For each project, prospects must be identified and researched. The initial “push” typically requires several hours; after that, research is ongoing, as new projects are developed and new prospects are discovered (via fundraising listservs, online fundraising e-letters, press releases, word of mouth, etc.). Major resources for research include:
- Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) and its FC Search Online, a database of thousands of foundations and corporate foundations, their giving interests, geographic focus, grant ranges, deadlines, etc.
- Guidestar (www.guidestar.org), which provides access to foundation IRS Forms 990 that list grants awarded in a given year, trustee names, etc.
- Grants.gov (www.grants.gov) , which provides one central portal where organizations and individuals can electronically find and apply for grants throughout the federal government. Grants.gov is THE single access point for over 1,000 grant programs offered by the 26 federal agencies that make grants. Foundation/corporate/government agency websites, which provide insight on program areas, limitations, procedures, recent grants, staff, trustees (if applicable), contact info, deadlines, meeting dates, etc.—directly from the source.
- www.dupont.com (Our Company-bottom of Home pageOutreach Community Outreach)
- www.perduefarms.com (Corporate Responsibility Arthur W. Perdue Foundation-at bottom)
All have guidelines that outline proposal format/required attachments, proposal address/contact name, current deadlines, method of submission, etc. Some may be as simple as “send a 2-page letter with proof of nonprofit status (IRS letter)” … others are much more comprehensive.
Contact and Cultivation
With foundations and corporations, personal contact is important in the grantseeking process. Mining of the resources listed above can provide lists of trustees for each entity. It is important to share these names with key personnel, officers, and trustees of the grantseeking organization to identify any contacts; the appropriate personal contact then should be made, if permitted / encouraged. Foundations/corporations also should be added to the organization’s mailing list, their personnel should be invited to visit the organization and its events, and meetings with key foundation/corporate contacts should be sought (but don’t be pushy).
Most government agencies do encourage grantseekers to contact agency staff early in the process, with contact information provided on websites and in official “requests for proposals” (RFPs).
Proposals/Letters of Inquiry
Some funders will require a brief Letter of Inquiry as a first step, after which a full Proposal will be requested if there is sufficient interest. Prior to the preparation of a Letter of Inquiry and/or Proposal, you should compile various organization data, including history, statistics, proof of nonprofit status (typically the IRS 501(c)(3) letter), detailed and accurate project budget, organizational budget, staff and/or board qualifications/profiles, quotes/testimonials, and other requests pending/to be submitted, past support, et. al.
When preparing Letters of Inquiry and/or Proposals, it is important to:
- Avoid the “shotgun approach”—do not submit the exact same proposal to a large number of potential funders at one time
- Follow guidelines; read them carefully and refer to them often
- Avoid jargon/acronyms; not all reviewers will be experts in the field; make it as easy as possible for them to read and understand.
- Research will help make the case – confirm the need/address the solutions(s): recent studies, statistics, demographic data.
Typical “types” of funding:
- General Operations
- Program Development
- Seed Money (new organizations/programs/projects)
General “allowable” costs
- Program-related staff salaries
- Program-related travel expenses
- Program-related supplies
- Program-related equipment
Usually “discouraged”/”not funded”
- Regular staff salaries
Dependent on each funder’s priorities/requirements/forms
Include required attachments, such as
- IRS 501(c)(3) Letter
- list of trustees
- audited financial statements
- organizational budget
Proofread/edit; look for typos, inconsistencies, mathematical errors – any mistakes may leave reviewers with a negative impression (“how can they manage the program/grant if they can’t manage the proposal?”)
Confirm attachments, number of copies, etc.
Mail/submit to meet postmark/receipt deadline; many online applications have specific time—as well as date—deadlines (i.e., by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Friday, March 20). “Make it your goal to BEAT the deadline, not MEET the deadline.” —Charles A. Frueauff Foundation
Some Proposals and Letters of Inquiry must be submitted via mail, many in multiple copies; others must be submitted via e-mail or online, using an electronic form provided by the funder. When a specific application form is provided and required by the funder, this often will necessitate downloading, scanning, formatting and/or typing the form. Many online applications also will require the grantseeking organization to upload various documents, such as financial statements and a list of trustees. Make sure all registration requirements are complete well before the deadline (i.e. government grant applications via SAM/grants.gov).
Once a grant is awarded, the work doesn’t end. Grant recipients must:
- send the funder a written acknowledgement of the grant;
- monitor the grant expenditures in strict accordance with the funder’s requirements, to ensure that all grant funds are applied to project activities as designated by the funder;
- prepare and submit any follow-up reports requested by the funder.
Things to Consider
Each foundation/corporation/government agency is different. Some may award a few thousand dollars, others may award millions of dollars, and most fall somewhere in between. Also, the decision time varies with each funder. It could be a few weeks or months; it could be up to a year (especially government grants).
Multiple submissions are wise—most funders prefer NOT to be the sole source of funding for a project, and many will request a statement regarding funds already committed and other requests currently pending or to be submitted.
Finally, there are no guarantees that a proposal will be funded—but a refusal can be the first step in developing a relationship with a funder and its staff. Once the grantseeking organization is better known to funders, the interest in future proposals—and the likelihood of their success— increases.