4 Scary Things to Avoid in Grant Applications

It's that time of year: time for ghosts, goblins, and ghouls to emerge and make their mark.  While scary costumes and decorations can be fun, scary grant applications do not get funded.

Here are four scary things to avoid in grant applications:



1. Applications that ignore the funder’s guidelines or requirements

Most funders provide some sort of guidelines to tell grant applicants what they want to see – what they are willing to fund or not willing to fund, what their interests are, what information should be included in a successful grant application. And yet, a surprising number of grantseekers still submit grant applications that are outside the funder’s guidelines or do not include the required information. Why is this scary? It means the grant will not be funded, and the grant writer has probably missed the opportunity to build a relationship with this funder, since the funder will be unlikely to want to see another application if the first one is far off the mark. Missed opportunities for funding and impact? Scary.

2. Applying for grants that your organization won’t be able to handle or implement

The temptation is there. A new competitive grant with a big funding pool. The possibility for a grant that’s bigger than any grant your organization has ever received. It’s right up your alley. Your interests are perfectly aligned with the funder’s. You’ve written the most compelling grant proposal you’ve ever written. Then you win the grant, and it’s so big and the expectations are so great that your organization is unable to handle it. You have to hire new staff in a hurry, and they don’t get sufficient training. You have to scale up infrastructure, and the grant hasn’t provided enough overhead support (or maybe it’s a restricted project grant), so you can’t get your team the equipment it needs. The list goes on. This type of scenario can sink an otherwise successful organization. Terrifying.

3. Not proofreading before you submit

Typos? Frightening.

4. Getting too bogged down in detail

If you can’t see the forest through the trees while you’re writing, your prospective funder won’t be able to, either. It’s critically important to know all of the details of the program and how it will be implemented. But you don’t necessarily need to share every detail in your grant application. Provide enough information to give the program officer or other decision makers enough information about the problem your organization is tackling, why it’s important, and how your programs are addressing it, but not so much information that it’s overwhelming. The purpose of the grant application is to demonstrate the need and the opportunity for support from this funder to help your organization meet its goals and serve its constituents while also helping the funder meet its goals. There will be other opportunities for an interested funder to dig into the details with you. Get them interested first, then have the detailed conversation later. Too many details too soon can be scary.


Don’t make these scary mistakes in your grant applications!

While it’s up to you to avoid these scary grant writing mistakes, grant writing software can help with the rest of the process.

Learn

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimstovring/15052960483
Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 30, 2015, 05:27 PM

Back to School - Grantwriting Basics

Back to school

If you've been on social media at all this week, you've probably noticed something: pictures of kids in clean, pressed clothes, posing (sometimes patiently) for their parents' obligatory first day of school photos.  Or, if you're a parent, perhaps you've taken (and posted) one yourself.

All of this back-to-school-ness has gotten me thinking about getting back to basics.  In elementary school, kids learn the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic (or 'rithmetic, for those really focused on alliteration).

What does getting back to basics in grantwriting look like?  For me, it's the three Rs of grantwriting: research, relationships, and writing:

