The grant world is competitive. It has only become more competitive in recent years. Private foundations are becoming increasingly “invite only” meaning that they “do not take unsolicited proposals”.
Does this mean that you should take them off your list? On the contrary! The fewer the open opportunities, the more proposals they receive. It makes sense to divert your grant winning strategy to taking time to be 'invited’.
Here are five outreach strategies to get the invite, in order of effectiveness.
You need to know someone. Use your network to connect! The most effective grant winning organizations have fundraising leadership and board members that know people. Ask your board members and top leaders to think about which foundations and grant-making agencies they may have connections to.
If you find a funder that seems very connected to your cause, send out their board member and staff list to your leadership team to review. Often, someone with a connection to your organization only has to send an email or sign a cover letter for you to get a meeting!
Another excellent strategy is to ask for an introduction from your current donors. If a foundation is already funding you, they believe in your work and are generally eager to help you make additional connections. Plus, nothing is more validating to a funder than being introduced by someone already investing in your organization.
Another strategy is to meet your funder by being in the same place at the same time. Good fundraising teams regularly research and attend events where key foundation staff and board members will be. These can be conferences, events, partner/like-minded agency dinners, workshops, or government meetings. When you get exposure, don’t be shy! Approach the funder like you would a major gift prospect. Simply get to know him or her on a human level and exchange contact information. Don’t pitch your project or organization at this time! Save that for later when you can have a sit down meeting. The objective here is to get contact information so you can request a meeting later. Small steps go a long way.
Google is a grant writer’s best friend. If you know you want to contact a foundation, but don’t have contact information, check out their website thoroughly or search for the specific individual you seek online. We often recommend meeting with a Program Manager or someone that handles projects to get valuable insight into what the organization cares about. With this information in hand, you are better prepared when contacting higher level leadership.
LinkedIn has become a means to connect with new professionals, though it is still less effective than getting people on the phone or putting information directly in front of them in an email. Make sure you keep your social media accounts very up to date, with professional resumes and photos and a wide network of recommendations. While we don’t generally use it to contact funders, we know it’s an important way for them to find information about us. We want to be easy to find and to always imbue the messaging that our work is meaningful and engaged in the community.
This strategy is only last because it is indirect. It is likely the most effective way to get noticed and to get traction with invite-only funders. Foundations are invite only because they only want to bother with the best programs and services. You can make yours the best with a stellar branding and communications strategy that celebrates what you are doing through traditional media and social media methods. Creating buzz can lead the honey to you.
Knowing someone is the best route, but in the process, make your program or project speak for itself!
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