In 2019, 16.8% of all giving in the United States came from foundations, which showed an increase in foundation giving by 2.5% from previous years. 48.7% of foundation giving came from family foundations, totaling $28.9 billion. Getting funds from a foundation is not easy, but the rewards can easily outweigh the effort.
Before You Start
Before you start actively pursuing grant fundraising, review the guidelines presented in the unit manual to ensure that you are proceeding in the best way. According to Section 2, Part A, Subsection 56, Paragraph j, "Units will not solicit funds, solely for the Unit's use, outside its immediate area." Additionally, according to Section 9, Part B, Subsection 11, Paragraph a, "Units may seek funding from local foundations to a maximum of $10,000. For amounts $10,000 and above, first discuss your grant request with CAF HQ." If you believe you have a unique relationship or opportunity outside of these guidelines, please contact the Development Office to discuss potential solicitations. To best serve your needs, the Office would like to see copies of applications that you are working on and/or have already submitted to local foundations.
The first step in pursuing grants is to establish realistic expectations. Grant seeking is a very competitive endeavor, which means that you will likely face a lot of initial rejection when pursuing funds. This is normal and should always be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve. Grant seeking is a long process as most foundation grant cycles last 9-12 months. If you are in need of quick funds, grant seeking is not the right avenue of fundraising. Grants should be used for long-term projects that can fit within a foundation's time expectations.
Before applying for any grants, you need to make sure that your unit is ready to make the leap. Ensure that you have a solid mission statement, vision, and list of policies and procedures. Develop your reputation and identify on-going partnerships with other people or organizations. Finally, clearly define all aspects of the project for which you are seeking funding. Develop a comprehensive budget, determine how you will execute your project, and write a statement of need. A good statement of need positions your project within your community by addressing what larger needs your project will meet.
In order to be successful in grant seeking, do not just submit blind proposals in the mail or fill out online applications. Foundations are made up of people who are interested in partnering with other people. Before you apply for a grant, make a phone call or send an email to a foundation contact in order to learn more about them and explain your project in greater detail. Oftentimes if a foundation is not interested in supporting your initiative, they will tell you during these initial conversations. Likewise, if they are interested, they may give you some important insight in what to include in a successful application package. Remember to always confirm deadlines and guidelines. Whatever objectives the foundation sets forward should be followed completely. For more information on finding foundations, visit the Prospecting page under Fundraising Basics.
Writing the Proposal
There are several different types of proposals and it is important to determine which type a specific foundation wishes to receive. They often include: Letter of Inquiry (LOI), full proposal, online application, or common grant application.
A Letter of Inquiry is a short introduction of your project to a foundation. They are usually 2-3 pages in length, concisely summarize the project, explain your plan for the project, and identify how the project fits within the funder's priorities. For example, if the foundation is interested in education, you will want to talk about how the project is an important educational initiative. Oftentimes, foundations will want you to submit an LOI and, if it interests them, they will later request you submit a full proposal. To help you get started writing, view the LOI template on the Documents page under Resources.
A full proposal is significantly more in depth than an LOI. Proposals can range anywhere from 5-25 pages depending upon the scope of the project. Proposals usually follow a common format which can be found on the Documents page under Resources. However, if a foundation suggests a different format for proposal submissions, always follow their format. A typical breakdown of a proposal looks like this:
Cover Letter: 1 page in length which introduces your organization and states exactly what you are asking for and how much. In many ways, a cover letter is an LOI re-purposed for use in a proposal.
Executive Summary: 1 page in length which identifies key points in each section of your proposal, including what your project is and what it will accomplish. This is the part of the proposal where you convince your reader why your project is necessary.
Needs Statement: The purpose of a need statement is to convince the foundation that your project meets a societal need within your community. It should relate your mission, focus on who will be served, and explain why funding is critical
Goals and Objectives: This section describes what you hope to accomplish with the project, including specific results or outcomes that can be realistically achieved. A goal is a broad statement about what you want to accomplish, while an objective is a tangible result that can be measured.
Methods, Strategies, or Program Design: This section describes the methods that will be used to achieve the goals and objectives previously identified, including why these methods were selected and the timeline they will follow.
Evaluation: This section explains how you will evaluate the project to determine if the objectives were accomplished and the funds used appropriately.
Sustainability and Other Funding: If applicable, identify how you will sustain funding your project and what funding you have received from other sources.
Organization Information: Provide background and history about your organization and unit, including a summary of your programs, role in the community, and notable achievements.
Project Budget: Your project budget is the backbone of the proposal because it shows exactly what the funds will be used for. Always ensure that your program narrative matches the budget perfectly.
Attachments: Oftentimes foundations will determine which attachments should be submitted. Common attachments include a list of board members, 501(c)(3) letter, audited financial statement, operational budget, and letter of support.
Remember that ultimately your proposal should be tailored to first fit the foundation's proposal requirements and then your specific project. Write the proposal that makes the most sense to your overall project and project goals.
Occasionally, foundations will use the common grant application, a format adopted by groups of grantmakers to allow applicants to produce a single, standardized proposal for those within the funding community. If a foundation uses this format, they will make it very clear and likely provide a copy of the application. The final form of proposal is an online application, which usually follows a Question and Answer format and is found on the foundation's website. Remember to follow the guidelines outlined in the application and submit several days before the deadline to avoid any last minute technology glitches. Regardless of format, the most common proposal weaknesses are not clearly identifying a significant problem and a lack of clarity as to how funds will be used for project activities. Make sure to focus on these areas to ensure greater success.
After the Submission
In an effort to maintain relationships with your prospects, consider making a follow-up phone call or email after you have submitted your application to ensure that the foundation received your application. Use this opportunity to ask the foundation contact if they have any questions about your application or project. Confirm board meeting dates to determine when your application should be reviewed and make follow-up contact appropriately.
If your application is declined, you can respectfully reach out to a contact with the foundation to inquire how to make your application more successful during their next cycle.
If your application is awarded, it is very important that you properly thank the foundation. Call your contact at the foundation and thank them personally and follow up to confirm any reporting requirements for the grant. Oftentimes foundations will have specific reporting requests and you should follow these 100%. If there are no reporting requirements, you should still send a written report no more than one year after the funding.
Additionally, should you receive a grant, please notify the Development Office by sending a copy of the application, award letter and check via email to firstname.lastname@example.org for organizational financial recording. The Development Office will send an official thank you letter to the Foundation.