Many of us have experienced this all too familiar tale: You find the perfect grant funder, they have supported similar work in other bordering countries, they share the same ethos and values, they have a big fund of money to spend in your field, but the foundation doesn’t accept unsolicited enquiries. After the initial gasps of frustration, your mind probably turned to confusion as to why the funder won’t accept at least a letter of inquiry, especially as you believe your organisations would fit brilliantly together.
Alas, not all is lost, there are steps that you and your organisation can take to get noticed by your chosen funding body. Our guide will walk you through step by step a series of initiatives you can undertake that will get you noticed and in turn open up new funding opportunities.
Charitable Foundations can refuse to accept LOI’s or project proposals for a number of reasons. The most common causes are that the foundation only wishes to work with a small number of NGOs; they may prefer to find and recruit organisations themselves; they may be too small to be able to effectively manage hundreds of project proposals; or they may be heavily oversubscribed and confident that they can deliver their proposed initiatives through organisations they are already working with. Some Foundations are even legally established on the basis of supporting specified organisations.
Despite these potential problems and restrictions, if the funder’s priorities closely align with your organisation and you are confident that you have a project they would be interested in then you may still wish to approach them.
The most important thing to consider at this stage is exactly how important the funder is or could be to your organisation. If there are other foundations with open funds you could apply for then it may not be worth taking the extra time and effort to find a way to approach a closed funder. However, if it is a niche fund and you are struggling to find foundation’s who supply grants for similar work then it may be worth the extra investment. Most funders release reports detailing how they spend their money each year. You need to check if the organisation’s they support vary or if they remain the same. If it is the latter then this is a sign that it may be extremely difficult to win funds from them to support your work.
Organisations should check whether they have any contacts working with the selected funder whether directly or through another organisation. A simple way to find out is to conduct a short contact mapping exercise amongst your staff, volunteers and board of trustees to ask if they know anyone. Often you’ll be surprised and find someone who can bring up your organisation’s cause with someone at the charitable foundation informally. They may be able to get sufficient insight or guidance to be able to create a short plan of action on what you need to do to get noticed directly from the organisation itself.
If you get especially lucky you might be able to arrange a telephone conversation with a member of staff where you can describe your organisation and proposed project. From there it will be up to you to convince them of the worthiness of your proposed initiative. If there is no opportunity immediately forthcoming then it would be wise to simply ask what it is you can do to get noticed.
Having a contact at your chosen foundation can make a huge difference, but you need to be careful at the same time not to put undue pressure on anyone which may put the organisation off you permanently.
If personal contacts are not an option and you haven’t been able to gain an insight in what you need to do to position your organisation so that they can be approached then you can consider sending a polite letter of introduction. The letter should be designed to simply inform the Foundation about the work you are doing, your aims, values and most importantly how these factors relate to the Foundation’s own work. You should take the opportunity to enquire how the funder selects its grantees.
It is important to note that letters of this type should not include a funding request otherwise you are likely to upset an important funder who has already made it clear they do not want to receive funding applications.
If neither of these tactics proves fruitful then you should consider approaching other funders as well as doing everything you can to develop your organisation sufficiently until the foundation you have targeted comes looking to you instead. It can and does happen, you just need to make sure you are the amongst the leaders in your field in your given location.