"You never get a second chance to make a good first impression." -- American humorist Will Rogers

That saying is true for foundations, too. Many grantmakers tell us the main reason they say no to a funding request is that it doesn't match what they care about most.

You're wasting time and effort--for you and the grantmaker--if you call a funder or write a proposal without doing your research first. It's also unprofessional. And that's no way to make a good first impression.

So, what is the first step to building a lasting grantee-funder relationship? And what can you do when a funder says it doesn't accept unsolicited proposals?

Research Grantmakers

The more you know about your funding prospect, the better you can tailor your proposal to their passion. Learn more about how to research grantmakers.

Foundation Directory Online’s grantmaker profiles are just a starting point. Other resources to learn more about a foundation include:

  • Its web site, if one exists (Roughly 90% of U.S. foundations don't have websites)
  • News sources, like Philanthropy News Digest, local media, or databases through your public library
  • Internet searches
  • Your own networks of peers and colleagues

Build Relationships

After you have researched your prospects, reach out to them! Before you start that first phone call or email:

  • Follow a funder’s contact instructions.
  • If the grantmaker has not stated any preferences, it generally is safe to call them.
  • Use your research and be ready with your talking points.
  • Show that you've spent time learning about them.

Your research means you can ask deeper, detailed questions, beyond what's readily available online. That’s a better use of time for both you and the funder. It also makes for a better first impression.

Use your personal and social media networks. If a funder's network intersects with yours, ask your supporters if they are willing to introduce your organization to that funder. This is the most effective way of getting the foundation's attention. Social media is a very easy way to interact with a funder, keep up with their activities and interests, and share highlights of your work with them.

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships with Funders (Self-Paced Learning)

Learn to be more strategic in building meaningful and professional relationships with grantmakers. You can access this self-paced learning for 30 days and earn 1.25 CFRE credits. Enroll now.

Funders That Don’t Accept Applications

You will probably come across some funders that are good matches for your work but they don’t accept unsolicited proposals. You should still approach them. Here’s why.

If you don't have personal connections, send a letter that introduces your organization:

  • Explain how your organization connects with the foundation's giving interests
  • Do NOT ask for money
  • Ask how the foundation selects who receives its grants
  • Ask if you can meet with them or give them more information about your organization

Here is a resource about approaching funders that don't accept applications, and here is a sample letter to contact them.

See also our related Knowledge Base article:

- How do I find foundation grants for my nonprofit?


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