24 Mar Researching Foundation/Corporate Grants and Calendaring Due Dates
Let’s nominate April as “Foundation Month” – the month where you lay out all your plans for the next twelve months related to foundations and corporate foundations. So in April, you will be researching possible foundation prospects and/or recruiting volunteers to the task, reviewing your strategic and annual plans to identify potential grant request projects, contacting grant officers, and recording grant request due dates on a Grants Calendar.
Fundraiser’s Almanac: March
- Spring Appeal Planning
- Editing Appeal Letters
- Print the First Renewal Letters Now
- Foundation/Corporate Due Dates
- Donor Strategies: Good News, Save The Date
Frequently I get asked for my opinion about grant research using subscription-based online resources. In general I say “go for it, but contain it by concentrating the work into a short period of time.” For example, one basic package offers a monthly fee of $50 – cancel any time. So why not pay the $50, do little else but foundation research for a month, and then cancel?
But if you’re going to use April for that, you need to get ready in March – like now, for instance.
Let’s start with a few observations about Foundations.
First, foundation grant-making has fully recovered since the bottom fell out of the market in 2009. Foundations really are “back in business.” But many used the last few years to streamline systems and complete strategic plans of their own. It is now more important than ever to learn before committing to a grant request exactly the kinds of funding opportunities the foundation is looking for. Know beforehand and accept that foundations have many choices about which projects and organizations to fund. Yours needs to be the right project, but you will also need to “sell” your organization as a reliable investment.
Second, many foundations will only make larger grants to organizations who already get larger grants from individual funders. And they DO look at what the board is giving. Make sure your individual giving is impressive.
Third, grant officers don’t want you to waste their time either. They are in business to give money away, but only if your request fits well with their priorities. If they can help you get there, they usually will. If at all possible, make an appointment with and go visit with a program officer before writing a grant request. If you can, bring a board member. Be prepared to talk about (pitch) several ideas that seem to be in line with the foundation’s strategic goals. Listen to the program officer’s advice, and then follow it.
Fourth, corporate foundations, meaning foundations formed to facilitate “community relations” by giving money away in the corporation’s name, act like foundations, but they are motivated by a mission of enhancing the corporation’s image locally. They consequently tend to give many small grants instead of a few larger ones. Knowing that going in, will help you both in terms of how much to ask for (smaller amounts) and in terms of which projects to pitch (higher visibility is better).
So with those ideas in mind, take some time now to schedule and conduct a brainstorming meeting with three or four colleagues – including program staff if possible. Specifically, review current grantor relationships and go over where you might be with current funding. I like using volunteers to conduct foundation research, so it will be helpful if that volunteer can participate in this meeting as well. Make a list of grantors and grants of which the group may have personal knowledge. Also brainstorm a list of key search words the volunteer could use in the research.
Your researcher will need to use a relatively coarse filter. You won’t be able to write grants to everyone, and it wouldn’t be effective to even try, but now is not the time to be selective. Use the key search words to start but specifically ask the researcher to “follow their nose” as well. Look for example grants the foundation made recently – both the amount and the receiving institution. Supplement your research by visiting the foundation’s website and looking for grant guidelines, and copies of annual reports. You might even check out the websites of the recipient organizations to see where they got the rest of their funding. From online search engines you will be able to create data files that can be saved electronically or printed for future reference.
Note that the online search engines often do not include the smaller regional trusts and family foundations. Local public or school libraries may have more complete local information.
Ask the researcher to assemble a spreadsheet with the name and contact information of the foundation, any program officers, the decision-making directors or trustees, any obvious grant parameters (such as limited geography), and all due dates.
Now bring your advisors back together to review the list. Use your own set of criteria and prioritize the foundations that “make the cut” for this year, and list them in order of grant request due dates. For each foundation, propose a short list of projects to pitch them. Be realistic here. There are only so many days this year you can devote to the task. You will want to be conservative enough not to waste time “papering the waterfront” while still taking some risks.
Next, call and make appointments to go visit any program officer willing to visit with you personally. Go with some ideas, but go primarily to listen. Few program officers are going to tell you that your ideas suck, but you should be able to tell whether they are enthusiastic or not. Keep good notes from these meetings and keep good files so those who follow you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Keep in mind that you may meet with a program officer several times (over several years) before the “great” idea becomes obvious.
Finally, calendar the due dates and back out enough time to get the proposal written. Keep in mind that if you send a proposal in on the due date, it looks like what it is – rushed, last minute work. If you send it in too early, it looks like you didn’t know when their due dates were and you were just fishing. Four days to a week before the deadline looks impressive.
The point is that you can concentrate the research, visiting, and calendaring work NOW to increase both your efficiency and effectiveness. April is a good month to get this done, but you’ll want to start getting organized in March. Buy that one-month subscription, recruit that research volunteer, conduct your brainstorming meeting. Hit the ground running.
Got ideas about systems that work for you? Please consider sharing them here.
Photo credit: Dogwood Trees courtesy of Walt Kaesler.