by Marie Palacios

Let’s be honest for a second. We all love to get VIP treatment. In fact, we get extra excited when a door that was once labeled “No Access” is opened wide and we are welcomed inside as an honored guest. Heck, if the door is bolted shut with a “No Trespassing” sign, we might even agree to forego VIP status and serve as a volunteer just to get a foot in the door.

What does any of this have to do with the nonprofit world or fundraising?

A lot in fact!

Recently a Funding for Good client reached out to ask us how their organization could access private foundations that operate on a “by invitation only” funding model.  It is quite common for private/family foundations to pre-select organizations that they are interested in supporting.

That VIP model leaves many of us out in the cold wondering if we will ever get invited to the table for a conversation. How exactly can we transition our organization from invisible to invited status?

The following tips might help get your foot in the door:

Foot in the door - psychological method

  1. Research the private foundation and pay special attention to the following information that can be found in their 990:
  1. Who have they supported in the past (and at what level)?
  2. Have they supported organizations/projects that work on the same issues as your nonprofit? (If so, how do you compare?)
  3. Who leads the foundation and is their contact information listed on the 990?
  4. Who serves on the board of directors for the foundation?
  1. Print out key information (especially names of board members and past/current recipients) and approach your board of directors or key supporters to see if they have a personal relationship with anyone on the foundation’s list.
  1. If your board member/community contact has a professional or personal relationship with a foundation board member, ask if they can make a call/introduction on your nonprofit’s behalf.
  1. Attend event’s that are hosted by the foundation (awards/recognitions, community awareness/philanthropy events, or fundraisers). Be strategic and try to make a connection!
  1. Send a letter or email to the foundation’s program officer/board chair and include the following:
  1. Acknowledgement that you have researched their funding priorities/guidelines
  2. Specific reason why you believe your organization might be of potential interest/value
  3. Brief background on your organization (mission, services, impact data)
  4. Request for consideration in upcoming funding cycles and/or specific information on how your organization might become eligible for consideration.
  5. Thank the foundation for their dedication/support of organizations in the community and share how your organization would like to partner with them to accomplish shared goals.


If letters and phone calls go unanswered don’t immediately get your feelings hurt or throw in the towel. Consider searching for the foundation’s headquarters and paying a brief personal visit to request eligibility guidelines and begin the relationship building process.

Keep in mind that many of these private/family foundations do not have an official headquarters and only meet once or twice per year so patience is a virtue.
At the end of the day, most of us only invite people we know to our most important social functions, so why should we be surprised or offended when a private foundation opts to limit their dollars to organizations they personally know and interact with?

Like everything else in the world of nonprofit development, relationships are the key! If your persistence with an “invitation only” donor doesn’t pay off, perhaps it’s time to move on and explore donors who welcome your interest and requests for support.