No Unsolicited Proposals? No Reason to Give Up!
There are three types of foundations: those who require an application, those who require a Letter of Inquiry as the beginning of the application process, and those who offer funding by invitation only. This does not mean that you won’t qualify for their grants; it just takes a different approach and a little more effort to get there. However, the rewards outweigh the effort.
If a foundation states that it does not accept unsolicited proposals, it means that you have to do more than just apply for funding. There are multiple reasons why foundations structure their funding by invitation only. They may want to focus only on specific communities, causes, or areas; they may want to include their own staff in the decision process; or they may not want to receive hundreds of applications.
Make a Connection
Does invitation only mean that a foundation is out of your reach? No, but it does mean you need to go beyond basic requirements. Some foundations specifically mention that interested parties can contact the board of directors or a staff member to introduce themselves and share their ideas. There is no harm in contacting foundations for an introduction. Ask them how you could interest them in supporting your project or how you can get onto the shortlist of organizations receiving an invitation. Always prepare to explain how your project and organization match the foundation’s goals and mission and why you would be a good fit to receive funding.
Ask Another Grantee
Another way to get more information about the invitation process is to search the website for previous recipients and contact them. This might be a little less stressful than approaching the foundation directly. Ask previous recipients what their connection to the foundation is and how they managed to get an invitation for funding.
Go Out and Network
Find a common denominator. This is particularly important if a funder supports projects and organizations in your community or area. Someone in your school, a colleague, your principal, or a friend might know a board member. Approach personal sources and ask if they would mind introducing you to someone at the foundation.
Connections are an important aspect of networking, and it is beneficial to look around and see what connections you already have that could help. Another way to network and build connections is to get involved with the foundation itself, such as by attending fundraisers or becoming a foundation member. A well-known trick in the nonprofit world is “getting out to get in,” or getting involved with an organization to learn its funding processes.
Is it Worth it?
It most certainly is. Considering that applying for funding is difficult to begin with, this approach may seem like a lot of extra work. However, there are advantages to becoming involved with a foundation that does not accept unsolicited proposals. Most of these foundations do not just make one-time grants. Once they have established a connection with an organization or a funding program, they will keep funding it annually. If you are willing to do more work, your efforts could result in a meaningful and fertile funding relationship.