking about grant requests he had turned down.

He spoke of his disappointment over the years when he failed to get a note of appreciation if a grant was not awarded. Bob explained that for the most part all of the proposals the foundation received were put through an extensive review and evaluation process. The work was done for the grants denied as well as for those made. When a grant proposal was turned down, the foundation took pains to let the grant seeker know that his or her organization had been seriously considered.

Barely ten percent of such thoughtful rejections from the foundation resulted in at least a brief note of appreciation. While these failures were most certainly less than good manners, they were also a lost opportunity.

I clearly recall Bob saying, that when no such appreciation was forthcoming it caused him to, “…wonder why they burn the bridge behind them for the next time.” That’s strong language, and the next time comment is telling. The lack of appreciation for the review process, even when it failed to produce the desired outcome, showed the organizations to be insensitive to the dedication and commitment of the foundation, its staff, and trustees.

Saying thank you, even when you fail to get the grant might be just the thing to set an organization up for a better shot “next time.” Good manners never hurt. At the very least, these were missed opportunities for further communication and to nurture an important relationship. And oh, by the way, it’s the right thing to do.