Sara---Your interest in such protocol, and the sensitivities attached to it, were evident with your original board message and the way you have assessed the advice given. You are wise to give such thoughtful consideration when asking people for their money.
Even if the program officer politely waves off that you need not be concerned and that the trustee-to-trustee route was ok, you will have established a firm and warm personal relationship with that program officer---one based on trust with full disclosure by you of your intentions and activities, and respect for that person's job.
As we discussed, you go case by case as you learn about each foundation. Some do not have program officers as such and the route to the trustees is much shorter and not as multilayered as some. Were you to know that inquiries and proposals were only opened in an office and then sent on to the foundation's attorney or bank trust officer, you might find that your trustee contact to theirs would work fine.
This all reminds me of a meeting I had with the manager of the Cleveland, Ohio local division of a company based in Houston, Texas. While discussing the process of seeking grants from the Houston-based Foundation, this fellow almost gleefully told me that when locals go around him and go directly to the home office, the requests are immediately forwarded to him without reading, and when he gets them, "they go right into the waste basket," also without reading. A drastic case I know, but a good lesson to learn, none the less.
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