  1. Research.  Good grantwriting starts with good research.  A really compelling grant application requesting funding for an animal shelter will never be successful when submitted to a funder that only supports education reform.  While that's an extreme example, less egregious examples abound: grantseekers submitting requests to funders whose priorities have changed without confirming the funder's current interests; grantseekers not thoroughly reading guidelines before submitting a request and being denied for not adequately meeting the requirements; grantseekers spending significant resources to apply for a big-name grant they are unlikely to receive, at the expense of smaller grants that are a better fit.  Another facet of research is being selective about which grants to apply for and which to skip.  Grantseekers are always looking for new funding.  But not every grant is a good grant or a good fit.  Some aspects of that relate to funding priorities and ensuring that the program, project, or initiative for which you are seeking funding fits within the funder's interests, but it's also important to calculate the net grant value (discussed in this blog post) before applying for a grant.
  2. Relationships.  Relationships are a key part of institutional fundraising, just as they are a key part of individual fundraising.  While grants are awarded by foundations, corporations, government agencies, or other types of organizations, the decisions are made by people.  Establishing and building relationships with those people is critical to grantseeking success.  When approaching a new funder, try to get to know the people.  It's beneficial in a number of ways: it helps the grantseeker gain a better understanding of the grantmaker's interests; it helps the grantmaker better understand the organization applying for the grant; it helps the grantmaker feel more valued in the process.  Grantmakers sometimes feel like they're treated by grantees like ATM machines: grantees are only interested in the check.  There are much more meaningful relationships that can and should be built with funders, not only because it helps the funder feel more valued, but also because both parties have much to learn from each other and can help each other.  Funders and grantees are all focused on addressing issues.  There is an immediate alignment of interests in that realization.  Connecting with funders - not only during the application process, but on an ongoing basis - can help inform both parties about what is working and what isn't working in addressing the issue or issues they both have in common.
  3. Writing.  Of course, a key part of grant writing is the actual writing.  As a grantseeker, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading your grant application.  Is yours the only grant application they will be reading?  How much will that person know about your organization before reading your application.  What do they need to know to evaluate whether your organization is going to be a good fit with their funding interests?  How will they be able to determine that your organization and your application stand out from the others?  Simply put, good writing is paramount.  When reading many applications, one that is poorly written can be easy to dismiss, regardless of the quality of the program the grant would support.  And persuasive writing is critical.  How are you making the case that the grantmaker should allocate some of its limited resources to supporting your organization?  Every decision to support your organization implies a decision not to support another organization.  Have you crafted your proposal in a manner that is sufficiently compelling for the funder to make that decision?  Have you used a good combination of qualitative and quantitative information to make your case?

What do you think?  What are your back to school tips for grantwriters?  What other grantwriting elements are fundamental?

Grant writing software can help manage all facets of the grantseeking process.

Learn

 

Image from http://img14.deviantart.net/bcdc/i/2012/239/3/f/back_to_school_by_textuts-d5cml39.jpg

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
September 11, 2015, 10:55 AM

Gateway to Grant Success: 17th Annual Grant Professionals Association Conference

This is a guest post from Kelli Romero, Membership Director at the Grant Professionals Association

GPA_Conf_Web-Banner-2015-300x250

The 17th Annual Grant Professionals Association* conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri on November 11­14, 2015. This year, the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) has blazed a trail of new and exciting workshop sessions, innovative learning experiences and networking opportunities.

This is a must ­attend event for anyone involved with grant management and grant proposal preparation. GPA Conference workshops offer expert advice from the grant profession’s most successful and accomplished grant proposal developers/managers. Workshop tracks include: Proposal Development and Planning, Donor Relations and Research, Grant Management and Reporting, Evaluation and Collaboration, and Federal Grants. Sessions are targeted to individuals with varying levels of experience from beginner to mid­career to advanced topics (new this year).

Workshops cover topics such as:

  • State of Grantseeking and Its Implications for Grant Professionals – presented by Altum’s own Dahna Goldstein!
  • Grant Management (Not) For Dummies: The Price You Pay After the Award]
  • How to Stage a Proposal Like Staging a Home – Emphasize Best Assets
  • Understanding Online Grant Applications­Interactive Q & A
  • Overcoming the Challenges of Grant Seeking and Management in Large, Fiscally Diverse Organizations

Several workshops focus on specific fields, such as grant management, government, education, human services, and faith based organizations.

This year’s conference will highlight some keynote and featured speakers as well as some wonderful sponsors and exhibitors, such as Altum!

Who Should Attend:
Anyone involved in grants: Grant Writers, Grant Managers, Grant Consultants, Grants Officers, Grant Coordinators, Development Directors, Executive Directors, Government Relations Officers, Financial Officers and any other Grant Professionals. Any level of experience, beginner to expert.

In today’s extremely competitive world for grant awards, the organization that invests in the professional development of its grant professional increases its odds of receiving grant funding tremendously. The opportunity to meet and learn from this caliber of presenters will not be matched at any other venue.

Registration for this conference is a small investment for the knowledge and increased competency you will gain at this premier event. To find out more information about the conference or register go to: 17th Annual GPA Conference.


*The Grant Professionals Association (GPA), a nonprofit membership association, builds and supports an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. Founded in 1997, GPA has grown close to 2,000 active members representing all 50 states and internationally. More than 50 chapters have formed in the past five years.


