Build Relationships to Gain Access to In-Demand Foundation Grant Funds

Gaining access to in-demand funding can be a challenge. Does it seem like foundations just keep funding the same nonprofits? 

GrantWatch posts currently available grants that are open for submissions from applicants that meet the eligibility criteria.  GrantWatch does not muddy the waters with foundations that "do not accept unsolicited letters of inquiry or applications".

According to Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch and other websites for the nonprofit and fundraising community, "On GrantWatch when you search for a grant, think about the purpose of the program you are seeking to fund, the geographic location and the beneficiaries of your program. Once you find a grant that appears to be a good fit for your organization, you should take a closer look at the funding source.  What types of grants have they previously funded? What is the range of funding per grant they have awarded in the past? and What seems to be the theme that runs through their funding and the overall mission of the foundation?"  

Competition for grant awards can be fierce, so here are some ideas for dealing with foundations and applying for foundation grants. 

1. Relationship Building - To build relationships with grant makers: 

  • Get visible 
    • Attend conferences grantors might attend, even if they're not accepting solicitations. Some of these include the Council of Foundations, Independent Sector, Exponent Philanthropy, as well as the programs held by regional associations of grant makers.
    • Take a closer look at your own social media pages and website - are they professional and representative of the image you want to project?
  • Be brave and resourceful
    • See if you can become a presenter of a workshop or panel discussion
    • Organize non-conference sessions on your topic pre- or post-conference.
    • Write guest posts about your organization that you can later include or refer to in applications.
  • Connect and interact with grantors
    • Don't flat out ask for money in a conversation. Highlight your organizational programming or potential. In the grant application - ask for money!!!
    • After you meet foundation program officers, follow up by sending materials and information they might be interested in.
    • Keep track of their interests and send information that builds on these.
    • If connections and interactions are not possible, like and follow their social media pages and posts and @them in your posts - they will get the message that your organization is engaging and present in the nonprofit world. 

2. Research their boards and staff for connections.

  • Go through the bios and resumes of the foundation's entire board of directors.
    • Do solid Google searches on them, check their bios on Who's Who and other directories.
    • Find them on LinkedIn.
    • Check for their presence in other foundations as well. 
    • Check for their memberships on other nonprofit boards. 

3. Search the foundational connections of people you know who you think might be on the boards of foundations, or who do you know that may be well-connected. 

  • Look for your and your nonprofit's personal connections as well as issue related connections. 
  • See if they've written about issues of concern to your nonprofit or spoken out about them.
    • Search for news clips mentioning foundation members.
    • When you get a hit, reach out to them and make a connection. 

4. Send information, working papers and thought pieces when you find foundations with interests similar to your organization's.

  • Send information that will give them new insights and ideas, pique their interest and stimulate their thinking.
  • Ask them for their reactions and feedback on think pieces and working papers you send them.
  • "Shift the dynamic from potential grantor/potential grantee to one of equals engaged in the solution of a shared concern," suggests Rick Cohen in Scaling the Wall: 5 Ways to Get Unsolicited Proposals Heard.

5. Send the LOI, even if it is listed as optional.  Be timely and professional with everything you do.  

6. Work for philanthropic change.  

  • Foundations like to receive mentions for the work they do.  Writing an article that mentions the work and outcomes of foundations will get you noticed and other foundations might join the cause and mirror their efforts.  

For more information on this topic, see our GrantWatch blog post from March 11, 2019, Don't Get Locked Out of Foundations and Government Grants for Nonprofits That Only Accept Solicited Grant Proposals. 

For more tips on grants, news, and articles on funding for nonprofits subscribe to GrantWatch and our GrantNews newsletter. 


About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantWatch.