It is always discouraging to read “No unsolicited applications” on a donor website. This article will discuss what the phrase means and what you should and should not do when you encounter it.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “unsolicited” simply means “not asked for.” In the case of proposals, any application a donor does not specifically request is unsolicited. Donors may choose to only accept solicited proposals for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Received too many poor quality unsolicited proposals in the past
- Do not have enough time or people to read so many proposals
- Temporarily out of grant funds
- The application period is currently closed
- Only give funds to their network
- Do their own research in choosing grant partners
- Only fund based on personal recommendations
- Not interested in funding new organizations
If a donor specifically requests no unsolicited proposals, that does not mean you should never contact these donors, just that you should not ask them for money right away. Do some research on the donor and brainstorm good questions to ask that may lead to a dialogue.
For example, “I see you funded xx project in the past. We are running a similar project and were interested in learning more about how that project went and if you encountered any challenges.”
These types of questions will build rapport between you and the donor, and hopefully, lead to them eventually asking you to send over a proposal. Do NOT ask basic questions you could easily find the answers to online such as “what do you fund.” Don’t waste their time.
If you cannot find the donor’s contact information or do not hear back from your email, try researching others who are possibly in their network. This includes current board members, past grantees, employees, volunteers, etc. Additionally, ask your current donors if they have any contacts with the donors you are trying to network with. Donors will often know well other donors in their field, and it does not hurt to ask.
Fundraising from donors who do not accept unsolicited proposals can be difficult, but not impossible. These donors do give grants every year, and these grantees had to start somewhere to get from unsolicited to solicited. If they can, so can you.
What is your personal experience in unsolicited applications? Share with us in the comments!