I am working for a non-profit and recently have begun writing agency grants as well. This organization in the past has never relied on grants, but instead on funding from two fundraisers and the state and federal monies.
However, it seems that all of the foundations we are writing to are coming back and saying that they are not funding in the state or we fall outside their parameters or no reason at all.
We are using a web-based software called Foundation Search. Any opinions on online searches?
Here’s my answer
I can’t stand writing grants. To me, grants feel like a crap shoot or playing a one-armed bandit.
That being said, you can’t just “apply for grants” by blindly sending out grant applications. You have to do your homework. That’s just part of being a professional. It’s not worth wasting your time or their’s by applying for a type of project the funder clearly states they aren’t interested in.
Most foundation clearly states:
- what types of things they give to,
- where geographically they like to focus their giving, and
- what their funding priorities are.
I am not familiar with the web-based software you mentioned, but I really like the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online. You can get incredible information there. I’m using it for a campaign right now. (If you don’t like online, you can go to one of the five centers in the USA and many libraries.)
Use the phone
One of the best things you can do is call the foundation after doing some initial research. Tell them why you think they’re a good fit and see if it sounds like something they’ll look at.
More and more funders are inviting calls. It can be hard to hear a person say your project won’t fit, but it sure beats wasting a grant application!
If this answer was way too basic for you, check out Betsy Baker’s Grant Writing Masterclass webinar on June 11. This class is NOT for beginners!
While I am not a fan of state or federal grants and agree that your organization should not develop a reliance on grants, building a core base of foundation support should play a role in every organization’s funding stream.? And it’s really not that different than prospecting for individual donors — where most organizations fall flat is in NOT realizing that relationship building plays as big a role in foundation funding as it does in individual fundraising.? Just as you wouldn’t slap a “donate” button on your site and expect the dollars to roll in, you can’t expect that first grant proposal to yield the grant.? I?ve even heard, confidentially, from one foundation president that oftentimes ?the third time?s the charm.?
But how does someone who is also acting as individual giving manager/event planner/webmaster/social media manager/marketing and PR director AND grantwriter factor in the time to write and deliver compelling grant proposals? I believe that starting with the region?s small to mid-sized foundations is key. Oftentimes both their guidelines and reporting requirements are less cumbersome than the region?s major players. Also check to see if your region or state has a grantmakers association. Oftentimes these organizations have developed their own standardized grant application – and all their members accept it.
Be prospecting for potential funders on a regular basis – not once or twice a year. Proposal declined? Pick up the phone and CALL! What could we have done differently in our proposal? Are we welcome to reapply? Lastly, are you aware of any other foundations that might support our mission?
What a great strategy!
PS: I worked at a foundation for seven years, Marc, and often wished I had a dollar for every organization that submitted a proposal, got declined, and never resubmitted.
First off, thank you so much for the Foundation Directory Online shoutout! I definitely agree it’s a great tool for figuring out what foundations are interested in funding. You can also see what grants foundations have given and to whom, a second layer of information that can be really helpful for determining the areas that foundations are actually granting their funds,
I also want to second Pamela on the region’s small to mid-size players. Local foundations tend to be very involved in their local communities, often more so than regional majors, who might have a larger geographical area over which they make grants.
Finally, thank you Marc for bringing up THE PHONE! I think the fact that you can pick up the phone and call a foundation surprises a lot of people, but it can be one of the most helpful tools for fundraisers. A quick call to introduce yourself and your organization can save so much time and heartache if you find out that your organization isn’t a good fit, and if it is, you’ve just taken the first step in building a better relationship.
That said, not all foundations are alike, so while many foundations encourage phone calls, be sure to do some initial research to find out if a call is welcome. It’s also important to keep in mind that some smaller private and family foundations may not have paid staff to field calls, so don’t be discouraged if you get a voicemail (but don’t pester them with calls either!).
Elyse: Thanks so much for chiming in! Great comments!
I found Grantstation.com a great place to find potential funders and advice on how to do it as well.
Sorry to chime in late, but I just ran across this post. I absolutely agree with the previous posters, but would also add one other idea: treat your foundations like you would a donor. Research (be sure to look at what, where and for how much they have funded in the past), contact with the ones that have a real and natural connection to what you do, start a dialog before you bring a proposal (if possible), find connections on their board or leadership and get to know them and their passions, submit proposals that truly align with their priorities, and be sure to follow up afterwards. This is a relationship like your others, only it is much more clear about what it will and won’t give money to – that is a great thing. If you build your relationship like you would with a donor, it is likely your success rate will increase – especially with local funders.
I’m glad you did chime in late!
Those are great tips!