You’ve got your project, proposal, and passion all in alignment. Now all you need is supportive grant funding. You’ve found many historic funders of large donations in your local area and specialty!
It turns out there is a caveat: every potential funder’s website you go to is an invite-only funder. What does it even mean and what do these funders want to see?
In this post, we’ll answer all your questions around invite-only grant funders, teach you how to get invitations from these funders, and tell you what mistakes to avoid making when approaching invitation-only funders.
What Is an Invitation Only Funder?
Invitation only funders are organizations or foundations that have limited their applicant pools to only those who they have asked to apply for their grants.
There are many ways these grantmakers may introduce an invite-only process for their eligibility cycles.
these grant funders may only allow previous applicants another opportunity to apply. Or,
some funders only allow new applicants that serve a particular geography or cause.
Still some other funders only support emerging projects who haven't received any funding yet and need a launching pad.
There are many different types of invitation-only funders but don’t let this discourage you!
These funders each have the same goal in mind which is to find the most perfectly-aligned candidate for their funding. When you find a good fit, you can usually stay comfortably there knowing that you’re exactly what they were looking for.
Why Do Foundations Opt for Invitation-Only Grants?
Why would a funding organization have to become picky about who can get their attention?
While it may look like the organization is acting less generously or more selectively, it’s most likely that this organization is simply trying to optimize its resources, time, and funds.
To summarize, the foundation may be invite-only for the following reasons:
Surge in Successful Projects: The foundation faces an influx of successful projects, necessitating a more selective approach.
Focusing on Specific Areas of Interest: Foundations increase funding for projects aligned with past successes, providing opportunities for organizations.
Consistent Funding Preferences: Some foundations prefer consistent funding for successful projects and maintain exclusive partnerships, making it challenging for new entrants.
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Invite-only RFPs involve personal invitations from the grant-maker to selected organizations, while Open RFPs (Requests for Proposals) are accessible to a broader range of organizations willing to apply based on the publicly available criteria.
Invitations can be extended via email, formal letters, or direct phone calls from a representative of the funding organization.
The grant-maker typically reaches out to the nonprofit, expressing interest in the organization and engaging in conversations with its executives, development staff, or program staff. These conversations and interactions may eventually lead to an official invitation to submit a grant proposal.
In contrast, Open RFPs are publicly accessible opportunities that are open to any nonprofit or 501(c)3 entity that meets the eligibility criteria set by the grant-maker. These RFPs are typically published on the funder's website and may also appear on grants databases or other public platforms.
Open RFPs come with general guidelines on how to submit a proposal and eligibility information. Here, grant-makers want to engage as many qualified applicants as possible, including organizations that the grant-maker may not have previously worked with or heard of.
Pros And Cons Of Open And Closed RFPs
Whether you are applying for funding through an open RFP process or an invite-only opportunity, you will need to understand and assess the pros and cons of each.
Open RFP Pros and Cons:
Accessibility: Open RFPs offer accessibility to organizations without prior relationships with grant funders.
Merit-Based Funding: Funding is awarded based on the merits of the proposal, rather than biases or connections with funders.
Increased Competition: Open RFPs are highly competitive due to their accessibility to a broad applicant pool.
Invite-Only RFP Pros and Cons:
Reduced Competition: Invite-only RFPs typically involve less competition, but proposals should still be highly competitive.
Pre-Selection: Grantmakers have already reviewed a pool of potential applicants and selected organizations to invite.
Challenges in Securing an Invitation: Securing an invitation can be challenging, particularly for smaller or newer nonprofits with limited funder connections.
Strategies for Visibility: Strategies to improve visibility and chances of securing an invitation are discussed further in the article.
How Invite-Only Grant Funders Identify Recipients?
It's frustrating to find funder after funder that only accepts proposals from invited applicants. There are three main ways invite-only grant funders identify recipients.
Let's take a look at each method in more detail:
Internal Research and Analysis: Program officers and specialists evaluate various organizations to align with the funder's mission. They analyze the nonprofit's funding history, organizational track record, and overall contributions to identify compatibility with the Request for Proposal (RFP). To stand out, nonprofits can publish detailed and engaging reports about their work on their website and communication platforms, providing valuable insights to funders.
