Don’t make cold calls; make tepid calls instead

In our recent live interview with “Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants,” author, Marty Teitel, we asked all of you on the webinar, “How many of you have received a grant?” A surprising 30 percent had never been a grantee. I would have confidently guessed 90 percent or more of you had earned the support of a foundation.

It’s a good reminder there are many organizations still in their founding years or perhaps securing a mix of earned income and other funds that makes cultivating foundations less critical. For the rest of you aspiring to be among the 70 percent who call foundations their friends, author Marty Teitel is anxious to share his perspectives as a former foundation CEO.

In our Page to Practice™ summary of “Winning Foundation Grants” by Martin Teitel, we promised you some excerpts of Part Four: “Administering the truth-detector test to America’s charitable foundations.” Teitel offers his best and most truthful answers to some of the questions his readers wanted to know. In the passage below, Teitel addresses the challenge with cold calls.

Readers: Generally speaking, foundations loathe cold calls from grant seekers.

Teitel: Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed: this is true! Whenever my kids leave the house, I’m unable to resist telling them to drive safely, even through it’s a ritualistic mantra of the painfully obvious.  Similarly, I’ve written articles and given talks admonishing grant seekers to review the rules before applying to any foundation, but I think I’ve had little effect.

Cold calls have consequences.

One is foundations hire more people to answer the phones. The salaries and fringe benefits of these functionaries are counted as charitable expenditures that could have been grants. Lazy cold callers not only diminish their chances of getting a grant, they also make it more difficult for everyone else to secure funding.

Second, people like me built elaborate moats. In my time as a funder, I was practically impossible to reach. This is because the majority of the calls that came in for me were an irredeemably total waste of my time.

Does my behavior run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Yes – I know I might have missed a call from someone with a fabulous brainstorm. I can only hope those with good ideas read the rules and got to me via the established channels.

If you nevertheless feel a need to pitch an idea to a program officer over the phone, first send an email explaining what you want to talk about and why there’s value for both parties to talk. This approach has worked with me, although since the call was preceded by a letter, it’s not really cold – more kind of tepid.

If you enjoyed our live author interview with Marty Teitel, don’t forget to register for our next interview about winning nonprofit business models with coauthor, Lester Olmstead-Rose, who is a senior strategist with La Piana Consulting.

See also:

The Foundation: A Great American Secret; How Private Wealth is Changing the World
Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

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