Finding Foundation Funding

Dear Kim:

How does a really good organization get foundation funding?  I know from your books that you don’t recommend relying on grants, but it seems like they are a help for getting programs off the ground.  I have used the Foundation Center’s database, which is great, and I have identified potential grantmakers, followed instructions, but so far have nothing to show for it.  I took an online course on grant writing and, I hope without sounding arrogant, I feel I know how to write a grant.  But it seems like you need to really know somebody to get grant money.  Can you share any secrets? 

~Snowden in Reverse:  Need Secrets

Dear Reverse:

I wish I had the secrets because I could have sold them and retired by now.  You actually indicate the true ‘secret’ which is that you need to know someone.  Grant seeking is not a democratic process even though it purports to be.  It appears from classes, databases and articles that a thorough search for the right funder, a good proposal and appropriate follow-up, will bring in the big bucks.  And, like intermittent reinforcement, that does sometimes happen.  Someone told me a while ago that she sent a short proposal to the Leonardo di Caprio Foundation and got a check by return mail for $5,000.  She had read what he is interested in, and her organization was right up that alley.   So, you may raise some funding by doing what you are doing, and I genuinely hope that is the case.

But you may want to spend more time focusing on who you know that what you know.  I remember almost 40 years ago, when I was first in fundraising, I wrote many proposals.  In those days we typed on manual typewriters and correcting typos was a giant pain in the neck.  I was very careful, followed directions and sent off my proposals by mail.  I received back by return mail one rejection after another.

Then I sat with three other colleagues and we went through our address books trying to figure out who knew someone who knew someone who knew SOMEONE important.  We found a link to a program officer and managed to get a meeting with her.  She had a board meeting coming up in three days and said, “Get me a proposal by tomorrow and I’ll see what I can do.”  I typed up something quickly and sent it in, and got $10,000.  (Which was a bucket load of money in those days.)  Later I read the proposal.  It had bad sentence construction, fragmented thoughts and a dozen typos, including the classic “pubic” for “public.”  That’s how I learned that the proposal is least of it.

You know the people who know the people who know the people you need to meet.  Make a map of them.  Go to events where they might be, such as Foundation Center trainings or Association of Fundraising Professionals luncheons or United Way conferences.  If you can’t afford those, call those places and ask for a scholarship.  Don’t be shy.     

One secret of all fundraising is this:  there are no secrets.  Fundraising is a slog.  It is hard work and often doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere.  But if you keep at it, you will raise your money.

~Kim