Monday, August 30, 2004

How Do I Prepare To Find Foundations Who Will Fund Us?

The search for possible grant donors for your organization is called "prospecting" in the grant writing jargon lexicon.

Prospecting is a critical part of successfully making relationships with grant donors and successfully receiving grants. Not only do you need to find organizations who donate grants to apply to, you need to be good at prospecting. It's just like the California Gold Rush or the Frazier River Valley Gold Rush. Cookie and his mining buddies may have known where to go to mine for silver or gold, but if they weren't good at prospecting, they didn't find much of anything.

In order to look for foundations who will give to your organization, you must know your own organization in detail. What does your organization do, precisely? I mean precisely. List all of the services, products, programs (including their time lines, budgets, and details), etc. that your organization provides on a piece of paper. Know what region your organization serves. Who, specifically, or what, specifically, is your organization serving (have stats on the issue, clients, or benefactor of your work). Know what projects and programs you will be looking for grants for (foundations generally do not fund past projects, programs, or debt; they like to fund new programs/projects).

Second, know who else in your local community or region is looking for grant money that does similar work as your organization, and know the difference between your org and theirs' and why what your organization does is relevant (or needed in the community) if theirs' is doing similar work.

Third, what amount range of grants are you going to look for? This is dictated by the cost (via a completed budget) of the program/project/service (s) that you are looking for grant money for.

Here's our hypothetical:
You and I work for Doggy Haven. We house and care for doggies in Kibble County who are or about to be homeless. This is a no kill shelter. Our mission is to care for, keep healthy and happy, and place into safe home each dog that we care for. These dogs are all breeds, 48% male and 52% female, 70% are fixed and 30% need to be spayed/neutered, 80% are healthy and 20% require medical attention right now, and all are living in our Kibble County kennel facility. The only other entity that houses, cares for, and adopts out dogs in Kibble County is Whiskers Twitch Animal Home, which is also an animal no kill shelter, but they only accept cats, small mammals, and birds. Doggy Haven is the only agency in this county that provides the services that we do for dogs. We have a new dog placement program six months down the road that is going to require $20,000, a capital campaign for a second office in the next county starting in a year that will raise $200,000, and a behavior class for the dogs to be completed as soon as possible that requires $5,000.

We have decided not to call on Doggy Haven's regular large donors for the kennel, or the new dog placement program because we know that we will be asking them for large contributions to partly pay for the new facility (capital campaign) in the next county.

You and I have decided that we're going to ask as many pertinent national and larger local foundations as possible for support for the capital campaign at high grant request amounts (likely a $100,000 grant request and smaller matching grant donations). We're going to look for
larger local community foundations, family foundations, and city and county governments for support for the new dog placement program and for the behavior program for the dogs.

Now we have a lot of information here that we will include in our grant proposals, which will also direct us to the best grant donors for our organization to apply to for these specific projects/programs.

My time and your time is precious.

We do not have time to submit hundreds of copies of a generic, single, grant request for one need, filled in by merge fields in Word, with pertinent information per foundation/grant donor. This will not lead to strong relationships or grants.

We also do not have time to send individualized and specific proposals to every foundation in our region, and foundations in our region who do not fund dog shelters do not want to receive unrelated mail. This wastes not only our time, but theirs', too.

Lastly, we want to get our organization's name and information across strong grant donors' desks. It is a way to introduce our organization and begin a relationship where hopefully Doggy Haven receives a grant from most of the relevant grantors at least once every (we decided four) years (as a goal).

Having said what we did (in the last four paragraphs), you and I sit down to start prospecting.

Here's where it sums up:

Go to each foundation's website, or call their office and request a copy of their grant guidelines. Grant guidelines describe the kinds of programs/projects/services they fund and don't grant for, the format they want, what information they want about the organization and project, their contact information, the grant donating timeline, etc.

Narrow your foundation list down to foundations that give to organizations that serve in your geographic region.

Narrow that list down to organizations that fund the work that your non profit does.

Look at this lists' foundations' websites or call them and ask for their granting guidelines. Every foundation's guidelines are different from other foundations. Guidelines describe the grant donor's interest (what causes they donate to), the donor's kind of support (financial, in kind items, or volunteered support), what they support (what kinds of programs/services/projects they fund), the timeline they request applications in by (your due date) and when they make decisions and notify applicants by, how they want the grant proposal (application) formatted, their contact information, etc.

If a foundation's guidelines indicates that your work, organization type, or project/program/service that you're looking for grant money for DOES NOT meet their interests - call them to clarify if that is the case and if it in fact is - do not solicit them. Note this and move onto the next foundation on your list.

Look at the giving history of the foundations still on the list (check their most recent IRS Form 990 - it is public information - check the resources at the end of this blog entry ) which lists what charities it gave donations to, in what amounts, when, and usually it lists what kinds of projects they gave their grants to. Match the financial need your projects have with organizations that give at that same dollar range. For instance, if a foundation typically gives no less than $30,000 and no more than $200,000 in their giving range ask them for the assistance with a larger costing program/project/service. Small or family foundation typically donate smaller amount grants (i.e. from $50 - $5,000). Go to them for assistance within that money range.

