How to approach funders who don’t accept new proposals

Remember, this is not a solicitation letter.

If you are a seasoned grant writer or have spent numerous hours researching foundations, you might be as frustrated as I was when I would find a “perfect match” foundation, only to see the dreaded words: “Gives to preselected organizations/no proposals accepted.”

In the past, I would have moved on, thinking there was no reason to spend any more time on this foundation. However, a recent article in the Philanthropy News Digest—“What to do when foundations have walled themselves off from your organization,” by Tony Poderis—has given me new hope and new ideas for what to do when I come across foundations like this.

Poderis states that “we need to honor the wishes of these ‘walled-off’ foundations” but adds that grant writers should try to find ways for their organization to become one of those preselected few. He offers the following suggestions to make meaningful contact with these funders without violating their rules.

First, he suggests that we use “direct leverage,” or personal association, to connect with these funders. In other words, use your board members or connections to see if they have any association with the “walled-off” foundation.

Poderis recommends that you create a list of these foundations and include as much information as you can about their board members, staff, and committee members. Present this information to your own staff, board, and committee members to see if they personally know any of the people at the foundation. If they do know someone, ask them to make an informal contact or inquiry to the foundation. This might open the door to creating a relationship without making the funder feel like you have violated its rules.

If it’s not possible to make a personal connection, Poderis recommends that you send a letter to the foundation. However, he makes clear that this should not be a “we know you only give to preselected organizations, but…” letter. Instead, he suggests that you respectfully ask the funder one or more of the following questions:

  • What would it take to enable our organization to be considered on your list of preselected charities?
  • How often do you add new preselected charities?
  • With our pledge that we will not ask you for money, would you be interested in learning more about us via written material? Or, perhaps you might be interested in visiting us to see our organization in operation? And, we would welcome any advice you can provide us about grant-making organizations that are suitably aligned with our mission.

Remember, this is not a solicitation letter, Poderis cautions. And, if you follow up with a telephone call (which he does), do not fall into the trap of turning the call into a solicitation. More than likely, you will anger the funder and will not be placed on its coveted list of preselected organizations.

Why does Poderis feel it’s important not to just walk away from this type of funder? The answer is simple—and it was a “why didn’t I think of that?” moment for me. He says there is always a chance that a preselected organization might change its services or programs that the grant maker favors. Or, a preselected grantee might fall out of favor with the funder for a variety of reasons. If either of these happen, and you are there at the right time, Poderis suggests you might be able to fill the vacancy on the list of preselected organizations and receive funding.

(Tony Poderis is a fundraising consultant who served as the director of development for the Cleveland Orchestra for 20 years. This article was posted on Feb. 16, 2012. It can be found at

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