Unsolicited Proposals and Pre-Selected Orgs

by | Jun 18, 2024 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research, Grant Writing


Have you ever seen the terms “Unsolicited Proposals” and “Pre-selected Organizations” when researching grant prospects?

These terms generally mean a funder does not have an open application process. Instead, grants are made “by invitation only.” The grantmaker selects organizations they are interested in funding and then invites them to apply. If the funder doesn’t know you, then you won’t be getting an invitation.

As a fundraiser, your first instinct may be to cross these grantmakers off your prospect list. You don’t have an “invitation to apply” yet. And you’re not sure how you would get one.

We always advise our clients to take a step back and remember: Nonprofit fundraising is all about building relationships.

When a grantmaker says they do not accept unsolicited proposals or only make grants to pre-selected organizations, your mission is clear:

You need to initiate a relationship with the grantmaker so that they invite your organization to apply when they are making grants.

This might sound like an insurmountable challenge, especially if you are new to fundraising. Luckily, there are simple best practices you can use to get your foot in the door with many of these types of foundations.


How to Build a Relationship With a Foundation That Does Not Accept Unsolicited Proposals


1) Research the Foundation Thoroughly

Many foundations that don’t accept unsolicited proposals also have less public presence. That means you must go beyond grantmaker websites and grant research databases and read the foundation’s 990-PF.

The most useful information will often be found in the foundation’s list of prior grantees, generally at the end of a 990-PF. Review the last 3-5 years of grantmaking to understand the foundation’s:

  • Roster of Grantees: Which groups has the foundation supported? Do you know or partner with any of these groups?
  • Primary Issue Areas: Has the foundation supported organizations or projects that work on the same issues as your nonprofit? If so, how does your work compare? Is your work complementary or duplicative?
  • Grantmaking Patterns: Does the foundation fund the same grantees yearly, or does the list vary? If the foundation has supported the same 15 grantees for the past five years, you will unlikely break in easily. However, if the foundation funds a variety of grantees each year, with new groups regularly appearing, it may be possible to become a “pre-selected” organization in the future.
  • Giving Range: Does the average grant amount match your current funding needs? Building a relationship takes time. If you need to raise an additional $100,000 annually and a foundation only makes grants in the $5,000 range, it may not be the best match for your funding needs right now.

Your research should reveal whether it is possible to get your foot in the door with a foundation that does not accept unsolicited proposals.


2) Confirm What “Pre-Selected” Means for the Foundation

In some cases, there may be a difference between “only funding pre-selected charitable organizations” and “not accepting unsolicited proposals.” For example, by “pre-selected,” some foundations simply mean prospective grantees must complete an online eligibility assessment.

However, foundations that don’t accept unsolicited proposals generally do not have an online application process. Thus, all applications must go through the foundation’s program officer or gatekeeper. This is the person you will need to build a relationship with.


3) Use Your Resources to Find Personal Introductions

When it comes to relationship-building, your board of directors, other staff members, and key supporters are an incredible resource.

To tap into this resource, start by compiling a list of the foundation’s board and staff members, as well as local grantees. Then, ask your board, staff, and even key supporters if they know anyone on the list. You would be surprised how often you find unexpected connections. When you find a connection, ask that person to make a personal introduction to the foundation on your behalf.


4) Attend Foundation Events

Even if you don’t have a personal introduction, you can still become part of the foundation’s orbit by attending their events. For example, awards ceremonies, community events, philanthropy events, and fundraisers. Events will give you a better sense of the foundation’s current priorities. You can also find a way to introduce yourself and your organization strategically.


5) Try Cold Outreach to Foundations that Don’t Accept Unsolicited Proposals

In cases where foundations truly do not have a public presence, you’ll need to try some classic cold outreach. You can send an introductory letter by snail mail or email. Better still, you can pick up the phone and make a call.

In your outreach, be sure to cover the following:

  • Acknowledge you have researched the foundation’s funding priorities/guidelines.
  • Provide a brief and specific reason for why your organization might be a potential fit for the foundation’s current priorities.
  • Provide a brief background on your organization (mission, services, impact data).
  • Ask how your organization can become eligible for consideration in funding cycles.


6) Be Patient: Becoming a Pre-Selected Organization Takes Time

Don’t immediately throw in the towel if letters and phone calls go unanswered. Many private and family foundations do not have an official headquarters or even full-time paid staff. The board may only meet once or twice per year. So be patient.

Put yourself in the foundation’s shoes. We only invite people we know to our most important social functions. So, we shouldn’t be surprised or offended when a private foundation only funds organizations they personally know. At the end of the day, you are building a relationship with a foundation to become an organization they personally know.


Relationships Are the Key to Being Invited to Apply for Funding

Like everything else in nonprofit fundraising, relationships are the key to gaining access to foundations that don’t accept unsolicited proposals.

But if your persistence with an “invitation-only” donor ultimately doesn’t pay off, move on and explore other donors. Plenty of foundations will welcome your interest and requests for support.

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