Networking and Industry Events: Invite-only grant funders leverage personal connections to identify potential grantees. Industry events provide opportunities for funders to gather information and establish connections with organizations that can further their missions through partnerships.
Referrals and Recommendations from Trusted Sources: Recommendations may come from board members, sector experts, or existing grantee partners. Building and nurturing your network while understanding key individuals within foundations are essential steps in developing strong funder relationships.
"Look for ways to start a relationship. See if you or anyone on your board or staff have a LinkedIn connection to anyone at the funder. Go where they might run into you, like civic clubs, etc.. Make sure that you have a rock solid mission match with them, so that when you do meet them, even informally, you can quickly get their attention as a possible grant recipient."
8 Strategies to Secure Grant Invitations
Securing grant invitations from Invite-Only funders may appear challenging at first glance, but with the appropriate strategies any organization can position themselves as an attractive prospect for funders.
Below are a few key strategies for getting a grant invitation.
1. Understanding the Grantor's Mission and Values To Tailor Your Approach
One of the primary elements an Invite-Only grant funder will look for in a potential grantee is alignment with their mission and values.
Funders start grantmaking programs and make awards with the goal of partnering with organizations they know will help advance their own mission.
Veronica Kulon, Grant Professional and Consultant, advises you to customize your approach to Invite-Only funders:
"Tailor your grant proposal and communication to the specific preferences and priorities of the invite-only funder. Understand their unique criteria and adapt your materials accordingly. Take the time to research the funders' past grant recipients and projects they've supported. If your work aligns with their past interests, make this connection explicit in your proposal."
2. Building a Strong Organizational Track Record
Funders want to be certain that they are investing in organizations they can rely on. This trust can be built by showcasing the efficacy of your work and ensuring a strong organizational track record.
Publishing financial and impact reports on your website illustrates the effectiveness with which you manage revenue and how these dollars lead to positive outcomes for your community.
Tay Hughes, Grants Manager and expert in securing six-figure gifts from invite-only funders, shares that "Invite-only foundations and funders often seek measurable impact. Clearly outline your proposed project's expected outcomes, how you'll measure success, and the long-term benefits it will bring. These strategies have proven effective for me and significantly increased the chances of securing funding from exclusive grantors."
You can also use data in your nonprofit’s annual report to show funders how you’ve been able to positively leverage partnerships with other funding organizations to advance your impact.
3. Effective Networking and Relationship Building
Earlier, we explained how Invite-Only grant funders often rely on sector events and networking to determine who they should invite to submit an application.
You can increase the likelihood of securing an invitation by improving your relationship-building skills and broadening your network. A great way to work on this is by preparing an elevator pitch.
By preparing an elevator pitch prior to attending conferences, networking events, or reaching out to key people at foundations and in your community, you will be all the more prepared to make a strong, compelling case for your organization and why it deserves funding.
"Make sure you are a match to their interests and past giving. What in their history indicates that they might be interested in you or that your cause will be important to them? Suggest an interesting partnership or opportunity.
Do you have a project that will have a big community impact and need a visionary leader to provide some guidance and funding to support the effort?
Or is there a partner you would like to work with because you believe it will enhance both of your organization's work? Funding to secure that partnership or bring resources to make it work/make change happen would be the approach.
"Share how you have had an impact before. What has worked, what have you learned, and how would you apply your past successes to this initiative if you had the resources needed to get it underway? Leverage something the funder has done before as an example - how they innovated or influenced change and connect the dots to your request.
"Don't do all of this by email. Make a suggestion of the project or impact and invite them to meet for their ideas and input. One of the questions you could ask during the input session is what about the project would best connect for funders like them to invest in the effort."
4. Crafting a Compelling Grant Proposal
A compelling grant proposal is at the heart of any successful funding request—invitation only or otherwise.
Carolyn M. Appleton, a seasoned professional in nonprofit fundraising and communications, offers this invaluable guidance:
"Take nothing for granted, even if you are amongst an elite pool of select applicants. Respond with care and consideration as if you are an entirely new and eager applicant."
