For many nonprofits (particularly start-ups), foundations are the first source of revenue to obtain. And for good reason. Grantmakers are some of the oldest charitable institutions, outside of churches. However, in recent years, foundation gifts have dwindled significantly.
According to Giving USA 2010, grantmaking by private, community, and operating foundations fell by 8.9% in 2009. What’s more, of the $303 billion in contributions granted this same year, only 13% or $33 billion (chump change for you ballers) came from foundations. With the number of nonprofits reaching almost one million, the competition for grant dollars will no doubt continue to be fierce.
So what can your organization do to ensure your grant application doesn’t end up in some program officers’ recycling bin? Below are some quick tips to better inform your foundation approach:
- Clarify your intentions. Before you start out on a paper chase, make sure that you have a written narrative of what your organization does. For example, you should be able to articulate your organizational mission and history, the need you plan to address, your program description (including your target audience), and expected outcomes. If writing is not your strong point, then consider hiring a professional Grant Writer (aka, me) to create a series of grant templates that you can then modify on your own to fit a specific funder’s request.
- Do your research. It’s tempting to think that your program aligns perfectly with a foundation’s priorities. However, for grantmakers that support a particular issue (e.g., education reform), one foundation might support community organizing while another is interested in creating change through policy. Before you start kicking out grant applications, be sure to thoroughly review a foundation’s website to ensure your work lines up with theirs. If the foundation does not have a website, consider calling them directly to inquire about their giving areas. Additional online tools include both free (e.g., Foundation Center) and paid options (e.g., The Chronicle of Philanthropy). You can also look at the list of funders (usually reported on an IRS 990 form) that fund organizations similar to yours for insight as well using free sites like GuideStar.
- “Friend” a program officer. Whoever shunned “brown-nosing”, never had to raise money for charity. There’s a common adage in fundraising that goes, “people fund people, not paper” and this has been the greatest lesson I’ve learned raising money over the years. With the sheer number of nonprofits that exist in this country, your foundation approach must include a personal touch. To start, you can call or email the program officer that oversees the giving area you’re interested in and set up a meeting to discuss your idea further. You can also tap your board to see if they have relationships with foundation staff and/or trustees in opening the line of communication. Even if you don’t receive funding the first time around, the grantmaker now knows who you are and can put a face to your organization.
Have you used any of these strategies in the past? What has or hasn’t worked for your nonprofit in approaching foundations?