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Obtaining a Foundation Grant

  • Nonprofits write many grant proposal

  • Most grant proposals go unfunded

Grant proposal writing is both art and science and there is great advice available all over the Internet. When I was starting out, the Internet was not an option so the Foundation Center was my best resource. Through their main collections and their regional centers at libraries in a number of cities, great resources are available on foundations, on writing for grants and on many other topics related to fundraising. The Foundation Center is now online, however, the Internet site is no substitute for their library collections.

As a general method to obtain grants, I tend to look at local foundations first by checking in foundation and grant books organized geographically. I look for those foundations which are local, then search by types of projects they fund and look to match the project for which I need funding. I try to compile lists of foundation board members and have the nonprofit organization's board of directors review the list for any possible relationships. Others who should review the list include major donors to your organization. Some people don't agree with this method, but I have had good success with this process.

Carefully review what a foundation needs in the way of supporting documents and what it requires for a first approach. I have had success by calling the foundation with a polite and easily answered question to get a conversation started. "Hi my name is __________ and I work for __________ . I was researching your foundation in several books and I am just a little unclear on how to make a first approach to your foundation and hope that you can help me not appear foolish in my request." People love to feel they are helpful and you certainly need their help. Relationships started at any level begin to give you an advantage. Due to the small number of staff at many foundations, often the person who picks up the phone is a lot more important to decision making than you may ever imagine. Listen carefully to their advice, thank them for their time and for putting you at ease, and follow their instructions.

Most importantly in writing for grants, don't get overwhelmed by all the advice. The best grant writers follow foundation directions on the timing of proposals and try to adhere to grant requirements. They write from the heart with conviction for a cause they believe in, and they are successful due to the simplicity of their proposal. I believe foundations get more than enough "professional" grant proposals and I like to think that they look instead for proposals that are more sincere than sophisticated. That said, the more you practice preparing grant proposals, the faster you will develop your own style and increase your chances of success in obtaining foundation grants for your nonprofit.

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