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Foundation Seeking for Government Agencies

By Ashley Schultz


As a Grant Funding Consultant for local government agencies, I spend most of my days focusing on funding streams that originate from taxes collected by the federal government. This includes both competitive solicitations hosted directly by federal agencies and formula programs distributed to individual state agencies as pass-through funding. As government giving tops $600 billion in grants annually, these programs offer plenty of funding to keep the Grants Office team very busy!


From time to time, however, we see a project that doesn’t nicely fit into a state or federal grant giving program. Perhaps a small city wants to add smart street lights and free public Wi-Fi to its downtown areas. Or a local parks department wants to improve security for outdoor gatherings and events. Or maybe a police department wants to purchase food, supplies, and a vehicle for a new K9 unit. Each of these projects can put forward a compelling need statement, assemble meaningful partnerships, and form a well-rounded budget - but they don’t quite align with the state and federal funding streams we know and love. At this point in the grant-seeking process, I like to turn local government agencies towards regional family foundation and corporate foundation funding.  Before the chorus of detractors and skeptics starts up, let me assure you that foundation dollars can be awarded to government groups!


Private Dollars for Public Agencies. 


It is true that a vast majority of private foundations skip over government agencies when creating their criteria for giving. This decision is not necessarily because the board disagrees with a Mayor’s politics, or because they don’t appreciate the local fire department. More often than not, the choice to not distribute to government groups is due to some complex tax argument offered by the foundation’s accountant. But there are numerous exceptions to this rule – and finding that needle in a haystack funder can be worthwhile for a small government initiative, particularly if there are no viable state or federal funding sources available.


The quickest way to determine if a foundation funder supports municipal projects is to check their eligibility page. If the agency does not list this information – or does not have an active program website – consider calling the program manager for more details. You may also review recent 990 tax forms submitted by the foundation for more insight. These documents are freely available online and list recipients of all grants for each foundation in the past calendar year. Beyond confirming eligibility, 990 forms are useful in learning other details about the foundation - including the types of projects supported and the typical range in dollar amounts awarded to each agency.


Below are a few of our favorite private funders who regularly support government initiatives:

●       Bloomberg Philanthropies: Mayor Challenge: This program provides funding and expert guidance for cities to develop bold, innovative ideas to solve their most urgent problems. Interested applicants should contact the foundation to learn more about in-person “Idea Accelerator” workshops, which are designed to help city leaders strengthen idea development by drawing upon existing resources in the community.

●       Lowe’s Community Partners Grant Program: This program provides funding for projects deemed high-need in communities where Lowes operates. This includes building renovations, grounds improvements, technology upgrades, and safety improvements. Applications are accepted in the Spring and Fall, annually.

●       State Farm Foundation, Good Neighbor Citizenship® Grants: This program provides funding to government agencies in two main program areas: (1) Community Safety Grants; and (2) Community Development Grants. Grant applications for 2020 will be accepted September 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019.

●       Target Community Engagement Fund (CEF): This program provides funding to public safety agencies located within 100-miles of a Target store or distribution center to support crime prevention projects, programs, and events. Interested applicants should contact their nearest Target store or distribution center’s Assets Protection team to get started.

●       Wells Fargo Corporate Giving: This program supports activities that benefit low- to moderate-income families, while bolstering projects that keep the communities strong, diverse, and vibrant. Application deadlines vary by State. Interested applicants should contact their nearest Wells Fargo location for more information.


Don’t stop your search for private funding with this list. More grant dollars are available from corporate entities, regional foundations, and family trusts. To learn about private funding in particular areas, the Grants Office team uses websites such as Foundation Center (https://fconline.foundationcenter.org/) to search through financial resources available in specific counties and/or metropolitan areas. NOTE: Foundation Center is a paid, subscription-based website, but local colleges or community libraries often provide free access to the public.


Leveraging Community Partnerships for even more Funding


If a private funder is supportive of your project idea but unable to gift funds directly to a government agency, consider adding a nonprofit organization to your grants team. Agencies with a 501(c)3 designation are eligible for most all foundation funding sources - thus ensuring that the gift satisfies any concerns held by that pesky accountant hung up on tax codes.


Grant partnerships between governments and nonprofit organizations usually operate in one of two fashions:

●        The nonprofit agency acts as a pass-through agent for the government. This type of partnership exists solely to exchange money between groups. Most, if not all, program activities are handled by the government applicant - thus requiring minimal effort from the 501(c)3 partner; or 

●        The nonprofit agency and government group host the project as a joint venture. In this type of partnership, both parties assume responsibility for program activities - potentially sharing sites, staff, and program funding to fully execute their proposed idea.


In both instances, evidence of your grant partnership should be made immediately clear to the private funder. Include a brief description of your collaboration with any initial outreach to the funder, then expand upon these details if a full proposal is requested. When necessary, draw up a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to further clarify each partner's specific list of duties in relation to your grant fundable project.




So then next time project planning comes to a grinding halt due to a lack of state or federal funding - consider adjusting focus to private funders! These agencies are often more than willing to support projects in communities where their board members and employees live and work. What's more, corporate foundations and family trusts often have easier application requirements than their public grant funder counterparts and rolling deadlines. It's a win-win! We definitely encourage you to consider how the team could make these dollars a critical part of your local government's grant seeking efforts next year. 




1.      Funding through state and federal government sources can be a great resource for projects that have the rapt attention of Congress - from reducing public safety impacts of the opioid crisis to increasing access to transit and housing for low income residents. Government projects that fall outside the scope of these traditional funding streams often face an uphill battle in securing grant funding. 


2.      All foundations and charitable trusts are required to submit grant award information to the IRS annually. Foundation Center makes these forms available for public view at: http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder. Upon selecting an organization, search available documents for a page titled “Grants and Other Assistance to Organizations, Governments, and Individuals in the United States.”


3.      Want more information on how to form a partnership for your next grant proposal? Check out our recent FUNDED feature article for valuable tips at: http://grantsoffice.com/Portals/0/funded/issues/FUNDEDNov2017.pdf