Sunday, November 29, 2009

Learning From & Finding Grants Through The Foundation Center Can Be Mostly Free and Is Invaluable

The Foundation Center, without a doubt, is one of the most professionally well regarded, current, and informed nonprofit resources that exists. It may seem, from its name, that it is a resource for foundations (those entities who donate grants), but it is a resource for the entire nonprofit sector (nonprofit organizations and all). Again, and again, in this blog I reiterate that it's imperative (especially in today's difficult economy, more than ever) that nonprofit volunteers, leaders, and staff require themselves to know professional nonprofit best practices so that the organizations that they work for have a better chance of raising more, growing, and without reinventing the wheel (or expending more money or time than need be). The Foundation Center is an excellent resource to learn best practices from (which provides much information for free). Whether you are brand new to the nonprofit sector, a long time volunteer with different organizations, or a seasoned executive director with the same organization for over twenty years, notoriously, The Foundation Center offers you resources, information, education and networking opportunities, and more. Throughout my career it has remained a reliable and helpful resource.

[I always appreciate, while reading online, knowing in full what relationship, if any, the author has with an organization, a book's author, etc. that they review or editorialize. So, in the interest of full disclosure to you - I want to be clear that I wrote this blog post on my own (without any request that I do so), assembled the following opinion over time of my own free will (without compensation, suggestion, or other), and make the following recommendations without any benefit to me, my company, or anything or anyone else in any way affiliated with me. I know it is important, as a nonprofit professional, to share excellent resources with colleagues - and it is this and only this that is the intention of this post.]

When I began my very first job in the nonprofit sector, nearly ten years ago, and I needed to learn quickly the basics about many different nonprofit operations, I read about how excellent a resource The Foundation Center is, over and over again, so I immediately began investigating their website.

On their About Us web page The Foundation Center describes itself as "... a national nonprofit service organization recognized as the nation’s leading authority on organized philanthropy, connecting nonprofits and the grantmakers supporting them to tools they can use and information they can trust... The Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. grantmakers and their grants; issues a wide variety of print, electronic, and online information resources; conducts and publishes research on trends in foundation growth, giving, and practice; and offers an array of free and affordable educational programs." Their headquarters are in New York, but they also have offices in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

More importantly, they offer their "most comprehensive database on U.S. grantmakers and their grants..." for free in public libraries, community foundations, and other public resources in major cities, all over the United States. The database is called The Foundation Center's Cooperating Collection. To check where their free database (Cooperating Collection) is nearest to you, click on your state or a state near you on the Cooperating Collection web page.

Always a good place to begin when investigating any new website, The Foundation Center's website's Get Started section (located in the green header bar in the middle of their web pages) helps you understand just what they offer us nonprofit workers. In the Get Started web page's case, they show upcoming trainings (classroom trainings) that The Foundation Center provides around the United States. They also always list their classroom trainings on their website on their Classroom Training Courses web page. When you go to the Classroom Training Courses web page you'll see listed, there, different mediums through which The Foundation Center provides its training, in total. Some of it is online, through webinars, some of it is in the shape of online tutorials, and other training is in person classroom training. I have had the opportunity to experience all three of their training mediums and they are each very well done. You will see, reading down their various educational opportunities, that a variety of experience levels are offered courses, and that about half of their trainings, classes, etc. are provided for free. Most of the 'getting started' type of classes are provided for free. You can also go to the second to the final header in the green header bar in the middle of the web page, View Events, and see where in the U.S., currently, various specific Foundation Center courses are being offered.

If you are getting going in grant writing and need to learn some basics, The Foundation Center, is an excellent resource to learn (ala the described training opportunities, above). As you begin actually researching for potential grant donors to apply to for grants - The Foundation Center does not only provide the public with its database of grant donors and grants - it also provides information on how to best locate potential grant donors, resources to help with the actual grant donor research (also called prospecting), and tools to do the work efficiently. Go to the Find Funders web page in their site (again, in the green header bar in the middle of the web page).

Gain Knowledge (the third web section listed in the green header bar in the middle of the web page) may not, initially, seem very critical information to know but its content is often extremely powerful to assist those who are seeking grants (but for also all other forms of fundraising). In fact, the information that is offered, in this section of their website, will ultimately help the grant writer formulate an excellent grant proposal (or fine tune and improve a 'so - so' one). Information offered on this page will improve grant proposals by informing their reader about real time best practices, professional thinking (to assist nonprofits strategize to best raise grants for their specific organization) and to give a big picture context for the current world of philanthropy (donating), what grant donors are thinking and wanting now, and what other nonprofits are doing that works (especially in this tough economy). Taking the time to be current about one's own professional sector and specific groups or organizations within that sector can be the difference between reinventing the wheel (and wasting your organization's time and resources), or being current and informed and giving a new but tested and successful best practice a shot. In this economy especially, this can mean everything for a nonprofit.

No matter who you are (volunteer, executive, or staff) or whether your agency can afford to pay for any further resource or service at The Foundation Center, I highly recommend that you sign up for any one or more of their free newsletters (which I still do). This web page is always listed at the very top of The Foundation Center's web pages in the middle of the top-most header. Going to that web page, the Job Bulleting newsletter may be very pertinent to you right now (given this economy), but notice that they also offer Philanthropy News Digest newsletter, too. It is a weekly digest of all of the news in the nonprofit sector and again, it is invaluable to remain on top of the latest in one's professional (or volunteer work) sector.

Most invaluable, The Foundation Center also offers (again, for free) a RFP Bulletin newsletter. Each week The Foundation Center e-mails this free newsletter listing the latest grants available to apply for (also called a Request For Proposal (or RFP)). Having a list of the latest available grants sent to you weekly, is invaluable.

The Foundation Center's value deepens as organizations or their volunteers and staff choose to pay for yet more of their resources. They offer a store with reputable, professional, excellent resources and on the left you'll see they always offer Specials/Discounts. They also offer an online subscription (in various forms) to their database of grant donors and grants which is very handy given its online access.

The Foundation Center remains a professional resource for me and my colleagues, at The Grant Plant, LLC and I heartily recommend it to you and yours. If you have any other resources that you have found invaluable as a nonprofit proessional, please share it here by posting a Comment (below) with it and thank you.

4 comments:

Grant Spy said...

Grant Spy (www.grantspy.com) offers an alternative to the Foundation Center by providing daily bulletins and focusing on grants rather than foundations. For a free trial, contact us at www.grantspy.com/help.php and mention this blog post. --Eric Urbanc, Editor

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Eric, Thank you for sharing the tip! Arlene

Readers, If any Seeking Grant Money Today readers give Grant Spy a try, please take a sec to let us, here, know your experience: how helpful the product is, and any other thoughts by commenting. We'd be grateful. Thank you! Arlene

Nancy said...

Teachers specifically looking for elementary education grants or elementary school fundraising ideas should explore Adopt-A-Classroom - a nonprofit dedicated to supporting teachers. Every school in the US is listed at www.adoptaclassroom.org and since 1998, we've raised over $11 million on behalf of teachers.

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Nancy,
Thank you for the tip! While it isn't a grant searching resource, the Adopt-A-Classroom site looks like a great fundraising mechanism for schools.

If any Seeking Grant Money Today readers use it, please let us know what your experience is by leaving a Comment below. Thank you! Arlene