by Heather Stombaugh, CFRE, GPC – HUB Philantropic Solutions, Grants Consultant
Spring is in the air, and as a gardener, I could not be more delighted. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty this weekend. But just as you wouldn’t just throw a tomato plant in the garden and expect it to grow with no supports, you can’t just throw a proposal at a foundation and expect a reward.
That advice goes double for organizations that contribute only to pre-selected funders, because “Seventy-two percent of the nation’s 96,000 foundations now do not accept unsolicited proposals from nonprofits.” (Pablo Eisenberg – Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 20, 2015)
- Does that mean you can never get funding from these foundations? Absolutely not.
- Does it mean it takes more time to secure funding as a pre-selected organization? Indeed.
- Is it worth the extra time? Unequivocally, yes!
Here’s how. First and always: assess for strategic alignment. If it’s not a great fit, it will never be worth your (or their) time to proceed. If you are aligned strategically in terms of mission and priorities, then follow these three steps.
Step 1. Find someone on your leadership team or board who knows someone on the foundation’s board. Work those spheres of influence!
Step 2. Have your contact talk to the person he or she knows at the foundation. This can be by phone or in person, and the foundation should do most of the talking.
Step 3. Follow up on that conversation with an RFI, or request for information. The RFI can be as simple as a one-page letter (never more than two) highlighting your mission, why your organization is a fit for their philanthropy, why support is needed, and why your organization has the right solution(s). This letter should NOT include an ask; that will come in a future proposal, at the funder’s discretion and request.
And it works. We use this method all the time with success. Here’s a quick case study. We worked with a large FQHC who had depended on state and federal funding for years. They were losing money in that arena and wanted to look for private funding. As part of our strategy, we identified a local funder who was strategically aligned but didn’t contribute to (or even review) unsolicited proposals. So, we found a connection, started a conversation, and sent an RFI. About 14 months later–after completing a full proposal at their request–the organization secured an entry-level grant of $20,000 from the funder. They also secured a new relationship and got on that ephemeral pre-selected list. The system works!
What tips do you have for becoming a pre-selected organization?