An Introvert’s Top 3 Tips for Approaching Grant-making Foundations

Many people become grant writers because they’re better with words than people. And by many, I mean me. You too, maybe? Seriously though, in my 25+ years in nonprofit fundraising, I have met many more introverts than extroverts who gravitate toward grant writing and management versus individual donors or special events.

But here’s the trick. Even though many foundations may seem like faceless institutions hidden behind online portals and fancy office buildings, each grant-making decision is made by a person or group. And some foundations are doing great work out there. Check out this episode of the Fundraising HayDay podcast to learn more about “Grantmakers Gone Right”: Grant Makers Gone Right ( By not pursuing meaningful connections with those people, you may leave grant money on the table. More importantly, the communities you serve could miss out on vital grant funds to transform their lives.

Whether you’re an introvert like me or the life of every party, here are my tried-and-true ways to make meaningful connections with foundations, even those that don’t accept unsolicited applications. Let’s start with those foundations that are perfect fits with reasonable grant cycles and award ranges that make sense for what you’re trying to fund. Then you read (cue the spine-tingling horror movie music) those dreaded words “no unsolicited applications accepted” buried deep in the 990 or in plain view on a sunny, well-lit website.

I recently followed Tip #1 detailed below for a client, and it led us through a quick invitation to an LOI followed by a site visit. INTROVERT ALERT! It was all through email.

  1. Carefully research the foundation through subscription databases, their website, 990s, professional contacts, and their social media posts—make sure it’s a solid fit with their focus areas, giving amounts, geographic areas of giving, etc.
    1. Write a one-page LOI-style explanation of your organization and how the program, project, or equipment you’re seeking dovetails with the foundation’s stated objectives and focus areas.
    2. Create a short list of bullet points to use in an introductory email or a phone call. Even if you’re not making that contact, going over this extra step with the person who is can save much time for them. In this most recent case, the agency’s Executive Director reviewed the document, crafted an email from the talking points, and attached the summary. The rest is history (in the making, as the agency is awaiting the results from the site visit).
  2. Communicate outside the grant cycle with foundations new to your organization and those who are steady supporters. This tip also comes in Introvert or Extravert flavors.
    1. Set up a time to meet for coffee or invite program officers or board members for a site visit. I’ve had plenty of people turn me down, and plenty accept, but
      I’ve never had any tell me that they will never accept another grant because I made the invitation. This works best for family foundations, private foundations large enough to support staff, and corporate foundations with local/regional offices.
    2. Get old-fashioned and send them a handwritten note with an article that may be of interest.
    3. Make sure that your contacts receive invitations to agency events. Invite them to subscribe to the agency’s newsletter. Tag them in social media posts on programs or projects they helped to fund or that they may be interested in funding if you work in a larger organization and coordinate outreach efforts with the events team or the marketing department.
  3. Follow up promptly.
    1. Y’all, send those reports in on time. I know it can be challenging to get outcomes data, solve the mystery of the missing receipt, and juggle deadlines, but clear, prompt communication can go a long way to building trust and securing future grants.
    2. Send a personalized thank you letter or informal social media post thanking the foundation, especially if you are not the person who signs the official grant agreement and acknowledgment letter. Building in those layers of communication can foster stronger working relationships.

When you’re sorting through 15 attachments, converting pesky PDFs, and counting characters, it can be hard to remember that beyond that mysterious online portal are actual people. Taking just a little time to make connections now and then could be the start of a beautiful friendship—or at least a beautiful dialogue about how they could improve their application process. 😊


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.

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