The first six parts of this series on Grant Writing 101 went through the process of grant writing from finding a funder to writing a proposal. However, there will be times when it seems impossible to find funders accepting unsolicited inquiries who also align with your organization’s mission. Some topics inevitably receive more attention from foundations than others, so depending on your nonprofit’s specialty you may find it difficult to even get to the proposal writing stage. If this is an issue your nonprofit faces, it is time to get a little creative with your outreach strategies.
When a funder states that they do not accept unsolicited inquiries or proposals, they usually mean it. If a foundation makes grants by invitation only, it likely has at least one staff member dedicated to finding cool organizations that align with the foundation’s funding mission. Because the nonprofit sector is so wide and diverse, it can be hard to get on a foundation’s radar. Some nonprofits have the clout and connections to stand out to potential funders just by virtue of who runs them. Others must rely on building a reputation in their target community and hoping their success attracts media coverage. However, a nonprofit can speed up the process of at least gaining exposure by sending out what we at Grants Ink call “old school” grant inquiries. These are concise descriptions of a nonprofit’s programs (basically the LOI template condensed down to one or two small paragraphs) that can be sent in the form of general inquiries. The goal here is not to reach out to one specific funder but to make your organization known to as many funders as possible.
The list of funders you use for an “old school” grant inquiry can be broader than your LOI/proposal list. It should still focus on funders with a specific interest in your area of work, but can include those who may not be accepting unsolicited proposals or who do not have any upcoming grant deadlines. Usually these inquiries are sent to the general funder inquiries email address or through the “Contact” section of the funder’s website. The inquiry should briefly introduce the nonprofit’s mission and work. It should then state that the nonprofit is interested in learning more about the funder’s grantmaking priorities and close by thanking the funder for their consideration.
Most of these inquiries will go unanswered, which is why we recommend sending them out in large batches. The emphasis of the inquiry should not be asking whether the funder is interested in funding your nonprofit but asking whether they are interested in learning more about your nonprofit’s work. If they are, you may have a chance to develop a relationship with them and potentially be considered the next time they look for organizations to invite for proposals. This method does not have a high rate of success but can provide some surprising results and connections you may not have found through more traditional methods. The key is to only contact funders once and keep a record of those you have contacted. If you do not hear back, do not send follow-ups. The last thing you want for your nonprofit is to develop a reputation for pestering funders. However, most funders will not mind a respectfully phrased inquiry sharing some basic information about your organization’s work. Many will ignore your inquiry, but there will likely be a few who at least add you to a list of organizations doing interesting work, and that can be the first step in establishing a funding relationship.