Lastly, be specific. When you write your proposal to a grant donor, individualize it to their interests, their level of detail request, and fulfill every request in the grant proposal that a grant donor makes in their giving guidelines. If you don't - you run the risk of having your application tossed before it ever gets read. I mean it.

Foundations aren't cruel - they need reasons to get rid of the many grant requests that they receive each granting round. Don't make it easy for them to toss your application. Apply to foundations that are interested in your cause, interested in the kind of work that you do, and historically give at the level that meets the need your org has.

For prospecting on the internet start at The Foundation Center's website. This is also an excellent resource for any new grant writer. They have wonderful 'classes' on basics and 'how to's'.
To search and locate a grant donor's IRS form 990 go to Guidestar's website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Your Agency's First Grantwriter Starts Work Monday


I ask, "Ack!"? Why?

You may say to me,
'Well, we know we need a grant writer at this agency, but now we've invested in this new staff member and we have no guarantees that grant money will come in. What have I done?'

I understand how you feel. You are not the first ED or board member that has hired a grant writer onto the staff only to wonder 'can we afford this?'.

Welcome your new employee, give him/her the orientation, introduce him/her to staff, clients, volunteers, and community contacts as time unfolds.

You will want to have pulled together copies of all past grant work and have that ready for your newbie. For instance, if ten years ago your agency solicited grants regularly, bring that box of old files out of storage. Have you or another staff member attempted writing proposals? Even if you didn't wind up mailing it - share it with him/her. You may have written a good history of the organization in there or given some recently published statistics that could be helpful.

Have other agency items compiled for your new advocate to be able to inform potential donors about why they should invest in your agency:
- recent newsletters
- agency financials
- most recent annual report
- agency's most recent IRS 990 filing
- recent press clippings/press releases
- recent science or news about your cause
- board roster
- employee roster
- number of current volunteers and hours worked last year
- IRS letter of 501(c)(3) determination
- brochures
- recent survey results
- number of program attendees/number of hours worked towards programs last year
- most recent financial audit from independent CPA (check out Sarbanes Oxley Act and concerns about the non profit sector from this for profit sector law)
- break down of agency's various income streams and percentages spent on programs and overhead for agency

You can imagine, after seeing the above, what else could help someone new to your agency or cause to educate them and give them documents to meet guideline requirements.

Also, give this new grant writer on your staff your support in front of the rest of the staff. The staff needs to understand that they will be expected to work with and assist the new grant writer in his/her job of raising grant money for their (the staff members') programs and services.

Schedule a meeting for your grant writer to get to know your bookkeeper and CPA. You, the grant writer, and the bookkeeper are the main grant team in your office. Consider asking your grant writer if they would mind reporting to the board, once a quarter, on their progress and what they're hearing back; it's a good way to be sure that the board is kept up to date, but it's also an opportunity for the board to be able to assist the grant solicitation process by advocating for grants in tandem with a written proposal, in the community, simply by talking about your agency and its successes.

Most importantly, give the process time. Know that public relations, talking with colleagues in the community, and meeting grant donors as requested, is also important when trying to receive grants.

Your new staff member will be on their way to assisting in raising your agency some of its first grants!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Talking Is Good

Get out of your office and into the community telling other non profits, foundations, corporations, government agencies, and anyone else who will listen who your agency is, what you do, and how well you do it.

Contrary to what your fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Applebottom told you, talking is good.

She was concerned that you were missing her lesson, but I am encouraging you to pick up the phone, lunch, mingle, so that you may explain, describe, ask, and listen in your community.

Sounds terrifying? I understand.

When Mrs. Applebottom caught you talking with Suzie - you were just goofing off. You were only going to whisper one thing to Suzie and then you were going to turn around and sit up in your seat and listen to Mrs. Applebottom. In your mind it almost didn't even matter that you were talking to Suzie. You just had to tell her that one thing.

Keep it that simple for yourself and for the person that you're talking with - ALWAYS.

Now, I didn't just recommend talking during someone's discussion - but I do suggest approaching discussions with colleagues, peers, and clients in the same detached frame of mind.

When your friends or family ask, 'what is it that your organization does?' - what is your "elevator speech", or what is it that you have found yourself saying to friends/family to describe your non-profit?

This speech is a good place to start when talking with anyone. From this frame of reference, take your discussion where you are comfortable. If it is with discussing a specific recent program- do it. If it isn't - do not do it. Perhaps you happen to know of a client's story that is pertinent to this person's interest. Tell it. There's no right or wrong - or perfect discussion. There is, though, an opportunity in each discussion for you to communicate your organization's strengths and successes.

To make yourself comfortable you will need to do what the listener prefers which is; keep discussions to the point, give them a chance to ask questions, give your business card out and ask for theirs'.

At the end of the meeting, mingle, dinner, or what have you; briefly write a note on the back of each person's business card that you received stating where you met, the date, and what you learned about their work.

If the person that you talked with is a potential donor, then the protocol, preparation, and information that you will explain and ask for will be entirely different than this scenario of simply getting into the community and getting word out to others about your agency. For information about asking donors for a donation, face to face, look at Tony Poderis', successful fundraiser and author, website at

Make your organization and its successes well known - get out of your office chair and talk.