“No Unsolicited” Foundations: No Means Yes?

In real life, no definitely means no. But in the nonprofit world, foundations that are adamant about their policy of preferring to initiate grant-giving relationships might allow a tiny bit of wiggle room. Here’s how to approach “no unsolicited” foundations for the best results.

no unsolicited foundations

Don’t put that suitcase down just yet.


First and foremost, a good grant writer must determine whether a request is worth the pursuit. The quickest way to do this is to check out your prospect’s two or three most recent 990s. Does the foundation only fund the same handful of nonprofits year after year? Or do they fund a shifting group of dozens of organizations? How well do your organization’s services align with their funding priorities, stated or implied?

You’ll find that there are many “no unsolicited” foundations that indeed only have eyes for their pet projects. There are also many who only support a very specific cause – let’s say funding piano lessons for blind children in Atlanta – and the reason they’re not bothering with new requests is that they’re already familiar with the entire list of nonprofits that provide this service. You might as well strike these prospects from your pipeline. There are also, however, a few “no unsolicited” foundations of the secretly more open-minded variety.

The trick to angling for an invitation to submit is person-to-person contact. If one of your board members happens to know one of theirs, ask them to reach out or to arrange for you to meet with the foundation’s grants director. Or make a polite phone inquiry in which you briefly introduce your nonprofit’s work. Rehearse a two-minute summary that highlights your understanding of the grantmaker’s objectives and your 100% alignment with them. If there’s a good reason that their grant committee hasn’t approached you yet, lay it out. Maybe you’re small or have only recently initiated the program you’re seeking to get funded.

no unsolicited

For the strict parents of your beloved and “no unsolicited” foundations, a cautious approach is best.


Your goal is to make yourself visible, not to make a hard sell. One common reason why foundations spurn the barrage of LOIs in the first place is because they’ve grown disgusted with hard sells. Many philanthropists are deeply, personally invested in their chosen cause, and they want to see that it’s meaningful to you, too. In this case reframing your nonprofit’s work by emphasizing only relevant points just won’t cut it – there must be 100% alignment for the pursuit of a “no unsolicited” foundation to have any chance at all.

If you are considering applying to a foundation that’s not seeking applicants because you’re short on other prospects, a better strategy might be to invest that time and effort in beefing up your pipeline. Get in touch with Wild Fundraising at contact@sarahwildfundraising.com or 619-436-7161 to get started today.