Tips to Engaging a Foundation

Adrianne Geiger Dumond



It is reported that most foundations are reluctant to accept unsolicited proposals.[1] Rick Cohen, the author, states that “philanthropy is increasingly an insider’s world” – meaning that if a nonprofit is not in the foundation’s circle, or doesn’t socialize with foundation leaders and staff they won’t be heard. Some foundations set aside funding for new nonprofits (see the article for names), but some 60% do not. However, Cohen contends there are ways to vault the wall and here is a shortened version of his recommendations.

  1. Get visible to build relationships. Attend conferences where many foundations show up. Never solicit money there, but try to meet leaders, get their names, and follow up with material they might be interested in. Cohen even suggests a ‘rump’ session led by a nonprofit leader, presented aside from the formal program. He reemphasizes that building relationships is crucial, and means being visible, connecting, and interacting.                                                                                                         .
  2. Research their boards and staff for connections. Doing homework first is probably the most important for success. Foundation websites provide lots of information – missions, key issues they support, board members names (and sometimes their bios and resumes), and staff names. When you find issues, topics and organizational interests that intersect, reach out to those individuals with information and materials.                                                                                              .
  3. Send information, working papers, and thought pieces. Cohen maintains that fresh thinking and new ideas may stimulate an interest in your nonprofit’s needs. He even suggests that one might ask the foundation’s leader to provide feedback and his/her reaction to the information.
  1. Send a letter of interest/information (LOI) anyway. Once the home- work has been done, you can also check with the Foundation Directory Online to verify foundations that align with your objectives. Sending information, and even including a cover letter that is close to an LOI, may stimulate new interest. But, again, NEVER ask for money in these kinds of pursuits. 
  1. Work for philanthropic change. Cohen makes the point that foundations need to be more open to changes in the environment, and seek to embrace more strategic thinking in their grant making.

[1] Scaling the Wall: 5 Ways to Get Unsolicited Proposals Heard, Rick Cohen, Nonprofit Quarterly, Feb. 22, 2017

Author:  Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County,