This blog post was written in response to a question posted on a professional discussion forum (AFP on LinkedIn): how to break into those foundations who state they do not accept unsolicited applications.
This is one of the grant professions' perennial challenges -- how to get foundations to know you exist and get on their list of people they do accept applications from.
If any foundation ever says that you may contact its staff with questions by phone or email, definitely do so. That is -- if you have a legitimate question. They will all recognize a sham question designed to disguise a fishing trip every time. While you can always try the old, "how does one get added to the list?" question, it rarely works.
If you are allowed to email for information, you have nothing to lose by contacting the funder and requesting guidelines. You can explain you are new to grant seeking and are trying to learn all that you can on behalf of your organization. But do not expect that this will result in a staffer seeing your signature line and suddenly adding your organization's name to the "acceptable" list.
It takes time. You have to spend most of your energy and precious time on those foundations for whom your organization is an obvious, slam-dunk fit. Do a good job with this short list. Bring them projects they will get excited about. Spend their money properly. Submit prompt, creative, transparent reports about what they helped you accomplish.
While it never hurts to always keep a "B" list of "not-hot" prospects and contacting them when it seems relevant, do your best to build strong, long, mutually-beneficial relationships with your "A" list. If they love you, they will talk to other foundations. They may also be willing, someday, after they know and trust you really well, to call another foundation on your behalf or tell you to call and use their name. I have seen it happen.
In this regard, grant seeking is like all other fundraising strategies in your toolbox -- you must honor donor wishes and "listen the gift." Donors give to what excites them. You present them with the opportunity to get to know you better and invest in your success. Just know that many, many of them will politely choose not to take your offer. It is the nature of the profession.