If there’s one thing you learn working at a Foundation, it’s how not to ask for funding. I imagine every grantmaker has his or her own thoughts about what makes a pitch imperfect. Here’s my personal list of the seven deadly sins that prospective grantees sometimes commit when they come to visit:

  1. Act like we owe you. Let us know how prestigious and well-connected you are, and/or assert (without evidence) that your work is superior to that of partners we currently support.
  2. Act like we own you. Tell us you’re infinitely flexible, just waiting to pursue whatever brilliant idea we happen to mention.
  3. Do no homework. Do not spend time reading any of the materials on our website, and in particular do not look at the descriptions of our current grants in your field. Come in knowing nothing about our geographic and subject matter interests.
  4. Get lost between the money and the goal. Make only vague statements about how financial support to your organization would translate into more or better activities, and then follow that up with even vaguer statements about how those activities would contribute to a Big Goal.
  5. Claim unmitigated success. When you describe your track record, make sure it seems as though every project has yielded remarkable benefits. Do not breathe a word about disappointments or lessons from painful experiences.
  6. Bring a team, but only let one person talk. Make sure you crowd the room with staff who sit silently listening to the boss describe their work. Hand out a lot of glossy materials. Leave us wondering about your overhead.
  7. Talk more, listen less. Use every available minute to get across what you came to say, and leave no space for questions or conversation. To ensure this happens, make sure you bring a long PowerPoint presentation.

Unlike the actual seven deadly sins, it’s easy to avoid committing these peccadillos. And, mercifully, most of the people we meet with do make good use of the time. When they do, they find we’re eager to hear about creative and effective work being done by organizations whose goals we share. We like talking about the field we’re in, bouncing around ideas, engaging in the give-and-take of questions and critiques. We like leaving a meeting with new ideas and new professional connections—and sometimes, just sometimes, the germ of a future grant.