Jana Jane Hexter
Approaching National Foundations
Congratulations. Since you are so good at your job you have successfully approached all the foundations in your local community and now you need to widen your horizons.
We’re going to talk about writing one- to two-page Letters of Interest (LOI) to foundations that give grants across the nation. I know, it can seem a little intimidating when you are used to writing for a local audience. It’s one thing to approach a foundation that knows and loves your organization. It’s quite another to send an LOI to Kansas and not know whether Dorothy will even read it.
But Oz isn’t quite as intimidating as it may appear. Just like our intrepid friends you can find your way there with a little heart, brain, and courage.
Have a Heart
First, don't beat yourself up about the task ahead. You are playing in a bigger pool here. National foundations are very competitive. They just are. The best you can do is to write from the heart of your organization with conviction and passion.
Remember, the reviewers will be completely unfamiliar with your organization so you need to paint a picture that depicts your community to a complete stranger. Don’t take it for granted that they will understand that it is two hours to the nearest Greyhound bus station or that you are covered in snow for six months a year. They may be reading from San Antonio and have forgotten what 40 degrees even feels like.
And, these reviewers won’t have a chance to see and feel your commitment and compassion via a face to face meeting. They need to feel it from your words. So, write with the heart of Tin Man.
Have a Brain
Think strategically. You could use a scatter shot approach and send in a cookie cutter application to 50 foundations. Or you take a note out of Scarecrow’s book and think about the best approach.
Build on your relationships and local friends and funders if they would be able to open doors for you with national foundations. Your strong supporters will be happy to do this when they can since they understand the power of the service that you provide.
And, it is better to submit five targeted applications than 50 random applications. So, consider which foundations are most closely aligned with your mission and pick projects that are a great fit for them. Then write specifically for them – referencing their mission and focus.
And doing this, demands that you have the courage of Lion. Because, risking failure takes courage. And the odds in this game are not stacked in your favor. If you are a fit for them you are a fit for them. If you’re not, you’re not. But persistence pays.
You don't have to be perfect and always win. You just have to try. And with persistence you will win some. And when you successfully win grant funding from a national foundation it helps your clients, adds credibility to your organization, and validates your existing donors. It’s a win-win all around.
So, if you are faced with writing an LOI to a distant funder, take heart, have a brain and act with courage and you will reach Oz eventually.
And when you get there, you will find that it all managed by a man behind the curtain. Program officers are just human as you and I – although let’s give them credit for having a pretty big heart.
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