Seeking the Grant

I have spoken to dozens of foundation executives— from as large as the Ford Foundation to smaller family Foundations. Small and large, they all have their own format and rhythm as to how they like to see proposals, how they are read, and how they are acted upon.

I’ve asked the executives how long they would like the proposal to be, do they prefer a summary first-page, how early in the proposal do they like to see the requested grant amount. Here again, it varies entirely with each Foundation.

I am going to give you some general guidelines that may be of help. They’re pretty basic, but here’s what I find. Just make certain your proposal is as close as possible to the Foundation’s guidelines.

  1. Foundations want you to check their contact information. Make certain your proposal goes to the right person. Some foundations have different program officers for different types of funding.
  2. It’s important to find out in advance what will be a realistic amount to ask for. Obviously, you do this by looking at their past history record. I also like to find out what happens if the Foundation rejects you at a higher amount— are they willing to give you half of that (or whatever) if they feel the proposal is important.
    Some Foundations will tell you when you visit if the amount you are going to request is on target. It’s all right to ask.
  3. Begin by finding out if your request fits within the Foundation’s guidelines. No sense in scattering your proposals to dozens of Foundations— hoping that one will finally strike pay dirt. If the Foundation is dedicated to higher education and, most specifically, to one institution— chances are it’s the Foundation chairman’s alma mater. Skip that Foundation. It’s probably not promising.
  4. Indicate how important the Foundation grant would be to your overall mission and the program you are planning. And those you are serving. It helps if you can show how other funders are also playing their part and supporting the program. Make a list of the contributions you have received thus far toward the project.
  5. Report results— good or bad. I ask Foundation executives if the organization has done a good job of reporting results regularly following the approval of a grant. This is important. In most cases, the executives tell me they don’t wait for this to happen— they insist on it.

I also feel that it’s important that an organization thank the Foundation— even if it does not receive a grant. Let the Foundation know how greatly you appreciate their giving the proposal consideration. This note will go in your file. It will be helpful the next time you ask for a gift.