Author: Dahna Goldstein
August 20, 2015, 02:49 PM

Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking Report

Spring_2015_State_of_Grantseeking

Altum is delighted to share the results of the Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking report, conducted in partnership with GrantStation.

The Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking survey found that there was a decrease in the rate of funding from most sources, including a 2% decrease in funding from community foundations and a 4-5% decrease in funding from all government sources.

While foundation giving reached an estimated $54.7B in 2013 and 2014 giving is expected to be higher, grantseekers report challenges when pursuing grants, including lack of time and staff to pursue grants and increased competition for funding.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • The median largest grant awarded was $43,800, the lowest since Spring 2011;
  • Grant funding comprised a greater percentage of the annual budget for medium-sized organizations than for either small or large organizations;
  • Frequency of funding from different sources correlates to organization size.  For example, while 18% of small organizations (budgets under $100,000) report that their largest award source was community foundation grants, 43% of extra-large organizations (budgets over $25 million) report that their largest award source was the Federal government;
  • Organization focus area suggests types of funding sources to pursue.  For example, arts and culture organizations may want to target local government grants in addition to private foundation grants, while animal-related organizations should focus primarily on private foundations.
Largest_Source_of_Funding_by_Mission_Focus_Spring_2015

Download the Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking Report
.

Organizations using PhilanTrack reported higher success rates than the average organization in the survey.  Specifically:

  • PhilanTrack respondents reported sources of funding at rates ranging from 13% to 80%, compared to 11% to 76% for all organizations.  In other words, PhilanTrack users received funding from all grant sources at rates higher than the average survey participant;
  • The median largest award for PhilanTrack organizations was $49,945, 14% higher than the median largest award for all organizations in the survey.

To learn more about how PhilanTrack can help your organization achieve better grantseeking results, watch this overview video or register for an upcoming webinar.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 07, 2015, 10:19 AM

Finding Your Path Just Got Easier

This is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation

 

Pathfinder-Logo

About a year ago, I (virtually) sat down with my staff and told them I wanted to build an interactive program that would help individuals who are trying to develop their grantsmanship skills. I thought this concept might stimulate some interesting conversation. I had no idea how quickly the staff would latch on to it!

Why was their reaction to this idea so positive?

Because we had all been experiencing the same thing, over and over. GrantStation Members (about 25,000) were hungry to learn more. GrantStation Insider subscribers (about 250,000) were always asking about learning opportunities.

Grantsmanship is somewhat of a mystery to many individuals, and most people assigned with the task of grant research, writing, or management, not to mention strategic planning, are often looking for guidance.

So, the good news was we had identified a real need. Our challenge became, how do we build something that will actually help individuals improve their grant seeking skills?

After much contemplation, planning, testing and programming we launched, on June 18, a new, public website called the PathFinder.

The PathFinder is designed to help individuals develop their career path as grant professionals. The PathFinder library provides profiles of top quality resources that can strengthen an individuals ability to secure and manage grant awards. Each posting is vetted by our staff, so you are getting the 'cream of the crop'.

To get started, you can browse the library, search the resources, or use the Find Your Path tool to develop your own learning plan. You can get a full tour of how this site works by watching this short, introduction video posted on the home page.

Whether you consider yourself to be a novice, somewhat experienced or a professional, I believe you will find the resources to be of high quality and useful.

We've organized the resources into three categories: timely events, quick study, and deep dive. Timely events include live webinars, workshops and trainings, as well as conferences. Quick study items include articles, reports, blogs, and other items that take a little time to absorb. And, the deep dive resources all focus on interactive tools, books, certificate and master programs.

This site, like many sites nowadays, allows you to rate the resources, so once you’ve read a book or a report, taken a webinar or attended a training, please come back and rate the resource so others can learn from your experience!

