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Three Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door with Foundations

The rumors are true—creating a relationship with a foundation before submitting your proposal can significantly improve your chances of being awarded. Even if you don’t meet face-to-face with your prospective funder, simply becoming a familiar name can give you an edge over hundreds of other applicants.

Our team at Instrumentl has put together the three easiest and most effective ways to make contact and build relationships with foundations. Read on to find the approach that’s best for you.

Three Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door with Foundations

Before You Begin: Do Your Homework

Before you even think about reaching out to a foundation, you’ll need to do some research. Preparation is key to making a great first impression. Contacting the foundation without doing your homework can undermine your nonprofit’s reputation and risk making you appear unprofessional. Before you reach out, review the following:

  • The foundation’s website—look specifically at their funding page, funding guidelines, and approach. Pay attention to what they are asking of their applicants and follow their instructions word-for-word.
  • The foundation’s 990—A funder’s IRS Form 990 illustrates the foundation’s historical giving and assets for a particular year. It also lists the size of grants previously awarded and which groups were the recipients. Oftentimes 990s include a list of contacts at a particular foundation, which can come in handy when you reach out. Learn some simple tricks to leverage 990s to learn more about foundations.
  • Recent news—Review the news section of the foundation’s website, or do a quick Google search of the funder to see if there are any recent developments and information you can point to when you make your first contact.

1. The “Warm Introduction”

Getting a warm introduction can often be the best route to creating a relationship with a foundation. Finding a mutual contact, one the foundation respects and who can also vouch for you, will create a positive first impression and establish your credibility quickly.

Jennie Cheers, director of donor relations at ECOHealth Alliance, a global environmental health nonprofit, recommends searching for mutual connections among your staff, board of directors, and volunteers. Grab your list of foundation prospects, schedule a quick all-hands meeting, and leverage your whole team. You’ll grow your network exponentially, and it sure beats combing through your personal LinkedIn connections.

Even with a warm intro, don’t forget to research the foundation beforehand and prepare your talking points. Your first interaction should demonstrate your interest in the foundation and show you care to spend time learning about it. Plus, your research will enable you to ask more in-depth questions, beyond what’s readily available online, which means a better use of time for both you and the foundation.

2. The Letter of Intent (LOI)

An LOI is an efficient, first request for information made to a foundation. It’s short, usually 1–3 pages. It allows you to communicate your core ideas to the foundation without spending dozens of hours on a full-length proposal. If the grantmaker likes your ideas, he or she will invite you to apply through the full proposal process.

One of the best things about LOIs is that they’ll get your foot in the door even if you can’t find a warm intro. You can send an LOI cold or follow the foundation’s specific guidelines on how to submit an LOI. Some foundations even require that you submit an LOI before applying with a full-length proposal.

Some things to consider including in your LOI are:

  • Your organization’s mission
  • The amount of funding requested
  • The specific name of the grant you are applying to (if the foundation offers more than one)
  • The time period for which funds are requested
  • A description of the project for which grant funds are requested
  • A copy of your IRS letter of determination
  • A budget for the dollar amount requested (line-item is best)

Don’t forget to follow all of the foundation’s guidelines for how and when to submit your LOI. If the foundation requests all communications be sent by mail, make sure you do just that.

3. The Casual Email Intro

LOIs don’t necessarily need to be 1-3 pages. They can be casual, yet respectful, emails that introduce your organization or program to the foundation and ask if you should submit a proposal.

Take the example below:

Three Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door with Foundations

Emails like these are a fast and effective way to introduce yourself and quickly find out if you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Last But Not least: Nurture Your Relationship

Like all great relationships, your relationships with foundations will benefit from a little tender loving care. Whether you receive funding or not, be sure to continue fostering the relationship with the foundation. Future opportunities may arise, and an established relationship helps keep you and your nonprofit in the forefronts of their minds.

Here are a few ways you can keep stay engaged with a foundation:

  • Interact on social media—find them on Twitter and Facebook and follow them, like them, and share content with them
  • Ask for advice or suggestions as strategic challenges arise
  • Involve them in your events or ask them to participate on committees
  • Invite them to VIP phone briefings, site visits, and/or virtual gatherings

Overall, the best thing you can do is make foundations feel a part of your team and mission!

We’d love to hear about how you grow and maintain relationships with funders at your organization. Do you use a strategy we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments below.

Three Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door with FoundationsAngela Braren is cofounder of Instrumentl, an automated grant assistant for nonprofits and researchers. Before Instrumentl, Angela worked in development at the Global Fund for Women and has written and won numerous grants for her work as a fisheries researcher.

Topics: Fundraising Foundations