Breaking Geographic Funding Boundries

Dear Kim:

I am the development director of a human services agency with sites throughout a large state. My problem is finding foundations interested in giving money to programs out in the county, and not in the metropolitan areas. Some funders limit giving to this metro area, while others give only to another one, but a large part of our service is provided outside anyone’s geographic area. Our city programs are well funded and our county programs are dying on the vine.

–Up a Creek Without a Grant

Dear Creek:

Two suggestions: first, forget foundations as a source of funding. They give away very little in the scheme of things. In the last several years, only about 10% of private sector money came from foundations, whereas 85% came from individuals and the remaining 5% from corporations. I suggest you focus your fundraising efforts on the individuals who live in and around the service areas of your various programs. Consider forming volunteer fundraising committees to help identify individuals who would be interested in what you do. Although more work at first, people will be a more constant and easier source of funding than foundations. In addition, you can approach small businesses, service clubs and houses of worship in your community to ask for support.

Second, if you refuse to forget about foundations, go to the foundations in the metro areas that you describe and tell them (nicely but firmly) that their policies of not giving outside of their zip codes are unfair and punitive to people living only a short distance away from the city, and needing your service as much as the city dweller. Some foundations are unable to change their geographic guidelines, but others may be willing to, or may be willing to figure out a way to help you. If a foundation cannot fund you simply because you are outside their geographic scope, ask them to find funding for you from someone else. Don’t be afraid to be assertive with foundation staff. They are supposed to partner with you in making the world a better place to live. (For more information on seeking foundation funding, check out Grassroots Grants: An Activist’s Guide to Grantseeking by Andy Robinson. Several chapters of that book are reprinted online and the book itself can be purchased through Jossey-Bass/Wiley.)

Finally, since your organization is a human service agency, join with other social service groups in putting pressure on local and state government to help you. There are few, if any, social services that should be paid for entirely by the private sector.

Good luck.

–Kim Klein