 

Cynthia Adams has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofit organizations raise the money needed to do their good work. Many of her early efforts centered on raising funds to set aside wilderness areas in Alaska. In 1990 she started her first company, the Alaska Funding Exchange. This endeavor served as the testing ground for a national company, GrantStation, which opened its Internet doors in the fall of 2001. Cindy built this business because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world. Cindy enjoys hiking, gardening, and "movie night" with friends. Her husband, John Luther Adams is a composer, so she also listens to a lot of 21st Century music

Author: Dahna Goldstein
June 22, 2015, 06:32 PM

And the Winner of the 2nd "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest Is…

The second annual "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest received some truly impressive responses.   Entries were judged based on a number of criteria that make grant tracking spreadsheets difficult to work with, including their complexity, susceptibility to error, duplication of information, and reliance on one person’s specific knowledge to navigate.

Without further ado, the winner is…StreetLightUSA!

StreetLightUSA is a nonprofit that helps adolescent girls transition from trauma to triumph by helping them get out of the sex trade.

StreetLightUSA will receive one year of free access to the PhilanTrack online grants management system to replace their "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheets with an online system that will help the organization streamline all of its grant-related activities.

There were a number of compelling submissions in this year's contest.  Grantseekers are using Excel to manage everything from contact information to proposal status, and more.

Here are some of our favorites (note: some images have been modified slightly to minimize any identifying information):

 Ugly_grant_tracking_spreadsheet_1

Ugly_grant_tracking_spreadsheet_2

Ugly_grant_tracking_spreadsheet_3

Ugly_grant_tracking_spreadsheet_4 

 

 

In addition to some very illustrative visuals of challenging spreadsheets, there was one particularly impressive and detailed description of a grant tracking database (selection from the description included here):

ABOUT THE DATABASE TAB ORANGE field heading text means the column cells contain a function. A GREEN triangle in the upper left corner of a cell means there is a function in it that Excel thinks may be faulty. This is not the case, everything works fine. Ignore them. A RED triangle in the upper right corner of a field heading means there is a comment about the field there. Hover your cursor over the cell to see the comment. BLUE field heading text means the column is for the current year. Similar columns from past years are present, but hidden. Organization names in RED are ones of particular interest for research. A KEY to coded fields is in a sheet behind the Database. COLUMN / NAME / NOTES A / Organization Name / No organizations begin with "The". If there are people's name(s) in the organization title, the listing is by last name. Organizations may appear >once if there are >1 separate potential grants (see column B). B / Grant Name / The particular grant of interest given by the organization. C / Grant Range / Minimum and maximum theoretical amounts disbursed. D / Challenge Grant / Whether it is a challenge grant, yes or no. E / Match Grant / What matching ratio is required by the grant (usually X:1, grantor:X) F / Grantor Status / Whether it is a current, past, or future funder. See Key.

And it goes on.  It includes at key at the end (edited slightly to minimize identifying information):

KEY TAB A / Grantor Status / C = Current, F = Future, P = Past B / FY Codes / 0 = Did not apply, 1 = Applied and pending, 2 = Applied and awarded, 3 = Applied and denied, C / Programs, / D / App Codes / FP = Full Proposal, LOI = Letter of Inquiry, NOM = Nomination, PP = Pre-Proposal E / App Formats / EM = Email, OL = Online, PC = Phone Call, SM = Snail Mail

Thank you to all of the entrants in the most recent contest, and stay tuned for the next one towards the end of 2015.

Is your organization using an "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheet?  Request a free online demonstration to learn how PhilanTrack can replace the spreadsheet and help your organization streamline its grantseeking efforts.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
April 29, 2015, 12:52 PM

International Grant Professionals Week - March 16-20, 2015

Herndon, VA.  March 12, 2015: Altum has partnered with the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) to announce the establishment of International Grant Professionals Week March 16-20, 2015. Grant Professionals Week recognizes and celebrates the work of grant professionals, who serve as administrators, consultants, managers, grant-makers and writers.

Every day, grant professionals work diligently, usually behind the scenes, to seek grant opportunities, administer projects and implement important programs for the benefit of society’s disadvantaged and underserved people. These talented professionals are dedicated to providing the highest standard of ethics, quality program development, thoughtful project implementation and wise financial stewardship. Often, those standards extend beyond the mere financial and include capacity support, long term solutions to challenges, fundraising assistance, expert project management, sustainable programming and so much more.

Grant professionals do much more than write grants – we are community leaders! We are managers, administrators, consultants, grant-makers, and we write grant proposals!” stated Debbie DiVirgilio, President of GPA.

