Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to Take Rejection

At last month’s seminar the Foundations discussed reasons why your grant application might be turned down. These are situations that are out of your control. But when you contact the Foundation to find out why you didn’t get funding, if it is because of one of these reasons, you’ll be encouraged to try again next year.
  • There are limited amounts of funds available each year. A Foundation may have certain organizations that it will support year after year and then vary funding from year to year. You may receive funding from a Foundation for several years and then not receive funding. It doesn’t mean the Foundation no longer likes your mission; it just means they are varying the organizations that they are supporting.
  • A Foundation tries to diversify its funding. If you are a women’s services group and four other women’s services groups happened to apply that same year, they may only pick one. If it isn’t you this year, it could be you next year, so don’t give up asking.
  • A new non profit will rarely be funded the first year. The Foundation wants to see at least one year of history. After that they will be more interested to help keep the non profit going.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Decreasing the Odds

In my last post I shared ways that Foundations suggested you could increase the odds of getting your proposal funded. Here’s the flip side…

Try to avoid:

  • Starting a new non profit. If you have a great idea for starting a new non profit, check with your area community foundation or a local family foundation. They will be aware of what is already out there and chances are there is already another non profit doing what you would like to do. The community foundations expressed their frustration with the number of new non profits starting.
  • Boiler plate applications. You can certainly copy and paste standard language, project descriptions, or an overview of your mission, but try to personalize the application to the specific Foundation. Have someone else proofread your final grant. Our panel all had stories to tell of applications with another Foundation’s name listed in the application.
  • Don’t exaggerate to make your program sound bigger. If you are expanding your program to help 100 new people, don’t say you are going to be helping 500 new people. You don’t want to explain next year why you only helped 100.
  • Don’t come back year after year for the same thing. Foundations are looking to diversify.
  • Foundations typically do not fund individuals so it’s not likely that you’ll be able to get scholarship funds.

That all said, there are Foundations geared to specific interests. So there are some Foundations that specifically mention scholarships. Some Foundations fund the same organizations year after year. Foundations may change their focus, so keep them on your radar in case their focus does change from North County to South County. Family foundations may be less likely to change, especially if the provisions of the Foundation were established in a will. Community and corporate foundations may change their focus over time and even as frequently as year to year.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Improving Your Odds

Looking to get funded? The following ideas from our panel of Foundations might help:
Keep in mind that an overall goal of the Foundation is to put its money where it can reap the most from its investment.

  • Collaborate with another non profit. This allows the Foundation to get more from their investment.
  • Read the requirements of the Foundation. If the Foundation only funds in North County and your non profit is in South County don’t waste your time or their time with the application.
  • Explain to the non profit organization how your project will be “self sustaining” in three to five years. “Self sustaining” can include increased donations from individuals and other organizations as part of a donor development program.
  • The Foundations emphasized that they wanted to be part of a growing organization. They are glad to help something get off the ground but they don’t want the organization to be dependent on them for funding each year.
  • As part of this, keep in touch with the Foundation throughout the year so they can see how you are doing. They see themselves as being one of your partners and want to follow your success.
  • The Foundation wants to see Board buy in—meaning that 100% of your Board is giving time and money to your organization
  • And I’ll mention it again since it was brought up a few times—collaboration is the key to a successful proposal.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

And So I Digress

The spring has been filled with baseball, softball, ballet recitals, and end of year school events. It seemed like there would be more time to blog once work slowed down but other things picked up. I started to write more about the great advice from the Foundation meeting last month. But I wanted to fit this in first.

Friday I spent the day helping to decorate the middle school cafeteria for the Freshman Dance. This year’s theme was “A Night under the Stars in Central Park”. Thanks to yards of gossamer, white lights, fake trees, park benches, and a lot of creative parents the cafeteria became Central Park, with the Central Park Zoo, a stone arch with “water” flowing through it, and a patio under the stars. The hall featured the New York skyline, flowered arches, a gateway, and park benches.

One of the organizers suggested that next year the parents have a fundraiser the following evening to raise money for the class. That way the creative efforts could be used for two nights and enjoyed by more people. That idea could be expanded and the facility could be offered to a local non profit for their annual banquet.

Another local school transforms their gym every year for the after prom party. It is so elaborate that the school is open for about 2 hours earlier in the evening so that the public can see the theme and the decorations. While not every school does something like this, it would be a beneficial collaboration to allow a non profit to use the facility and the lavishly decorated areas for a fundraising banquet.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Meet the Foundations

Last Thursday we assembled a panel of Foundations to meet with area non profits and discuss what makes a successful grant proposal. Three family foundations, a community foundation, and a corporate foundation graciously gave advice, told stories, and discussed the philosophy behind their funding choices.

Some tips on how much to ask for:

  • Be realistic. Look at the Foundation’s 990 and see what amounts are typically given. If the average grant is $10,000 don’t ask for $50,000.
  • If this is your first contact with the Foundation start off with a smaller request. You have a better chance to get funds to “get to know you”. A Foundation is not likely to give an unknown organization large amounts.
  • Let the Foundation know where other sources of funds are coming from. The Foundation doesn’t want to be the sole supporter of a new initiative.

Some of these might sound obvious but having seen a number of grant requests-they bear repeating.