There are approximately 87,000 foundations in the United States — including family, corporate and community foundations — giving more than $55 billion annually. If your nonprofit isn’t actively seeking grants from these groups, you’re neglecting a potentially significant income source. As government grants become smaller and harder to come by, consider refocusing your energies on getting — and keeping — foundation support.
Know your target
Probably the most important thing to remember when approaching foundations is that they tend to specialize — making grants to certain types of charities or in specific geographic regions. It’s not enough to be a 501(c)(3) organization (though your exempt status is critical). Your nonprofit’s mission and programs will need to match the interests of the foundation to which you’re applying.
So it’s essential to research foundations before you apply for grants. Review annual reports, tax filings, press releases and any other information you can get your hands on. One place to start is the Foundation Center’s online directory at foundationcenter.org. Charity watchdog group Guidestar (guidestar.org) also gathers information about foundations.
Once you have a list of matches, don’t just start sending out long, detailed proposals. A Foundation Center survey found that three-quarters of these funders don’t consider unsolicited requests. So call your target foundations and talk to staff members about the kind of information they need and their communication preferences. Most will be happy to provide insights into their decision-making process and shed light on your chances of securing a grant from them.
The most successful foundation grant proposals have several qualities in common. For example, foundations like projects that are well defined and data driven with specific goals. They also want to know that their gifts are effective, so achievement of such goals needs to be measurable.
It’s important to outline a project’s life cycle and how you plan to fund it to completion. Many foundations provide the money to initiate projects but expect nonprofits to use their own funds and other grants to continue them. In fact, if you hope to establish a long-term relationship with a foundation that has given you a grant, you must successfully finish what you started.
If at first …
Keep in mind that a rejected proposal doesn’t have to shut the door on future opportunities. If your request is turned down, ask the foundation to explain its decision and to provide tips on making your proposals stronger. Many organizations are competing for the same foundation funds, so tenacity is crucial.