Monday through Friday of Grant Professionals Week will address different aspects of the grant profession.

  • Monday, March 16th – Grant Profession Education & Awareness Day
  • Tuesday, March 17th – GPA Chapter and Community Event Day
  • Wednesday, March 18th – International Event Day
  • Thursday, March 19th – Thank you! Grant Entrepreneurs, Partners and Volunteer Day
  • Friday, March 20th – Grant Professionals Appreciation Day

IGPWeekLogo

Grant Professionals Week is an important part of the month of March 2015. The Grant Professionals Certification Institute (GPCI) has launched a campaign to bring awareness to the Grant Professional Certified (GPC) credential. March 1, 2015 will launch the “31 Days of GPC”, showcasing a daily video of a GPC explaining the importance of the credential and how it has benefitted his/her career. In where there is no recognized academic degree, certification is the only authoritative, independent measure available by which to determine a person’s experience, skill and knowledge base.

“International Grant Professionals Week is a terrific complement to GPCI’s “31 Days of GPC” event. We are proud to be a part of recognizing the grant professionals whose experience, qualifications and skills are paramount to sustainable programming at non-profits word-wide,” declared Amanda Day, President of GPCI.

For more information about GPCI, the GPC credential and the 31 Days of GPC, please visit the GPCI website at www.grantcredential.org.

GPA is a professional organization that builds and supports a community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good. We have partnered in this effort with GPCI, the grant profession’s organization that is dedicated to promoting competency and ethical practices within the field of grantsmanship, and the Grant Professionals Foundation (GPF), the fundraising partner ensuring the resources are available to train, credential and advocate for all grant professionals.

For more information, visit the International Grant Professionals Week web page at: www.grantprofessionals.org/grantprofessionalsweek.

Contact for more information about IGPW:

Kelli Romero, Membership Director
Grant Professionals Association
membership@grantprofessionals.org
(913) 788-3000

###

About Altum

Altum offers industry-leading grants management, performance management solutions, and strategic communications. Since 1997, Altum has provided innovative software products and services to philanthropic and government organizations. Altum’s products include proposalCENTRAL®, an online grantmaking website shared by many government, nonprofit, and private grantmaking organizations; Easygrants®, a highly configurable e-Grants solution that meets the unique needs of grantmaking organizations; PhilanTrack® for Grantmakers, web-based grants management software that streamlines the grantmaking process; PhilanTrack® for Grantseekers, web-based grants management software that helps grantseeking organizations manage everything from finding new funders to writing grant proposals and progress reports; Infor PM, the industry-leading performance management solution; and QlikView, the industry-leading, self-service, business intelligence solution. Altum is proud to have made the Inc. 5000 list four years in a row (2008–2011).

Founded in 1997, Altum is a privately held corporation headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, near Washington, DC, with an office in Rockville, Maryland.

About Grant Professionals Association

Grant Professionals Association, a nonprofit membership association, builds and supports an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. GPA is THE place for grant issues. We provide professional development by way of an Annual Conference and Webinars, professional certification (GPC), Journal and E-Newsletter, local Chapters, member benefits and more! www.GrantProfessionals.org.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 12, 2015, 01:37 PM

Please Take the Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking Survey

Will_you_take_the_survey

Twice a year, we (PhilanTech, and now Altum) partner with our friends at GrantStation to conduct a survey about the current state of grantseeking.  Each time, we gain valuable insights about what is and isn't working well for grantseekers, who is funding what, what challenges are most pressing for grantseeking organizations - and we are happy to share those insights with the grantseeking community to help inform grantseeking strategies.

We've just opened the Spring 2015 State of Grantseeking survey, and hope that you'll take a few minutes to take the survey.

This year, there are new questions about Federal funding and support. These free reports, which will be published in early May, can serve as a valuable benchmark for organizations to review their grantseeking efforts, and will provide leading-edge information months earlier than other annual surveys.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey before March 31.  Results will be published on both the Altum and GrantStation websites.  Survey respondents can request an advance copy of results when completing the survey.

If you haven't already, you can download the Fall 2014 State of Grantseeking Report here.

Happy grantseeking!

