Plan Your Program
Before you begin your search for an organization that may be able to provide you with a grant, you need to be sure you are seeking funding for a program that is well thought out, necessary, and complements your other activities. You should spend considerable time with staff, board, volunteers, and clients to design the right program for your community and your group. Be sure to include current and potential future clients as part of your planning process. They help to clarify the community’s needs and suggest appropriate solutions, and their comments will strengthen your proposal when you are ready to apply for a grant.
Another element of planning is deciding whether your organization is in the right position to submit a proposal for grant. Glenda O’Neal of Grants Unlimited suggests that organizations ask themselves several questions to test their grant readiness, including: Does the organization have a mission statement? Does the organization have nonprofit status? What is the size of the organization? Has the organization received other grants? Answers to these questions help planners decide if the grant they seek fits within their overall plan and within their existing organizational capacity. Few funders, for example, would be interested in funding a $1 million project with a group that has previously only had annual budgets of $25,000.
Research Grant-Making Organizations
Once you have determined that are ready to seek a grant—either for a program or for general operating support—it’s time to begin your research. One of the hardest things about finding a grant is identifying a funding organization that meets your needs and provides grants in your area. Potential funders include foundations, corporations (including banks, stores, insurance companies, etc.), labor unions, other trade associations, and local chapters of the Underwriters Association.
The Foundation Center’s library collections offer some of the most complete sources of books and other materials that list private foundations and corporate giving programs. You can contact the Foundation Center for more information about grant writing or the 200 library collections around the United States. The Foundation Center’s web site includes a common application form used by several grant makers in the New York/New Jersey area, a foundation locator service for obtaining contact information for a specific foundation, an online foundation directory that is available by subscription, and information about local free workshops on grantsmanship and proposal writing.
Because many funder directories cost money, you may want to head to the library. Your local library is likely to have directories of funding organizations including The Foundation Directory, the National Directory of Corporate Giving, and the National Guide to Funding for Children, Youth, and Families, plus state-specific directories.
Another great way to look for funders is to check the annual reports, websites, or tax returns of similar organizations in your area.
While the Internet can be a great way to research grant makers, you should know that many small family foundations don’t have web sites. Beyond libraries and the Internet, you can learn about potential funders from adoption organizations in your area and elsewhere. Read annual reports, talk to colleagues, and read group newsletters to learn where others are finding their grants.
When you are researching potential funders, you should note each funder’s geographical area, funding restrictions, program priority areas, and more. Identify each funder’s past grants by reading their annual reports, IRS Forms 990-PF, directories, and other resources. You should look for information that tells you what types of groups are eligible for funding, explain when and how to apply, and how funding decisions are made. Beyond geographical area, the most critical information is the type of programs the organization funds. Some grant makers provide general operating support, others fund programs but no salaries, and others will fund only in areas of economic development, etc.
Lynn Miner, who publishes Grantseekers’ Tips, explains the importance of matching the funder’s priorities with your program:
“Successful grant writers are able to reflect the ‘priorities’ of the sponsor. Too often, grant applicants focus on their own need for funds instead of matching their projects with the sponsorís priorities. You should select sponsors that share your view of the world and tailor your proposals to them. Proposals are funded when they express the same priorities shared by the sponsor. Projects are rejected when they do not precisely reflect the priorities of the sponsor.”
Contact Potential Funding Sources
As with other fundraising, a personal connection within an organization can be extremely helpful. Check to see if anyone in your support group or neighborhood has a connection that might be helpful to you.
For very specific information about each funding source, you can find guidelines online or call or email to request funding guidelines. These guidelines often provide critical information that can affect the results of your request, including the types of grants made, the geographical area covered, deadlines for submissions, and requirements for proposals. Make sure you review the guidelines carefully to be sure your group is eligible for a grant.
As in all fundraising efforts, relationships are crucial to success. Whenever possible, you should talk to the people involved in making funding decisions. At larger foundations, this might be the program officer that focuses on families or children’s issues. In a corporation, it might be the director of public relations or community affairs. You should know, however, that some funders do not want to receive phone calls, usually because they have no staff or too small a staff to handle individual requests for information. Again, the best way to know how to approach the funder is through its funding guidelines.
Select One or More Funders to Target
Now that you have identified a large list of possible funders, you need to narrow down your prospects. Generally, it is a good idea to limit the number of funders to whom you send a proposal. Choose only those funding organizations whose guidelines encompass your program. Feel free to interpret the guidelines broadly, but do not ignore them. For example, if a foundation supports health care programs, they may well be interested in helping children who have special needs. Similarly, an organization that focuses on women’s issues might be willing to fund programs to support single adoptive mothers. On the other hand, if an organization specifically states that it does not fund conferences, do not send an application to fund an educational seminar. If you serve only children and families in the state of Georgia, you should not send a proposal to a funder that gives grants only in the western United States. If you are in doubt about whether your program fits, call the funding organization or send a preliminary letter before you send a complete proposal.
While you can choose to send a generic proposal to a large list of potential funders, this is usually a waste of your time and the funders’.
Foundation program officer Ilene Mack explains, “It is more efficient and in the end more beneficial to send appropriate requests to fewer organizations than to send a shower of appeals in the hopes that one may land in the right place. While you may not receive an approval or even a hearing on the first attempt, if the appeal has been well thought out and is indeed within the guidelines of the foundation, the impression left is a positive one and the next time you try, you may be more successful.”
While conducting the research described above can be time-consuming, it enables your group to target those funders who are most likely to help. Then, when you write your proposal, you can tailor the request to each of the funders—matching their guidelines and explaining why your mission and theirs are a perfect fit.