Foundations are inundated with thousands of grant applications every year, and part of the Unfunded List’s mission is to offer recognition and connections to the many organizations who apply for funding and do not receive it. Beyond this immediate issue, however, is another potential obstacle for promising organizations: there are many foundations who do not issue open grant solicitations, and instead only accept proposals by invitation. This creates an offshoot of the Unfunded List, called the uninvited list (trademark pending). How are organizations supposed to approach invitation-only funders?
The reasons for closed-solicitations are many. Some invitation-only foundations might be interested in a very specific solution or particular geographic area, or do not have the resources to handle thousands of solicitations, or all of the above. Unfortunately, this closes the door for organizations that may have potential solutions before they even get their feet off the ground.
What can these uninvited organizations do? Fortunately, there are lengthy resources available that provide some good advice for navigating this obstacle. In addition, we would like to offer a couple of quick tips:
1. Consider not doing it.
This may not be what you wanted to hear. But in the vast majority of cases there is a very good reason why they are not accepting unsolicited proposals. They probably do not have the time or the resources and they might already have a full grant portfolio. We can be respectful of their wishes and leave them in peace to do their work. Once a foundation or grantmaker has made it clear that they do not want to be contacted you should not contact them.
You can be ready to respond when and if they do contact you. And you can do some of these other suggestions to try and improve your positioning. But the reality is that not every foundation has the capacity to consider your request. Your time will be better spent elsewhere.
2. Improve your position with content marketing tactics
Content marketing is a proven trend buzzing from every corner of the consulting world. Sometimes called inbound marketing, these are just phrases that are used to encompass web content tactics (blogs, case studies, white papers, videos, infographics, e-newsletters, social media, etc.) that help an organization gain a better SEO (Search Engine Optimiziation) position, build awareness, and attract and convert prospects.
Content marketing should not be complicated; you do not need to consult resources like this ridiculous periodic table, you only need to publish and distribute Web content pieces that can help you get noticed. This is especially important for start-up organizations because the overhead for inbound content is so low. Furthermore, foundations and funders increasingly perform their own searches to gather information on organizations that serve a specific niche. MacKenzie Scott posts on Medium and so can you. Getting to the forefront of these searches is essential, and aspiring organizations can accomplish this by doing the following:
- Identify and research the type of funder who is looking to solve a problem and the type of keywords they might use to conduct a Web search
- Produce content that identifies this problem and positions your institution as a potential solution (without appearing too promotional). Most importantly, make sure to distinguish why your approach may be a better solution than other organizations that are looking to solve the same problem.
- Distribute this content on the appropriate social media channels for your work
- You do not need to be on every channel. Just like it might be a waste of your time to contact funders who do not want to be contacted, not every network is worth your time either. Make sure you are posting where your audience is.
- Podcasts like the Open Door Philanthropy Podcast are another popular and low cost way to produce interesting on-mission content.
3. Make online connections with grant managers at invitation-only funders
Easier said than done – obviously – but it’s the surest way to get on the invite list. The simplest way to make online connections is to use LinkedIn.
- Research the names of individuals who are managing the grant-making process at foundations that are issuing invitation-only solicitations.
- Search their name in LinkedIn and see if you share a 2nd-degree connection. Contact your 1st degree connection to see if you can facilitate an introduction. This strategy works best if you make as many connections as possible with people you know on LinkedIn (regardless of direct professional relevance), which will increase your network.
- We recommend only targeting professionals this way. It may be tempting to contact a family member of a family foundation board through LinkedIn but it would be more advisable to contact professionals who have been hired to work at the foundation.
Of course, there will always be contacts who do not have LinkedIn accounts or who are not active on it. To cover this gap, make sure to reach out to members of your email and mailing lists who are likely to have connections with grant-managers at invitation-only foundations.
4. Get out and network
This is especially important for grants that are localized or serve a very specific niche. It’s likely that these focus areas include close-knit social circles, and your goal should be to go out, be seen, and introduce yourself to these people. Leaving the house; it’s the oldest trick in fundraising.
With the ongoing COVID situation, this has become very difficult. It is easier to make yourself memorable at a cocktail party than during a Zoom meeting. The best way to network has always been to make sure that you are a useful and capable actor in your community – then people will seek you out. It is easier to ask for favors from people who owe you favors.
We review funding proposals twice annually from nonprofits and social impact startups. Members of our evaluation committee shares their perspective on your work. Each reviewer provides helpful and candid feedback about each grant proposal’s weaknesses & strengths. At the end of each round, we highlight some of the proposals on our website. Unfunded List is always accepting proposals at www.unfundedlist.com/submit-your-proposal. We invite you to join the Unfunded List awardees and 1,000 other projects that our funding evaluators have given feedback to since 2015. Find out more and submit at www.unfundedlist.com.