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 12, 2015, 01:01 PM

What to Do When Technology Isn’t Your Problem

(Post by Robert Weiner.  Original post on Robert's blog)

cartoon-technology

Copyright P. S. Mueller http://www.psmueller.com/

Does it feel like you never find the right combination of technologies to just make things work? Do you lie awake at night and wonder how everything is going to get done, or why a new project was just dumped on your plate? If you technology decisions at your organization are driven by some of the following, we’d love to see you at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference (aka the NTC):

  • We chose the system because we have a volunteer who knows it. Or “Our VISTA/New Sector volunteer is really smart. She’ll figure this out!”
  • Let’s get this tool. It worked great at my last (completely dissimilar) organization.
  • We should get the _____est thing.
  • Our board member, donor, or funder said to do or buy ________.
  • It’s not in our strategic/operating plan, but ___________.
  • Won’t it just tell us what to do?
  • It’s free, and that’s all we can afford.
  • Drop everything. We need to get this up and running in the next 3 weeks.


People and process problems frequently masquerade as technology problems. It may seem like the wrong tool was selected, it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do, or the instructions aren’t written clearly enough. In fact, in many cases, what seem like problems with a particular piece of technology are actually due to issues with people, processes, or overall technology strategy.

So how can you identify these types of problems and help your organization - and yourself - better use technology to meet your mission?

On Thursday, March 5 at 1:30 pm, Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, Tracy Kronzak, and I will help you and your colleagues stop blaming the *$%!& technology for organizational problems. Come to this NTC session and talk about issues like:

  • Are technology decisions tied to your mission and strategic plan?
  • Have you prioritized your technology needs and projects, or are you responding to whoever screams the loudest?
  • Are you trying to solve a lack of strategy or broken processes by throwing software at the problem?
  • Have you looked at your business processes to make sure they’re efficient and effective?
  • If you’re struggling with your current systems, did you select systems that meet your real needs, and that you can afford and support?
  • Do you have the necessary funding, staff time, and understanding of your goals and needs to support the technology you’re adopting?
  • Do you have policies and procedures telling people how to use your systems consistently?
  • Have staff been trained on those policies and procedures? Do you have an ongoing training plan that includes time for mentorship and learning?
  • Is someone in charge of making sure that people actually do what they were trained to do, and that everything’s running smoothly?
    • Are they placed appropriately in your organization so they can focus on your mission rather than the needs of one department (or person)?
    • Has that person been trained on the systems they support, or are they making it up as they go along?
    • Do they understand how those systems support the organization’s mission and strategic plans?
    • Does this person play well with others?
  • Is there a help or service desk where someone is readily available to help when needed?
  • Is the help/service desk staffed by friendly people with good customer service skills? Do they understand the systems you’re using?

Come join us for a collaborative, interactive, therapeutic discussion at the NTC.

Thanks to Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, and Tracy Kronzak for their collaboration on this post.

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 11, 2015, 05:53 PM

4 Myths about Applying to Family Foundations

There are over 80,000 foundations in the United States.  According to the Foundation Center, about half of those foundations are family foundations.  In 2011, there were 40,456 family foundations, and that number has increased since.  That same year, family foundations gave a total of $21,329,932,023 in grants, also nearly half of all grant funding.

private foundation grants

Family foundations are therefore both a prevalent part of the foundation funding world, and a critical source of funding.  The most recent State of Grantseeking report indicated that private foundations (which are not all family foundations, though they frequently are) were the most frequent grant funding source, with 78.5% of all nonprofits that received grants getting one or more grants from a private foundation.

So it's important for grantseekers to understand family foundations as a component of a grant portfolio and fundraising strategy.  Here are 4 myths about applying to family foundations:

