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Knowledge Base

How do I approach a foundation and build a successful grantee-funder relationship?

"You never get a second chance to make a good first impression." -- Will Rogers

This saying holds true for approaching foundations, too. Contacting a grantmaker with a phone call or written proposal without having researched it first often wastes time and effort, for you and the funder.  Many grantmakers have shared with us that the most frequent reason for turning down requests is that they do not fit within their funding interests. Not doing your homework is not only inefficient, but it can make you seem unprofessional.

So how can your nonprofit make a good and lasting first impression?

Research Grantmakers

The more you know about your prospect, the better you can tailor your ask to their values and interests. Foundation Directory Online is our searchable database that provides comprehensive and accurate information on U.S. grantmakers and their grants. Profiles include contact information, background for foundation and its donors, and the affiliations of officers, donors, and trustees.

However, our grantmaker profiles are just a starting point. Also consult other resources to learn more about a foundation, such as:

  • Its web site, if one exists (90% of U.S. foundations don't have websites)
  • News sources, like Philanthropy News Digest, local media, or databases through your public library
  • Internet searches
  • Your own networks of peers and colleagues

Build Relationships

After you have researched your prospects, reach out to them! If a foundation has stated a preference for an initial approach or mode of contact, follow the instructions. If it has not stated any preferences, it generally is safe to call them.

When you reach out for the first time, use your research and be ready with your talking points or otherwise show that you've spent some time learning about them. Your research will enable you to ask more in-depth and detailed questions, beyond what's readily available online, which means a better use of time for both you and the funder. It also makes for a better first impression.

See also our related Knowledge Base articles:

- How do I find foundation grants for my nonprofit?
- Why do some foundations give only to pre-selected organizations? How can I approach them?

Self-paced eLearning on Approaching Foundations

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships with Funders

Learn to be more strategic in cultivating meaningful professional relationships with grantmakers. $25

Selected Web sites below might also be helpful.

Books & Articles

Check title availability at our libraries and Funding Information Network partners or your local libraries.

Best Practices in Grant Seeking : Beyond the Proposal Provides advice on improving foundation fundraising success, based on survey and interview data from nonprofits and grantmakers...

The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing
In addition to chapters on the components of a standard proposal, the book includes guidance on research, contacting and cultivating potential funders...

The "How To" Grants Manual: Successful Grantseeking Techniques for Obtaining Public and Private Grants
The guide includes chapters on contacting private foundations, submitting proposals, and following up with grantmakers...

The Ultimate Insiders Guide to Winning Foundation Grants
In this behind-the-scenes account of the daily life of a foundation, the author provides advice to grantseekers about proposal fundamentals, the use of letters of inquiry, site visits, communications with funders...

More books & articles»

Web Sites

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