What to do when faced with… “no unsolicited applications”

In the event you locate a potential funder that states it does not accept unsolicited applications, it may not be the final word. First, make sure your organization/project is a good fit with the foundation’s funding interests. If it’s not, don’t apply. You will only be wasting their time and yours. However, if your organization/project appears to be a good fit, it may behoove you to find another approach.

It seems that the majority of grant professionals will say that approaching a funder that publically states, “no unsolicited proposals”, will only hurt your reputation in the giving community. Others say that it’s ok to pursue them for funding, but very carefully. The bottom line is that these funders are still obligated to dispense a portion of their wealth to the community. Often they do not accept unsolicited proposals because they already have specific pre-selected non-profits that they support, year after year; or they do their own pursuing based on their mission or areas of interest.

If you are interested in a foundation that doesn’t accept applications, first do a little research.
 If they have accepted applications in the past but have put giving operations on temporary hold, then you probably will be wasting your time. Keep tabs on the organization, or sign-up for their email news feed so you can apply when giving operations resumes.
 If they have traditionally given to pre-selected groups or made grants via “invitation-only” competitions, you may have a better chance. First, make sure your organization/project is a good fit within the foundation’s funding interests. Secondly, develop a list of the people ‘in charge’ (board members and executives). (Usually this information can be found on their website.) Share this list with members of your organization — board members, staff, and/or major supporters — to see if any of ‘your people’ knows any of ‘their people’. If yes, they may be willing to speak to that person on your organization’s behalf. This is often the most effective way to get on the radar of a foundation that ‘doesn’t accept applications’.

If no contacts pan out, you can always write a letter of introduction that describes your organization’s mission and projects/activities — stressing how you would help them further their own mission. Ask if you can share more information about your organization/project, and how they select grantees. However, do not ask for funding in this initial letter.

It may be that the organizations they have been supporting have gone out of business, or in some cases they are restructuring and looking to expand from their typical areas of funding and may be covertly seeking new ideas. Good luck and keep it classy and professional!  🙂

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