  1. Family foundations only award grants to pre-selected organizations.  Many family foundations indicate that they do not accept unsolicited requests.  It's certainly the case that many foundations only give to pre-selected organizations.  But that's not the case across the board, even in some cases where the foundation indicates that it does not accept unsolicited requests.  If the foundation indicates that it does not accept unsolicited requests, do not send in a grant proposal.  But try to find out if the foundation's staff members (if the foundation has staff) or a board member would be open to a conversation to learn about your organization and how it would be a good fit for the foundation's grantmaking goals.  Not all foundations will be open to this, and by all means do not push it if the foundation does not want to meet with you, but in many cases, family foundations in particular simply do not have the bandwidth to handle a lot of unsolicited requests.  But they may well be interested in learning about new organizations, and may then invite an application or an LOI.  Be sure to follow whatever guidelines for communication the foundation prefers.
  2. Family foundations only award small grants.  Family foundations vary widely in terms of the size of their asset bases, and, in turn, the amount that they award in grants.  They also vary in terms of the number and size of grants they award.  Leaving aside the Gates Foundation, family foundations range from supporting one grantee to hundreds of grantees.  While some family foundations will give one large grant to one grantee, and others will give several small grants to a handful of grantees, the size and range of family foundations means that many of them are providing sizable grants.  The best way to find out what's possible with a particular foundation, if past grant information is not available on that foundation's website, is to look at the foundation's 990PF (the tax returns filed by private foundations) for the last two years to see how many grants the foundation awarded and the sizes of those grants.
  3. Family foundations only give locally.  Community foundations give locally - that's what they were designed to do.  In some cases, family foundations will be very dedicated to the community in which the donor or donor family grew up or currently resides.  But there are two trends that suggest that family foundations are increasingly giving nationally and internationally:
    • Donor interests are changing.  Foundations are able to determine their giving focus, and award grants to organizations that meet whatever criteria they set (and legal criteria, of course).  Family foundation interests and giving priorities are as varied as the interests of the donors who established the organizations.  It's not at all unusual for even a small family foundation to be making grants to organizations that are geographically distant from the foundation's office.
    • Family foundations are increasingly getting the next generation of family members (and sometimes even a third generation of family members) involved in determining the foundation's giving priorities.  Those second and third generation family members frequently don't live in the same area as the person or people who established the foundation.  In many cases, the foundation will still grant where it is located, and also grant to organizations that the next generation family members get to know where they live or where they have traveled.  Again, the best way to find out where a foundation grants, if it isn't listed on the foundation website, is to look at that foundation's giving history as reflected in its 990PF forms.
  4. With a small family foundation, it's easier to get a grant since the application process is less rigorous.  The fact that a family foundation is small doesn't mean that it's not sophisticated about its grantmaking, and it's a mistake to think so.  Some small family foundations are among the most engaged grantmakers, thinking strategically about how their giving, no matter how big or small, can have the greatest impact.  Thinking strategically doesn't necessarily mean having onerous requirements; some are very forward thinking in learning about potential grantees and developing relationships, and you can help them by doing your part to develop a good relationship.  Some family foundations have requirements that are not right-sized for the grants they are awarding, though the same is true for all types of foundations.  As with any grant pursuits, it's worth thinking about the net grant (the grant funding your organization will actually receive after the costs of applying for and managing the grant are taken into account). 

One common theme highlighted through the points above is that each foundation (whether family, corporate, community, or independent) is different.  It's incumbent upon the grantseeker to do research to find out about the specific foundation's giving priorities, preferences, requirements, etc. 

The other key theme that cannot be overstated is that building relationships is key to grantseeking success.  Regardless of the size of the foundation, who is on the board, and what the foundation's giving priorities are, building a relationship - and maintaining that relationship - is critical to getting a first grant, and to then getting subsequent grants.  Put yourself in the shoes of a family foundation board member or staff member.  Are you more likely to be receptive to a great proposal from an organization represented by someone who is a total stranger to you, or to a great proposal from an organization you've been hearing about because someone from that organization has taken the time and made the effort to engage with you about how the organization fits with your giving priorities and the foundation's grantmaking goals.  Relationships matter.  And your relationship-building responsibilities do not end once you have gotten the grant.  Keep building the relationship by keeping the funder in the loop throughout the life of the grant, and beyond.

Learn how PhilanTrack can help you build and manage relationships with family foundations and other funders. 

Request a demo

 

Image: Data from the Spring 2014 State of Grantseeking
Author: Dahna Goldstein
August 28, 2014, 10:30 AM

Subscribe to Email Updates

Grant Software Finder

Answer a few questions to find the right grant software solution for your organization.

Find Grant Software

Posts by Topic

see all