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.


Anonymous said...

I am the librarian of a small parochial school in New Jersey. Pre-K through the 8th grade.

Our school is in dire need of updating our library collection and would like to ask how I might be able to acquire grant money to do so.

In the past we had to rely on parent donations and book fairs in an effort to purchase new books. These donations, although wonderful, do not go very far. Can you help locate grant money for our school?

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for reading, posting a comment, and for the important work that your library does for the community!

I wrote a post on the entire 'how to' process for those new to seeking grants at:

Here is one recent lead that I just happen to know about:
Markham Vineyards community grants at:

Good luck in your important work!