Top 7 Time-Wasters When Seeking Foundation Grants

Michelle Taylor, Executive Vice President

Many fundraisers seek foundation grants to help increase their organization’s revenue. As with other forms of fundraising, foundation solicitation requires identification, research, planning and cultivation. However, too often development directors and CEOs utilize bad practices when it comes to seeking foundation support and end up wasting valuable time, such as:

1)    Not learning about a foundation’s giving interests. No two foundations are the same. Take time to learn about the issues that matter to each prospect. Research the foundation’s grant history, review its website, and speak to a program officer if possible.

2)    Writing one proposal and mailing it to all prospects. Foundations don’t give grants because nonprofits need money. They give to carry out their own specific mission. Every proposal should be customized to match a foundation’s giving interests and highlight how your work fits in to its giving priorities.

3)    Mailing lots of proposals to unqualified foundation prospects. Foundation giving is not a number’s game. You aren’t guaranteed a 25% response based on the number of proposals you mail. Your time is much better spent writing persuasive and customized proposals to a small group of qualified prospects rather than mailing out 100 proposals to foundations that will never support your cause.

4)    Not knowing your audience. There is a difference between a “professional” foundation that has staff to evaluate programs and proposals, and a “family” foundation that is often run by one or two individuals. In the latter case, you might need to cultivate the foundation more like an individual major gift donor.

5)    Not building relationships. Regardless of the foundation type, you must take the steps to cultivate the appropriate individuals connected with the foundation, from program officers to board members. This might include inviting them to events, arranging meetings, seeking introductions from others, and sharing pertinent communications that demonstrate your impact.

6)    Not following up. Receiving a “no” from a well-qualified foundation rarely means “no, never.” It often means, “no, not right now.” One of the biggest mistakes a fundraiser can make is not re-approaching a foundation for support after receiving a negative response. Follow up with the foundation to learn why your request was denied and then plan on re-applying the following year (as long as your work matches the foundation’s giving interests! If not, you’ll never receive funding).

7)    Not utilizing foundation program officers, when appropriate. At larger foundations, the program officer’s job is to represent the interests of the donor and identify programs that the foundation would be interested in supporting. They can offer invaluable information about a foundation’s giving interests and funding cycles. Also, some will review and offer recommendations on your proposal before submitting it to the board, and provide critical feedback if your proposal is rejected.

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