Getting Your Foot In The Foundation Door

Dear Kim:

I recently submitted a brief letter of inquiry to a program officer at a major foundation about a project we are developing, seeking a meeting with him to discuss the project and get advice in developing our program in this area. I originally contacted him on the advice of another program officer at a foundation that funds us, who happens to be a personal friend of both the first program officer and myself. Less than two weeks after submitting the letter, I received back a form letter thanking us for the funding request (which we didn’t make) and rejecting the project.

How does one go back to a foundation that SHOULD be a good fit but has rejected you before you get your foot in the door? I know that sometimes foundation officers and foundation boards simply reject an idea or proposal, often because it doesn’t fit within their guidelines or they have other priorities, but it’s frustrating when that rejection occurs long before they take the time to learn about the project/organization making the request.

-Over Before It Began

Dear Over:

Don’t despair. Your experience is extremely common. As you can imagine, every foundation receives far more requests than they can fund, so often they delegate the first round of sorting to a secretary or administrator and this person glances at your letter and sends out the form rejection letter.

In a previous job, I had to sort through hundreds of letters and proposals and even though I tried to give them all a fair reading, by the end of the day, at my 100th worthy cause, I admit that I was not paying close attention. I know I could easily have sent rejection letters to people who hadn’t even applied! You should also check and see whether this foundation accepts unsolicited proposals because if they don’t, they probably send a form rejection letter to everyone who writes who they don’t already know.

What you need to do is contact your friend and ask him or her to call the program officer to let that person know you will be writing. Ask your friend if you should e-mail instead, or if you should simply call first, then send something. Your friend can sort it out and make sure the next time you approach the foundation, you at least get a hearing.

-Kim Klein