Her advice underscores the significance of approaching each grant application with diligence and humility.
Prepare for the eventuality that you may be invited to submit a proposal to an Invite-Only grant funder by developing a strong grant proposal. Many organizations develop boilerplate proposals that provide an overview, needs statements, and general information about their organization that is ready to send out to funders with only minor edits specific to the grant opportunity.
When it comes to securing funding for your nonprofit organizations, continuous improvement and seeking feedback will only improve and strengthen your fundraising strategy and success rate.
Even if you have done everything you can think of to perfect your nonprofit’s grant proposal, there is always room for improvement.
When you submit an unsuccessful proposal it is best practice to reach out to the funder and request additional information or feedback to identify why your application was not a success. Sometimes funders do not award applicants because there are simply too many that year and they had to make difficult decisions about who would win the grant.
However, there are sometimes specific reasons they award an organization over another and their feedback can be monumentally beneficial to improving your grant proposals in the future.
6. Engaging in Collaborative and Partnership Grants
Most successful nonprofits collaborate and partner with similar organizations to deepen and strengthen their impacts within the community they serve. Not only can these collaborations help you advance your mission, they can also open new avenues to funding opportunities.
Don’t neglect your partnerships with other nonprofit organizations! You can submit a collaborative proposal in partnership with a nonprofit that has a relationship with the Invite-Only funder.
7. Staying Updated With Industry Trends and Grantor Preferences
Staying up to date on grant writing trends and funder preferences can help you develop strong grant proposals tailored to the preferences of specific funders—including Invite-Only funders.
Luckily there are so many tools and resources available to nonprofits to effectively research funders and stay on top of industry trends.
There are over 400,000 funders on Instrumentl and we match you with the ones that are relevant to your nonprofit.
Instrumentl simplifies the process of finding Invite-Only grants.
Once, you've set up your account in Instrumentl, selecting the types of grants you're looking for, here's how to find Invite-Only funders using Foundation Discovery. You'll find grants that may be Invite-Only or don’t even have a website!
Within your Instrumentl Matches, look for the new tab Funder Matches.
Relationship building is key to going after any funder. With Invite-Only funders, however, your funding strategy will rely on relationship building.
Foundation Discovery gives you the insights and clues to completing that first outreach by providing you with the funder’s Contact Information, Key People on their Board, and who their Past Grantees are.
Filter by Invite-Only funders in your matches. Select the box “Include invite-only funders.”
Scroll through your grant opportunities, clicking on the one's you want to explore further.
When browsing through your matched Funders, you can see...
Their openness to new grantees:
Their giving by NTEE Code:
Past Grantees, and more - all in one place:
With everything in one view, now your Instrumentl Matches will show you active opportunities and funders that may not be so visible, while utilizing Advanced Funder Insights to help you more quickly determine the good fit funders for your organization.
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How To Find Alternative Grants If You Aren't Invited To Apply
While you work on making connections in the industry and cultivate relationships with funders you can still pursue other avenues for securing support for your organization.
From open private funding opportunities to public grants to individual fundraising, there is no limit to what your nonprofit can achieve with effective and diverse fundraising efforts!
Exploring Open RFPs and Public Grants
When securing grants for your nonprofit, it is important to diversify.
You should explore open RFPs from foundations, corporate funders, and public institutions to diversify your grant portfolio. Different types of funds can provide your organization with different types of program funding, general operating funding, and multi-year funding that can sustain your work for years to come.
Instrumentl is an important tool for finding and identifying active RFPs that align strongly with your organization’s mission and values. You can browse the platform’s extensive grant database and find new opportunities that match your nonprofit’s needs today!
Crowdfunding and Community Funding
You should not only diversify the types of grants you apply for, but you should also diversify your overall fundraising initiatives.
One of the key ways to secure flexible dollars that can support your organization over the long term is through individual giving.
When it comes to growing your nonprofit’s revenue, every dollar counts. Crowdfunding, a method of engaging large amounts of individual donors for smaller amounts, can help you reach your fundraising goals and engage new supporters.
