Sunday, August 23, 2009

How To Approach Grant Donors That Are Not Accepting Grant Applications and Get Their Attention

Wanting to expand your grant raising horizons but run into many potential grant donors that indicate they may give to your nonprofit, only to find in the fine print, later, that they only give to pre-selected organizations (or they do not accept unsolicited grant proposals, or they are not accepting grant applications at this time)? Fear not! Yes, they may seem implacable but the reality is there is a way to get your organization in front of most any grant donor even if they are not accepting grant applications.

If, as you conduct research into which grant donors would potentially be more likely to give to your nonprofit (this process is called 'prospecting') you run into a few potential donors whose giving guidelines state three important indicators that they are likely to give to your nonprofit: they fund causes such as the one(s) your nonprofit works on, they fund the types of programs or projects that you are writing the grant proposal to fund, and they fund nonprofits serving the geographic region that yours' is going to serve through your proposed project or program. When a potential donor, (you determine through prospecting) has given recently (within a year or so) to organizations doing similar work as yours' is, funding programs like you are aiming to fund with grants - they are providing through their recent giving pattern even more indication that they are likely to give to your organization. These are the foundations your organization should apply to - otherwise, you are shooting time, resources, energy, and hope into the abyss and not focusing your grant seeking work where you should - by applying only to grant donors who demonstrate that they are likely to give to your agency for the work its proposing to do (and where it will do it).

Especially today, in this economy, it is not unusual to find more than a few foundations who appear like they'd be likely to give grants to your agency - only to see in fine print (usually in their giving guidelines) that they are not accepting grant applications right now (or are not accepting unsolicited applications). It can be very frustrating.

Your first thought may be, 'well, they would probably appreciate granting to us, because we would become partners in the work that they are looking to fund, in order to make the changes in the community that our particular nonprofit is proposing to make!' The frustration, here, is that you apparently can't even get a proposal before their eyes for them to see this for themselves! this the case...

While it is always best practice to truly follow and do (or don't do) whatever a grant donor's giving guidelines asserts it prefers (or doesn't want); you can do a few things to get your agency's name; its goals; and its successes, potential, integrity, and high qualifications in front of any grant donor whether they are accepting any eligible agency's grant application, during this giving cycle, or not.

Bear in mind that in all interactions, every nonprofit should conduct all of its work (fundraising, programs promoting, volunteer raising, etc.) in a professional, reasonable, fair, open, and honest manner. As you, other staff, volunteers, or leadership from your agency interact with the public in any way (on the phone, in web or written content, face to face, etc.) each and all representatives of the nonprofit should know basic customer service skills and be able to conduct them (and provide a training in this - public facing is a critical part of any nonprofit's work but surprisingly not everyone knows these basic 'must have' skills to interact with the world beyond the office). Everyone representing the agency should be polite, courteous, professional without being pushy, confident about the organization's capabilities and its mission, and should know how to approach anyone - say a quick line or two about the nonprofit (also called an elevator speech) - hand out a business card or agency brochure and then thank the person and leave well enough alone. Keep in mind, too, that approaching anyone in a professional and affable manner simply to introduce yourself and your agency (and its important work in the community) is 'how business gets done' in any sector, including the nonprofit sector. It's not invasive or rude to do so, as long as it isn't in the middle of the person speaking, or as they are dashing out the door in a hurry, or some other already occupied or busy situation. Just be thoughtful, clear, but polite in your interactions and your agency will begin a series of new connections in the community.

Having said this, the following are ways that any nonprofit can still get its name, goals, successes, and great potential in front of even the most stalwart grant donors who pre-select which nonprofits can apply for their grants...

__ Find out (through networking with colleagues or researching the regional newspaper archives) where the grant donor's board members present, what professional affiliation conferences they attend, or what associations they are active members in and make sure that one of your organization's leadership attends one or two of these opportunities and makes professional, friendly, clear, and concise contact with their organization's leader(s). You could approach them, say hello, state that you are familiar with their work via X Foundation in the community, and that you wanted to be sure they were aware of your agency's work (and then provide them with the quick but clear elevator speech). Hand them your card, get theirs' if it's appropriate, and follow up with them in a few days either through e-mail or a phone call. Again, do not hound anyone but simply say something like, 'it was a pleasure to meet you at the Champions of the Environment meeting this past Wednesday,' and attach a one page, clear, and concise letter or outline that states what your agency is working on now, what it's current goals are, its recent successes, its talent pool and potential for great success, and how they can follow up with your organization (usually suggesting that they speak ('peer to peer') with a leader of the agency).

__ Conduct a marketing campaign that states the same information as the suggested attachment in the follow up e-mail, as described in the point made in the paragraph, above (begins "Find out (through networking..."). The power of marketing is that your agency gets its name, successes, and goals before everyone in the community that the marketing is conducted in. This means that the untapped donors, who may have never heard of your organization, the yet not yet recruited volunteers, future board members, and potential grant donors who do not accept unsolicited grant proposals learn everything about your agency that you state in your marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns, when conducted well, return on the investment in the campaign usually many fold. They are a strategic, smart, modern, and effective way to recruit new talent and blood but to also raise more and new donors.

__ Speak to professional colleagues working at other nonprofits, or ask your own board members, or ask your donor base or volunteer base and find someone who has a relationship with a leader working for the grant donor and ask if they would provide an introduction for you (or a key leader in your agency). Keep asking around - you'd be surprised at the connections that exist in your own organization that could become very fruitful leads. You will eventually find one, I bet.

__ Call the foundation's office and respectfully ask if you may submit a one page letter of introduction to your nonprofit for their programs staff to review for consideration. Some foundations that do not accept unsolicited grant proposals accept letters of introduction in order to be sure that they know what nonprofits exist that they could potentially work with in the community. Remember, they are looking for successful nonprofits partners to give to and if they don't know of your organization but would appreciate knowing about it and its work - this furthers their foundation's mission, too. It's a win win for both agencies but also for the community.

In all fundraising there are potential donors who have established pre-existing relationships with other nonprofits. This is how the community gets the benefit of the various nonprofits that serve them. There isn't a need to look at these existing beneficiary nonprofits as competitors or better than your agency. The key is to understand that the donor's goal is simply to really create effective, sustainable, and real change in the community. When your nonprofit demonstrates to any and all potential donors (including potential grant donors) that it will meet a real unmet need in an efficient and honest manner, and has the talent and ability to succeed at this - then you have truly put your nonprofit at 'the head of the line' for any donor's consideration. This is the key.


Maryll K. said...

I enjoyed your blog post on "How To Approach Grant Donors That Are Not Accepting Grant Applications and Get Their Attention." Can you fix the link to the information about marketing campaigns? It goes instead to something about IRS990s, and I'd be interested to see what else you advise on marketing. You also refer to an attachment to "the email above" which I don't see anywhere. Thanks!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Maryll K.,
Hello and thank you for your feedback, for pointing out my error, and for requesting clarification. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I have made the corrections. About the "attachment to the e-mail, above"; I've rewritten that sentence to clarify my meaning. Re-read it, now, and you'll see what I meant, and where the info is. Again, thank you. Best, Arlene