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How to Get Your Foot in the Foundation Door

Mar 26

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Tuesday, March 26, 2013  RssIcon

Across the U.S., private foundations are experiencing an ever-increasing demand for grant funding.  Unfortunately, for many of these agencies, the supply of funding has diminished in recent years. Among hundreds or even thousands of unsolicited grant proposals, few new applicants are able to close the deal by receiving an award. Despite this bleak reality, there are several steps your organization can take to strengthen your approach to foundation funding and increase your likelihood of being among the elite organizations awarded with grant support.


Arguably, the most important component of grantseeking in the private foundation world is relationship building. Unlike government grant opportunities, which are designed to be more objective in their evaluations of proposals, foundation grants usually stem more directly from the influence of individuals. Whether that influential person is the founder or honoree of the foundation, outlining funding interests based on his or her personal interests, or board members or staff who evaluate proposals based on their interpretation of those interests, people tend to be more subjective in their review of projects. On the other hand, government funding is regulated by law and usually comes with a review process geared towards objective evaluation.


Due to this more subjective, individual- or locally-directed approach to selecting proposals for funding, would-be foundation applicants must put in significant time and effort to thoroughly research the foundation and build a relationship with its directors  prior to developing and submitting a full grant proposal. All too often, organizations skimp on these pre-proposal efforts and jump right into proposal development, many times submitting similar "project summary" type proposals to a large number of foundations in hopes that one of them will be responsive. Unfortunately, this approach will rarely result in funding, and does nothing for building a successful, ongoing relationship with a funder.


To take a more individualized, farsighted approach to foundation funding, the first step is to research the foundation. Utilize online databases, contacts, websites, and other research tools to find out details concerning the foundation's funding priorities, award history, typical funding range, and grant application process, including timeframes. If you know any of the past awardees, it might also be helpful to reach out to your contacts there to learn more about their experience with the foundation.


Once you have gathered sufficient information and have a good grasp on the foundation's funding interests (particularly as demonstrated by what they have funded in the recent past), approach your project from their perspective and determine if it is a good fit. If your project is lacking in a significant way, explore how you might change it to align with the foundation's priorities. While it is ill-advised to overhaul your organization's project specifically to cater to a funder and, in doing so, lose the project's direction and ties to your own mission and goals, if the project is close but needs some more detail or support, it could be well worth your while to consider tweaking it. If you believe your project matches the foundation's interests, write up a brief synopsis, making sure to hit on relevant points such as community served, specific actions to be taken, any significant collaboration with other agencies, and points that tie your project to the foundation's mission.


With your synopsis in hand, reach out to the foundation via phone call or, if requested, letter of interest, to discuss your project and gauge the foundation's interest in funding it. If you receive any feedback on the project, be sure to take notes so that you can utilize this feedback in a formal proposal. Keep in mind that your purpose is to start a mutually beneficial relationship with the funder, so it is very important to keep their requests and interests at the forefront of your mind as you develop your proposal.


Performing significant legwork prior to even starting to develop a grant application may seem like an unnecessary burden, but this kind of preparation can put you leagues ahead with foundation funding requests. Because these agencies are often run on a local level and directed by goals that were developed by an individual founder or group of trustees, they require a different approach than broader, law-dictated federal or state programs. Utilizing a  thoughtful, personal research and proposal development process may be what it takes, not only to win a foundation grant, but to embark on an ongoing relationship with a dedicated supporter.

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