Building a relationship is certainly the preferred route for getting a grant. But short of that, an unsolicited proposal may be just the trick to get a grant.
It’s the new year and it’s time to take a look at your foundations calendar. As you look at your list of lapsed and prospective foundations, it’s particularly important to make a note in your calendar, not only for mailing LOIs and following up, but for the time to send an unsolicited proposal.
Perhaps you’re thinking, is it ever okay to send an unsolicited proposal? What’s the point?
Foundations fundraising can seem opaque, but it’s by and large a numbers game. (Of course, a good mission is first and foremost a priority!) Success over time with foundations comes from consistent and aggressive outreach. And too many organizations are missing opportunities by failing to send unsolicited proposals to foundations at the appropriate times. So, here are a few situations in which it is appropriate to send an unsolicited proposal.
First: by "unsolicited proposal," I mean one that has not been requested (solicited) by the potential donor. This means that you are either sending it without having sent an initial letter of inquiry or meeting request letter or that the foundation was unresponsive to your LOIs or MRLs.
There are a few reasons why you might send a proposal without an LOI. First, a foundation may indicate on a Form 990 (Part XV) that proposals may be sent to a point of contact at a stated address. If you have no other information on a foundation indicating otherwise, this is a clear sign that they are open to receiving unsolicited proposals. Anytime you are reviewing a 990, keep an eye out for this section.
(On the other hand, some foundations will use that same section of the 990 to say that they “only contribute to preselected charitable organizations.” They make this statement with the check of a box. Don’t take this to mean that you cannot reach out. That’s what a letter or inquiry is for! You need to introduce your organization so that you can become one of those “preselected organizations.”)
Another reason one might send an unsolicited proposal is because of some intel a member of your staff has or that a third party has given you. Someone may have personal knowledge of a particular foundation and may advise that an unsolicited proposal is a fitting approach.
Finally, and most importantly, if you know they have a deadline approaching and you don’t have time to cultivate a relationship (or the foundation has been unresponsive to prior outreach), send an unsolicited proposal. This proposal might initiate a gift or might be the trigger needed to start the conversation and a relationship. As a rule, foundations are people, too, and leading with a relationship or an LOI is a preferred practice—but if that fails, there’s no harm done in just asking for a gift.
This is also a good practice at the end of the year: make a note to send your proposal template in October to every unresponsive foundation you have reached out to throughout the year.
As you set your task matrixes, build calendars, and set goals, don’t hesitate to plan to send unsolicited proposals ahead of deadlines or the end of the year. You may not need this task if all goes according to plan—but being prepared and knowing the right time to send will increase the opportunity that you might land a new gift or start a conversation.