Like it or not, many private foundations seem to be moving to an "invitation only" funding model. Of course, that's purely anecdotal evidence. We have no statistics to prove the claim, but it certainly seems more and more grantmakers are only accepting applications from organizations they invite.
Maybe the onslaught of grant applications every year has proven too cumbersome for these foundations to manage, or perhaps they want to hone their applicant pool to a particular program area or geographic territory.
Whatever the reason, it's frustrating for nonprofits seeking grant funding. And, it certainly begs the question: How can my organization get invited to apply for a grant?
Read on to learn how to get short-listed for private foundation dollars.
Invite only vs. unsolicited
Private foundations represent families, corporations, charitable trusts and other grant-making entities. While they are nonprofits, they aren't required to follow any legal parameters when soliciting applications or awarding money.
Some accept unsolicited applications. That means they publish the funding announcement, eligibility requirements and deadlines. Any organization that meets the requirements is free to apply for funding.
Others use an invitation-only model. Under this scenario, the foundation identifies organizations that are eligible to apply. The foundation may identify eligible organizations through letters of inquiry, personal connections, organizations' publications, research or some other means.
Strategies to become a "pre-selected organization"
We admit that getting on a funder's shortlist isn't a simple task. But there are strategies you can employ to get invited to apply for funding.
- Face-to-face networking
Thanks to digital connectivity and COVID-19, opportunities for in-person networking aren't as robust as in years past. But they do still exist. Professional associations, civic clubs, chamber of commerce events, and even community festivals are potential environments for networking. Any chance to swap business cards could secure your organization an invitation to submit a proposal.
Remember: you never know who is connected to a foundation or grant-making agency. While you can't expect to come away from every networking event with a connection, you should approach everyone you meet as someone who might be your missing link.
- Make intentional connections
If you're interested in securing funding from a particular foundation, get a list of its trustees or officers. Then, ask your organization's board members if they know any of the trustees or the foundation's employees. Often, a single personal connection is all it takes to get invited.
Additionally, find ways to cross paths with foundation trustees or employees (without being creepy.) Look for seminars or conferences where the foundation leaders are speaking. Many funders also host "meet the funder" events. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself and exchange business cards. Do not ask for a gift in a casual social setting. Instead, use the exchange as an opportunity to follow up with more information about your organization's work later.
- Promote your work
Make sure you're publicizing your organization's good works. Use earned media and social media to your advantage. Keep your website updated, including a news section where you can tout your accomplishments.
Don't forget about printed pieces. Send brochures, outcomes reports, annual reports and fundraising appeals directly to foundations whose funding priorities match your mission. Send only information – don’t send an unsolicited proposal. If nothing else, it will serve to introduce the funder to your work. If you're unsure how to promote your work, check out our Quick Start Guide to Communication Planning.
- Become a leader in your field
Many foundations conduct research to identify an application pool. Make your organization stand out from the crowd. You're better positioned to receive an invitation if your nonprofit is recognized for delivering high-quality, high-impact programs. Find ways to become the "go-to" source for media interviews in your niche. Speak at conferences and seminars. Host public education events that introduce your work to your community. Make inroads with community leaders who respect your organization and value its work.
It all about relationships
These strategies can help you secure an invitation to apply for foundation funding, but it's essential to recognize that relationship building is key to success. Get out there, meet people and show off how your nonprofit is making a difference. Doing so will pay big dividends for the financial stability of your organization.