Avoid the cold proposal — find a contact

When you’re raising funds from individual donors, the need for strong social and professional connections is a given. But when you’re going after foundation and corporation dollars, do connections matter?

They do matter, according to Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Your grant proposal gets a tremendous boost when the funder knows and trusts your organization and its staff. Investing in a known rather than an unknown just makes good sense.”

Whenever possible, said Thompson, avoid cold grant requests. If you don’t have a relationship with the funder, invest time in finding people connected to your organization who know the funder and can advocate on your behalf.  When looking for champions, consider these sources:

  • The Board. Board members are likely to be your most passionate advocates, as well as the best connected. Give them the names of the funder’s board members and leadership team to see who knows whom. You can also ask your board members to circulate the list to their closest contacts.
  • Volunteers. Like board members, volunteers can be powerful advocates because they believe enough in your organization to donate their time. Share the funder contact list with your most active volunteers to see if there’s a connection.
  • Service Providers. Funders in your community are likely to know the bankers, attorneys, and business people with whom your organization works. Reach out to people you know and trust. They might be willing to make an introduction.
  • Staff. Staff might be connected with funders through school, church, or friends. It happens all the time, but you won’t know unless you ask.  

To sum it up, if you don’t have an existing organizational relationship with the funder, do this kind of detective work and get your champions involved before you submit the proposal. Your request has a better chance of success if it’s not cold.