If you have been writing grant proposals to foundations for any length of time, you have undoubtedly encountered the message “Unsolicited grant proposals not accepted.” How discouraging! You have done your research and have identified this particular foundation as a perfect match for the work your organization is doing. So is there any hope?
Yes, if you tread carefully.Take some of the following steps, and you may be well on your way to receiving funding from a new-to-you foundation.
It may help to understand why foundations say they do not accept unsolicited proposals. More than three-fourths of all foundations in the US are small family foundations with little to no staff. For these foundations, not accepting unsolicited proposals is often a matter of survival. They simply do not have the staff available to review a lot of proposals. Others use this phrase when they have clear, and very specific funding interests. It may be helpful to know and recognize the various terms used by foundations:
Proposals not accepted
Unsolicited grant proposals will not be reviewed
Proposals not accepted, letters of inquiry are accepted.
The three phrases mean three very different things. In the first case, proposals are not accepted, but there may be ways for you to get your organization considered. In the second, there is not really any sense in sending a proposal unless your organization is specifically invited to do so. And, in the third case, a full proposal will not be accepted, but the foundation will consider a brief letter of inquiry.
So, what can you do to get a foundation to accept your proposal? Find ways to connect with the foundation without asking for money. Look at the board of directors of the foundation, share the list with the nonprofit board of directors to see if there are any connections. If there are no visible connections, work to identify strategies to get to know foundation staff and or board members. Often, once foundations get to know your organization, they will consider your proposal.
Another option is to send a Letter of Inquiry anyway. I have seen organizations funded by foundations who said they did not accept proposals. The organization took a chance and sent a letter of inquiry and received a grant without sending a proposal. While this may not happen all the time, sometimes it is worth the chance.
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