Any smart non profit knows the best way to become sustainable is to have diversified funding streams within your organization. Having all of your grant dollars from one type of source is risky. There are several different approaches your non profit can take. These include government- state, federal and local- corporations and foundations.
There are close to 50,000 foundations in the United States. Unfortunately, less than 20% of them have over $2 million in assets or give over $200,000 a year. That means you need to do a bit of work to find foundations that will be a better fit for your non profit.
The Internet can provide a great number of opportunities for the intrepid researcher. OK, sometimes that is too many opportunities. If you are new to research, understand that you will get better the more you do it. It just takes practice. The Foundation Center at foundationcenter.org can be a huge asset to any development office. They have a foundation finder that you can use and search by your location.
Once you have typed in your City and State, hit enter– the remainder of the boxes aren’t as important when you are just starting out. You will be given a list of the foundations in that area. In our example we pulled up 100 foundations for a mid sized southern city. The list that is provided is a click-able list and you can get more information about each of those foundations.
Look for information about the foundation and its activities. How large are their assets? How much of those assets did they distribute in the last year. Bear in mind that many of your research sources will be 12-18 months behind with their information. It takes that long to process the information from foundation audits and tax records.
But this information is still vital because it shows your their history. You can also look at previous tax returns. Why is this important? Because at the back of most foundation tax returns is a list of all the recipients of those distributed assets. Take a look at those organizations. Are they similar to yours? If your organization is focused on providing meals to the elderly or infirm, a foundation that gives money solely to symphonies and art museums is not likely to be a good candidate for your request.
If, however, that foundation is a strong funder, and gives to a variety of organizations that provide social services to the indigent community, then it might be worth it to add that foundation to your short list and gather the information on their application process.
Also available on the tax return of most foundations is a list of their Board of Directors or Officers. It doesn’t hurt to take a look at that list and see if your organization is on friendly terms with anyone on that list. Studies have shown over and over: people give to people. People don’t give to an application form or a case statement. If your application has an ally in the foundation; someone who knows of the quality work your non profit is providing in the community, your application just jumped a few rungs on the ladder to success.
Don’t be afraid to build on that relationship. In the end, those that are served by your organization are the one’s that benefit from the grant award.
Many foundations that you will find listed at various website searches are small, family or independent foundations. They will have very few guidelines for grant proposals. They will have very little information available that tells you what they are looking for. Many times the tax return will tell you how and where applications are to be submitted. Sometimes the tax return tells you that it does not accept unsolicited proposals. And while that is sometimes a dead end- it does give you a chance to start building relationships that will lead to them asking you to submit a proposal.
If your organization has a newsletter, send it. If your organization is doing something in the community, invite them to it. Make a friend before you make a funder. Friend-raising is almost as important as fundraising. It can be a first step in receiving not just one but multiple grants from a foundation.
If, however, there is little to no information regarding what they are looking for or who can apply, pick up the phone and call them. Establish a connection from the very start and your road will be that much easier to travel. Find out what they want and when they want it and then begin preparing your proposal to meet their requirements.
The foundations are out there. Once you have gotten some experience in finding foundations in your local area you can begin looking for those foundations on a national scope who are specifically interested in your particular mission and would be interested in funding your organization regardless of location. Those are a bit more difficult but generally national foundations have a bit more funding available.
You will find, as a general rule, that foundation applications are less exhaustive than government grant applications. But they still require your best effort and your willingness to provide them the best quality proposal that represents your non profit.
Terry Ford encourages nonprofits to take advantage of Grammarly grammar checker to ensure grant requests and other fundraising documents are grammatically accurate and well written. We love to write about nonprofit web strategies.