4 min read

The streamlined journey from foundation prospect identification to inquiry, follow-up to requested proposal, and proposal submission to funding.

If you’ve followed the recent pieces on foundation proposals—how to revise and really improve the writing, and how to make proposals visually appealing—then you might find yourself thinking now what?

At this point, you’ve got a great foundation proposal template: it clearly and succinctly describes what you do, how you do it, and why the foundation can partner with you to make an impact. And it looks good, making the pitch that much more effective. Well, now, it’s time to put that proposal to work!


If you haven’t already, you’ll need to identify a list of foundation prospects for outreach. There are a number of ways to compile this list (see: ‘Who needs donor research tools?’). In a nutshell: you can try free online research tools, pay for subscriptions to exclusive donor databases, or contract with a vendor to provide prospects specific to your organization.

Foundation outreach is a numbers game: casting a wide net will increase your odds of bringing in new foundation money.

That said, foundations hear from countless groups. It’s easy to feel that your letters, phone calls, and emails are going into a black hole. One of the most common mistakes you can make is giving up too quickly. How will you prioritize persistence and ensure your proposal and follow-up stand out in the crowd?


It can take 18-24 months to see real traction and momentum from a well-executed foundations program. Make a plan at the beginning of the year for your foundation's moves management and prioritize the execution of the plan. Here’s an example of what that plan might look like:

You send your first batch of foundation LOIs on February 1. You follow up on February 7, February 14, February 28, March 14, and again on March 28. Chances are you are going to have a significant number of foundations within that batch of LOIs that you hear radio silence from. Don’t stress about it!

Separate the ones giving you the silent treatment from those that you are making progress. Mark on your calendar to send a new LOI to the no-response foundations on May 1 and repeat the cycle over again.

Don’t let too much time pass between your outreach method and the related follow-up. It’s possible that you (1) aren’t calling the right number or e-mailing the right person, (2) are missing the ideal time of year for foundation activity and review, or (3) you just need to keep trying.

The donor research tools mentioned above can help you find your needle in a haystack—but however good the tools are, you’re still looking for a needle in a haystack. Persistence will win the day here.


Make it a point to get creative on your outreach. What’s the old saying? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result is equivalent to insanity.

Here are a few ideas to realize success and avoid insanity.

  • Email templates: Alternate between thorough emails and short and snappy emails. A foundation or donor may appreciate the brevity.
  • Handwritten notes: After your letter is sent, try a more personal follow-up approach by telling the foundation that you’d like to learn more about their philanthropic priorities by phone or Zoom. In this digital age, sometimes a phone or Zoom call rather than an in-person meeting is easier on everyone.
  • Events: If your organization has any upcoming events in their area, this can be a great way for them to see your group in action. If you have plans to travel to their city sometime soon, be sure to let them know you will already be in town and aren’t making a special trip.
  • Social Media: We don’t always know if our mailed letter or phone calls are reaching the right decision-makers. Try reaching out via LinkedIn to the contact you are trying to reach.

Note that when making phone calls, the door is open for new information. Instead of hanging up right away, try to get just one piece of valuable information from each phone call you make:

  • If the human on the other end tells you that they aren’t the right person to contact, ask them for a better contact name and method.
  • If the person tells you that you missed their board meeting, ask them when you should expect to submit new materials in advance of the next board meeting.
  • If he or she says that they didn’t receive the letter, ask them for the best e-mail address to forward the letter to digitally.
  • And lastly, if they tell you they just aren’t interested at this time (which is not a hard no!), let them know that you will continue to keep them in the loop periodically in case your programs re-align with their giving priorities in the future.

Remember to track this outreach diligently to look for trends and proceed when you find something that works. Tracking this outreach can shed light on what method worked for a given foundation—preparing you for future outreach and stewardship.


What happens if you still don’t get anywhere? After you’ve tried multiple methods of outreach throughout the course of the year, try sending an unsolicited proposal in the fall. There is a chance you will be considered at the final board meeting of the year. Remember: the follow-up process is just important here as it is in the inquiry stage!

And when you do get a request for proposal, be sure to get your proposal submitted within a week or less. Don’t be afraid to ask for the program officer or gatekeeper’s advice on specific proposal submission guidelines, length or format of proposal, or a geographic focus to keep in mind.

Then you can just take your proposal template and adjust it accordingly.


Don’t limit your proposal to just foundations! Major donors may appreciate the formal, detailed document as well. Even better, you can use your proposal to re-engage lapsed donors with a personalized cover letter or a handwritten note from your organization’s leader.


A well-rounded proposal can be widely used—for prospects, major donors, and lapsed donors—and can help you cast a wider net in a timely manner to ensure your diligent outreach bears fruit. Don’t give up after a few no’s or radio silence on the foundation end.

Have some persistence, and take a creative approach to your 5-7 rounds of follow-up if you really want to stand out and get from the inquiry phase to proposal submission—and ultimately, to new foundation funding for your organization!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *