Cold Calling Potential Foundations

by | Aug 31, 2016 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Writing

I taught a webinar for BidPal on successful grant research a few weeks ago. Cold calling potential foundations came up. After the  webinar I was provided with all of the questions from attendees so I could respond individually.  I promised that I would use some of those questions in upcoming newsletters, which is what I’m doing this week.

I received this question: I keep hearing about ‘calling’…. do you really recommend cold calling potential foundations or are there other/maybe better ways to establish initial contact?
Yes. I do really recommend reaching out to or cold calling potential foundations.

I also don’t consider these calls ‘cold calls’.

Cold calls have such a negative sales connotation.  Calling a foundation is a step in the education process to learn more about a foundation and if their priorities truly fit your needs.

I don’t recommend calling them just to chat it up. I recommend doing your due diligence to make sure you are a great fit for their funding priorities, learning all you can from their website, their 990 and the Internet and THEN, if you have questions about funding, give them a call to get clarification. If you see this as ‘cold calling potential foundations’, then yes, I do mean to ‘cold call’.

If you feel like you have all the info you need to determine they are a good fit, I still recommend giving them a call.


Just because a foundation seems like a good fit ‘on paper’ doesn’t mean they actually are. Sometimes their priorities are a bit different and more specific than appears online, or maybe they have even tweaked what they want to support and the website has not been updated. This has happened to me on numerous occasions.

For example:  Perhaps your organization works with Autism programming.  You find a foundation that supports Autism so you feel like you are a great fit. If you don’t talk with them, you may not realize that they DO support Autism, but they are most interested in supporting Autism programming to educate parents and family of children with Autism.  Your organization might only do educational programming for children in grades K-6 in the school system. In this situation, you would not be a good fit.

A great way to start this conversation is this:

“Hello, I am _____ and I work with _______.  Our organization has a program/project that we feel aligns with your current funding priorities and I wondered if I could chat with you about it to see if you feel like it is a good fit.”

Then, once you get the go-ahead, explain what you are doing, why you feel it is a good fit, tell them how much the project costs, or how much you need, and then ask for their feedback on the program idea, as well as the amount you should consider requesting.

You won’t get all the answers you need every time. But you need to make the effort.

Additionally, the most important part of all fundraising is relationship building. Grant writing is no different. Having a call with a program officer can often be the first critical step to building a relationship with foundation staff.

Part of the question  I was asked was if there are ‘other’ or ‘better’ ways to establish initial contact.

There are certainly ‘other’ ways. You can email or stop by the office in person. In my opinion, neither of these is ‘better’.

Always respect the guidelines of the foundation. If potential grantees are advised not to call the foundation, then don’t. I see this occasionally, but not often. In fact, most of the program officers I know prefer to talk with potential grantees so they help guide them and advise them in order to get the most quality proposals possible.

Preparing for a Conversation with a Foundation

How to Engage with Invitation Only Funding Foundations

How to Have Clarification Calls with Foundation Officers


Keep up the great work and continue growing for good.

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