Improving the Odds of Foundation Funding

Foundation funding imageDevelopment is actually my second career. My first 7+ years in the workforce were as a copywriter where I worked on national accounts like Pepsi and FedEx.  One of the more surprising elements of this move was the way in which my background helped prepare me for grant writing. Sure, in advertising I had honed my writing skills, but lots of people can write. More particularly, it taught me how to accept constant rejection without taking it personally. Just as I had to present round after round of copy before getting an ad approved, all the hard work in the world will not spare you from getting folders full of grant rejections.

There are many good causes worth funding and many foundations looking to make grants, but the amount allocated will never equal the opportunity in any given year. Foundations are forced to choose between the multiple organizations that rightly deserve their support. The real question is – how do you improve your chances? Read on—you may find some helpful tips.

Decide whether you actually want to apply for grants.
For many people grants seem like easy money. If you spend some time writing and pay a little postage, you can get thousands of dollars in return, right?

But, if you breakdown your salary into an hourly rate, then determine how many hours it is taking you to do each grant vs. your return on that investment – is it worth it for a $2,000 request? It can be, but only if you can use that proposal to respond to multiple RFPs (Requests for Proposal). I’ve seen the statistics range slightly but your odds of getting a grant, even if you are exactly what they are looking for and you filled out the application perfectly, may be as low as 1 in 5. So determine the amount you need from foundations and apply to 5 times that amount for funding. So, if you are looking for $150,000 in grants, that means that you may have to apply for $750,000 in grants.

Turn this line of reasoning around for a second, and think about where else can you be spending your time? Is working on major donor cultivations, training your board members to solicit or establishing a stronger development plan a better way to spend your time?

Why should they give to you?
Of course, you think you are the most deserving, the most appropriate, the best fit. But so do plenty of other organizations. Each grantor only offers a finite amount of money per year and there are seemingly unlimited organizations that fit their bill. Be kind to funders and keep this in mind. Yelling at a funder is not going to get you the money and may prevent you from getting money from that source for many years to come.

You will get money by being deserving, accurate, making connections and being lucky.

Only apply for a grant if your services match the funders path of giving. This may seem obvious, but if a foundation is funding research for pig-farming and you have a cow-farm that needs research, the likelihood is that they will not fund you. Yes, its still farming and it is still research, but pigs are not cows. And rest assured, there are a lot of pig-farmers looking for funding too.

Don’t try to convince them that they are funding the “wrong” thing. You may feel that way, but it’s their money and telling people what they should or shouldn’t do with their money is rarely a good idea

Still convinced you should apply anyway?
Call the Grants Officer and offer a brief explanation of your grant and ask whether it fits their criteria. If it does, ask what you could do to improve your chances of success. Most foundations will either accept calls or a one page brief to serve the same purpose. And, of course, that one page brief will be useful at multiple foundations.  But, above all, cultivating that personal relationship will serve you extraordinarily well and enhance your chances of funding immeasurably

The writing counts
Read the Request for Proposal (RFP) carefully. Follow the directions to the letter. Use direct and simple language – don’t use acronyms or any other jargon even if you know they know what it means. You don’t know who is screening the applications and the less room for interpretation, the better. Suggesting they join you in monetarily supporting a particular organization is a good idea but that should be its own article.

Do you need to be the grant writer?
Taking out the control-factor, do you need to be the person writing the grants? In a small organization everyone does everything, but if grant writing is taking you away from more important tasks, it is worth hiring a grant writer. There are plenty of ways to hire a grant writer (think: Craig’s List, Google, etc…), who is professional, efficient, and potentially has a track record (hint: they know to call ahead before submitting). They may cost money, but it costs money to make money and, again, you can spend more time raising money from other sources.

Grant seeking is both art and science.  Writing well is only a part of the process.  Contact us at, to learn more about how you can enhance the odds to obtain foundation funding.