I know it. I’ve been right there with you. You find THE most amazing grant funder ever that would be absolutely perfect to support your organization. Their interest is the same as yours. They’re in the same location as you. And they have what you need most – money! But there, in the fine print, you see those five most dreaded words – “gives only to preselected organizations.” As Homer Simpson would grunt, “D’oh!” What’s a grant writer to do?
How to approach grant funders that only give to preselected organizations is a question I am asked on a very regular basis and I’m happy to respond with what I hope you’ll find to be a helpful three-step approach. I’m not vowing that it works every time but I would say that this approach is the most graceful and tactful way in handling the situation if you want to take a crack at the inner sanctum of walled-off foundations.
First, determine if the foundation you want to pursue for grant funding really is a good match for your organization. They may look like they’re a good match when you’re doing quick searches but be absolutely positive by digging as deep as you can before trying to initiate contact. I would suggest looking at a series of the funders’ Form 990s to see if they’re funding agencies similar to yours. Also, be aware Goal Setting For Consultants if they seem to fund a variety of agencies each year or if they stick to funding the exact same ones year after year. No matter how good of a match you might be, if they consistently fund the same organizations each year with no variation, I would skip them and move on. It could be that the foundation was legally set up to just fund those preselected organizations and that no wiggle room would be allowed.
Second, use your connections. I hate to say that grant funding only comes down to who you know but it really does help to have some sort of common connection. If the funder you’re interested in is local, check out their Board of Directors, their staff and their volunteers and make a list of these. At your next Board meeting, circulate these names and see if any of your own Board members know folks on the list. You would only ask them to make an informal inquiry or contact on your behalf just to connect the two of you together. Be careful to nurture the relationship then and let it grow over time. Let the idea come to them that you would indeed make an excellent candidate for funding.
I also suggest connecting via LinkedIn and Twitter with foundation executives. These are non-threatening avenues that introduce them to your organization and gives you an opportunity to develop online rapport. It might seem like they aren’t paying any attention to you but some really good opportunities can be borne from making this effort.
Third, use a soft approach in contacting walled-off foundations. Sometimes, the personal connections just aren’t there and you’re champing at the bit to get to a particular foundation. Rather than approaching the foundation with an introduction of your organization via letter, email or phone call with “I know that you state you only give to preselected organizations, but…” Go with a slightly different approach. It’s that “but” that ticks them off. Let’s not tick them off, shall we? Here’s what to do.
A good introductory letter of your organization should most certainly recognize that you have read, understood and accept the foundation’s guidelines yet should respectfully ask for clarification of those guidelines. You could write something along these lines:
“We have read and clearly understand your foundation guidelines and applaud your efforts in supporting your preselected organizations as you do much good in the community. We are writing to ask, simply, for clarification. Would you please take a moment to respond to the questions below? Please understand that we aren’t using this opportunity to solicit funds and appreciate your time in answering our questions about your organization.
What criteria do you use in selecting an organization to receive funds from your foundation?
How often do you add new grantees to your list of preselected organizations?
Understanding that we are not asking for money, would you be interested in learning more about our organization? We would be glad to set up an information-only meeting or phone call and also invite you to make a site visit to see our organization in operation.
Any advice you can give us as well for approaching other foundations that Free Legal Advice Phone Call would have an interest in supporting us would be much appreciated.”
See? That’s not so bad. This isn’t a letter that a foundation officer would balk at. It’s respectful, it doesn’t waste their time and it’s clearly for informational purposes.
Once you’ve sent the letter or email, follow up in about a week and a half. Remember, you have nothing to lose and you’re not asking for money. This is simply an avenue that allows them to get to know you just a bit better. Continue to cultivate – your effort will pay off if it’s meant to be.