Partnering With Established Entities for Joint Applications
Not only is engaging and working with partners across your community an effective strategy for strengthening your programs and achieving greater success, it is also a great method for reaching new funders by applying for joint applications.
Remember that leveraging existing relationships will only strengthen your chances to connect with Invite-Only funders. Partner with nonprofits that have already developed a relationship and have already been invited to apply.
Pitfalls in Pursuing Exclusive Grant Opportunities
When in pursuit of an Invite-Only grant opportunity, there are few things you should avoid. Check out the most common pitfalls below.
Avoid Using LinkedIn Profiles Inappropriately
While LinkedIn is a great resource for relationship building and developing a network, it is never a great resource for reaching out to funders.
LinkedIn might provide great information and insight into the grantmaking entity you are pursuing, but it should never be used to reach out to funders or to have formal conversations associated with potential grant opportunities. These conversations should always be had in a professional setting and initial outreach should always happen over e-mail or via phone.
Don't Send Unsolicited Physical Proposals
Some Invite-Only funders are okay with organizations reaching out but this does not mean sending in a full, hardcopy grant proposal.
Funders receive so many communications throughout the year that it can be hard to keep up and it can be burdensome to receive additional information or content that they never requested. A funder may see a full proposal of that nature and feel frustrated and less likely to invite your organization to submit an application due to the fact that you were unable to follow directions or understand their process.
Always be strategic and reach out to funders through the appropriate channels.
Persist in Your Efforts
Don’t give up!
Simply because you haven’t heard from an invitation-only funder in a year or two does not mean that it is a lost cause.
Keep working the recommended strategies above, growing your overall fundraising strategy, and providing documentation and information that proves the efficacy of your work and you will no doubt see positive results soon.
Email Template for Invitation-Only Grants
Below you’ll find a potential email template to an Invite-Only funder you might use if the funder allows and is open for you to contact them with questions or interest. Sending a variation of this Invite-Only funder email template can potentially open the door when done consistently.
If the funder’s website explicitly says, “invitation-only, no soliciting,” please don’t solicit them. It will only backfire!
If the funder outlines a very specific letter of interest format, follow that exactly.
Although [Insert your organization] was not invited to apply for your generous offerings this cycle, we would like to ask how we might become eligible for an invitation in the future.
Because [Insert your organization] is currently [What stage are you in? Searching for funding? Looking to expand? Establishing in a new community, etc], we are eager to make relationships with community leaders like [Funder].
How can we begin a conversation about what you’re looking for and what we offer?
Briefly, our organization, [Share impact] is aligned with your [Funder’s] desired outcomes of [Look up goals and actually quote one]. For [# of years], we have provided [Services, etc] to [Population, community, etc]. Our success is seen [Share your nonprofit’s results, data, community impact, etc].
Based on your history of funding and support on your website, we would be honored to be considered for an invitation towards partnership for our next project, [Your next project].
Please let us know what the best way to meet with you could be.
Bear in mind:
It’s very important that you reach out to exclusive foundations like you would any potential funder: with tact, respect, and a certain level of ask.
That is to say that you are requesting an amount of money to potentially improve a situation in your community and it is crucial that you do so from a place of compassion, goodwill, and growth instead of arrogance and entitlement.
It’s okay if you’re angry about the status quo and are motivated to change it. But, the status quo will not change if you show your anger to the funders who could help your organization make the difference you’re craving. Their exclusivity could have been justified for many reasons but preventing nonprofits like yours from being able to make positive change isn’t one of them. Treat all funders like they want to help because they definitely do!
Wrapping Up: The Next Steps in Navigating Exclusive Grant Opportunities
So now you know that when you come across an Invite-Only funder, it isn’t necessarily elusive or impossible.
With a little elbow grease, you could find your grant proposal in their approved file sooner than later.
Remember that your project, grant proposal, and passion are aligned and you can take that triple threat to bat until you're funded. You're up next and invitation-only funders don't have to strike you out.
Take a second, strategize, build up your network, and look towards the funders who want to open up a dialogue with you. You’re closer to funding than you think!