Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect

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To contact or not to contact? That’s the million-dollar question (okay, let’s be realistic – the $40,000 question). You’ve identified a new private foundation that might fund your organization, so you want to make contact with them right away and tell them all the ways your organization is a great investment opportunity for them. Now’s the time to stop and make sure it’s the right thing to do.

Raising money from private foundations certainly has some things in common with other types of fundraising, but there are some major differences. One major difference is whether or not to contact a funder before submitting a grant application. The three steps below will help you determine the best course of action before you pick up the phone.

Before deciding to contact a prospective funder, determine if calling them is an appropriate option. You should consider these scenarios before picking up the phone.

When Not to Approach

  • They Ask You Not To
    If the funder has specific instructions not to contact before applying, don’t! Each funder has their own specific process for receiving applications. Research the funder to determine if they are open to discussing your application before its submission.
  • You’re Not a Match
    Don’t approach the funder if your project does not meet the criteria they have for funding. For instance, you might be within their program specifics but outside their geographic boundaries. Or your request for general operating support or capital campaign funding does not fit their type of giving.
  • They Have a Letter Of Intent/Introduction Process
    In the vast majority of cases, if a funder has a Letter of Introduction or Letter of Intent process, they want that process to be the initial contact. Be considerate of the funder in this case. An LOI is a fairly simple document that will most often give the funder an opportunity to learn more about your organization than through a phone call. Be respectful of the funder’s time by making the LOI your first inquiry.

This may seem like overly simple advice, but many times in our enthusiasm for our cause we overlook the obvious.

When Approaching is Okay

  • They Accept Calls
    As you do your funder research, pay attention to how they accept contact. Some funders are open to phone calls, some will have meetings, while others do not allow any contact before an application. If they state that they are willing, then you are safe to reach out.
  • You Are Connected
    Foundations are staffed by people and people have connections. When you have identified a potential funder, review the list of their staff and board members. Show the list to your organization’s board members to see if they have any connections. If you identify a connection, ask them to reach out on behalf of your organization or to make an introduction.
  • You Have Specific Questions
    Just because a funder will accept calls, don’t make the assumption that you should make the call. Only make the initial outreach if you are prepared and have specific questions. After you carefully review their published materials and their website, determine what additional information you need from them to complete your application. When you call, you want to make the best impression – so be prepared.

If you attempt to contact a potential funder and are not able to reach them or don’t receive a return phone call, take that as their way of saying, “we don’t want to have a conversation with you until you submit an application.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you decide to move forward with making a call and share tips for preparing.

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