“Do Not Apply”: Five Ways Around This Private Foundation Roadblock

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

The three dreaded words for grant officers, “do not apply–DNA.” They appear on private foundation profiles more often these days than ever before. Most annoying is that the funder seems particularly aligned with your mission. “If I could only get close to them, I would know the perfect thing to say,” you tell your CEO.

What do you do?

Here are five ways to get past that roadblock:

  1. Attend a funder panel. By design, such panels give you an insider view of the funder’s priorities, as well as an opportunity to meet the grant officer. These panels happen all over the country. They are usually sponsored by an intermediary group like a nonprofit resource center, a local college, or perhaps the Better Business Bureau. In New York City, Philanthropy New York sets their schedule far in advance. In Philadelphia, LaSalle University’s Nonprofit Center hosts panels twice a year, and so does the Philadelphia Philanthropy Network. In Maryland, the local Association of Fundraiser’s chapters hosts them. Recently there was a funder’s panel of Colorado funders at the Nonprofit LearningLab Conference in Denver. When I have attended them, I am always reminded of how wonderful our community of foundation professionals can be. I suggest that you do your own research and find a panel in your area.
  2. Relationship “map” your Board members and your agency’s ambassadors and stakeholders. Relationship mapping is all the rage these days, primarily because it works! You can use RelSci, or you can do it the old fashion way by talking to the people who know the funder prospect. Ask your stakeholders who they know and record their answers in your donor database. Either way, you must uncover the six degrees of separation between those that know you, and those whom you want to know. This will help you secure that elusive meeting. Recently we did this with one of our clients and five of their board members had connections with Do Not Apply foundations! Holy Grail, Batman!
  3. Ask one of your current funders or donors to call the foundation prospect for you. Recently I asked Funder Y if they would introduce me to new funders. In person, I gave Funder Y a shortlist of those dozen funders who matched our mission. Funder Y agreed to write introductory emails to four of the 12 on my list! I have since secured one new grant and have three pending grants in review. It was an unmitigated home run. In another case, I had lunch with a long-term donor. I showed him my shortlist of donors I had not been able to reach. He knew one of the people listed and agreed to contact them for me. That’s how it works, but you have to ask for help.
  4. Attend “other than nonprofit” industry events, professional gatherings. I have signed up for conferences where realtors, financial planners, and bankers gather. I have attended community business associations, Chambers of Commerce, and Rotary clubs galore, and I have met many new potential funders there for the first time! I always leave elated because of the connection made. Sometimes I meet two or three or four people who know of the nonprofit agency’s work but had never been asked to give. In some cases, I have even been invited back to make a presentation about our work. That happened at a conference for religious leaders, and one of our ex-trustees was in attendance. The connection enabled me to ask him to include our agency in his estate plans, a request he gladly agreed to.
  5. Twitter/Google Alerts: Lastly one of our faithful readers, JaneNYC, shared with me that she follows the funders on Twitter for the sole purpose of reading their posts, and searching for the synergies. I have started that myself recently and learned a lot. I also added Google Alerts based on the foundation’s name to stay informed about their movements that way.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog. 

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