Kate---The many decision-makers at donor foundations whom I have come to know over many years, stand far apart from the one you described.
Apparently, that foundation officer sees a proposal’s value with an eye only to being able to recognize the charity, instead of seeing something of value in what the charity is doing---wants to do---and which meets the foundation’s granting guidelines. So, take heart, it’s the idea---the cause which stirs interest---which leads to the subsequent, encouraging, steps for you to be “heard of” and be asked to provide additional information, which attracts their further interest, thus getting them involved, with the good chance they will ultimately make an “investment” in your organization.
However, your ED has told you what to do in every case prior to the presentation of any proposal. The boss has spoken, so the suggestion/directive must be taken seriously of course. Such information-only packets of communication to potential donors will do no harm. You will not risk a premature rejection since you are not asking for money---especially if you meet the guidelines. You would not send information-only packets, letters-of-inquiry, proposal outlines, or full-blown proposals in such a scattershot way, in the first place.
But, you might be able to compliment your ED’s good intent, with a better working process to establish relationships with potential grantors. So, let’s start to work with the first or following tiers of the foundations which give money in your area of operation, and which you have researched well enough to know that you meet their funding requirements (as best you can). Chances are you are in a community where there are in fact relatively few viable foundations. Even in a large city, there are only so many which can be identified as being good and practical prospects. All of this is for me to say that rather than simply sending “get-to-know-us” packets, that we take on a far more personal approach to meeting with them.
When you can reasonably match a prospect to a program or service, or to basic operation’s needs, a “Letter Of Inquiry” could be in order all or most of the time. Such communications seem to be what is mostly desired these days. Naturally, you’ll followup within a short and practical time---never to expect them to come back to you first.
What I focused on regarding the “select” group of non-donor foundation prospects I wanted to “court,” was done with personal contact to:
1. Bring them to our organization.
2. Go out to meet with them
3. Keep in touch with them.
4. Look for ways through our own “family” to make use of business & social contacts our board and others had with the prospects.
5. Bring them closer. Find ways to connect them with program & other staff.
--- Site Visits: There is no better way to expose prospects to the good works your organization does than by having them visit your facilities, or than by taking them to another location to see the results of a project or program of your organization. We call these events site visits and when donors are on site:
• You have their undivided attention.
• They can be shown exactly how contributions are being used.
• You can introduce them to key staff.
• They can meet individuals benefiting from the organization.
• They ask questions, the answers to which may allow for additional contact.
• They acquire information that they will share with others.
--- Going Where the prospects Are: It's not always possible to bring prospective grantors to your organization in order to get face time with them. So, does that mean you give up on your efforts to have in-person communication with them too busy to commit to visiting? Not by a long shot. Take the initiative and make a site visit of your own---to a prospect's site. Schedule an appointment to pay a call on a prospect you wish to cultivate, and have a reason for that call. Share information on new projects. Bring along a board member or a staff person you would like the prospect to meet.
Maybe best of all, set up an appointment with the prospect to ask the prospect's advice about something. Asking someone for help is the most flattering thing you can do. There are few things that will draw prospective donors closer to an organization on a professional level than having the organization turn to them for their knowledge and expertise. Just think, there you are asking for something, and it isn't money.
A development officer who rarely leaves his or her organization's headquarters is like a salesperson who sits by the phone waiting for orders to come in. When a campaign is on, you don't wait for people to reach for their checkbooks and give you money. Well, you can't cultivate donors that way either. You have to make contact with them, and no contact is better than face-to-face, one-on-one, and more times than not, the only way you can get it is to go looking for it.
Kate---Possibly more than you wanted to know. Even so, I’ve got more if you care to read my article:
--- “Building Donor Loyalty”
Go get ‘em!