Approaching a Foundation?
July 26, 2009 3:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I approach a foundation to inquire about a grant?

My boss gave me a list of foundations that he wants me to eventually write grants to help fund our non-profit. He told me to approach the program officer to get a better sense of what the foundation would fund and what their application process is, expectations, etc. What is the best and most professional way to approach the program officer about this issue? Email? Phone? Meeting? Should I be focusing on presenting my program well to them or just focusing on getting information about the foundation itself? Thank you very much, I appreciate any ideas or suggestions you might have.
posted by tessalations999 to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Read everything on their website. Introduce yourself by name and your non-profit, and try to get a feeling for what they're looking for. A thin, personable relationship with the officer is very valuable--you can call to make sure they've got all your materials later on etc. They're busy, I'm sure they won't allow their time to be wasted with facetoface or your details at the moment.
posted by gensubuser at 4:18 PM on July 26, 2009


hydrophonic's girlfriend here.

Calling is my preferred way to first approach a program officer. It's useful to have a phone script written out, with your questions, how you want to introduce yourself and the organization, etc. Not only should you use this call to get the information your boss asked for, but also to gauge the program officer's interest in your program. So yes, your focus is to both get the answers you need and have your program stick in the mind of the program officer, so when you do submit a grant, s/he'll remember your conversation.

You may not hear back from the program officer if you leave a message after the first call---some are like that. I'd suggest calling again and if that doesn't work, send an email (referencing the two messages you left) with your questions and a couple of sentencing about your organization and program.

I used to get very nervous calling program officers, thinking I was bothering them. But 1) it's their job to talk to you and 2) if you can get a sense of whether your program is a fit with the foundation, it will save both you and the program officer time if it's not.

Good luck!
posted by hydrophonic at 4:22 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi. I'm Foundations Relations Coordinator at an environmental nonprofit. This is my job that you're asking about!

First off, you need to do your homework. And you need to do a lot of homework before you talk to anyone. Your primary contact with a foundation should never be to ask something that can be answered by going to their website.

Foundations often list their funding priorities directly on their web pages. You should start there. And you should read it multiple times, taking notes about what issues they emphasize and what types of grants they offer. This is not information that they try to hide. Why? Because it serves to prevent people from calling and asking the same questions over and over and over again.

The foundation's 990 will also give you some information about it. Check out Foundation Center and look for the foundation you are trying to research. One of the most helpful things that a 990 can tell you is who the foundation has supported in recent years. That will give you an inkling into what types of funding they take part in, and what their priorities are.

Are you familiar with buzzwords that describe types of funding? Because if you aren't then you are going to want to familiarize yourself before you start doing this research.

- A "Bricks and mortar" capital campaign refers to support for a physical building - though sometimes people use it to refer to supplies and appliances and other heavy duty "stuff" that your organization may need to buy. The "stuff" definition is not as common though.

- Unrestricted funding or "general operating" is funding for which there is no set goal, outside the goals of the organization. This can be used for any purpose within the scope of the organization.

- Program based support is still the most common (though you'd never know that from reading a 990 - they almost always say "general support" rather than including a wordy description of the project that is being funded) and is tied to a specific proposal with a specific budget. Those funds are restricted to use for that project.

Once you are there, you are ready to do a little more research. Now you need to know how the foundation prefers to be contacted. Again, this is not generally hidden information. Most foundations will put that information right out there for you to see. They will either say, "Please call to discuss your project with us before submitting anything to the foundation" or they will say, "The Foundation prefers not to receive telephone calls; please submit a letter of inquiry." And still others will simply ask you to submit a full proposal as your first introduction to the foundation.

Once you know how they prefer to be contacted, then you can make your plan. Some will require letters. Others will merely require phone calls. I would avoid emailing. Foundations are generally older institutions and the staff have been around for a while. Electronic interaction with foundations is still relatively new, and they don't always handle it well or prefer it. Additionally, you run into the problem of intergenerational communication problems. Baby boomers would rather you pick up the telephone than shoot them an email. And when that baby boomer potentially stands between you and pots of money, you do what makes them happy.

So now we've decided HOW we're going to contact. But you need to be ready for the conversation. You need to have some general idea of what you are asking for, and you need to also have a general idea of how it might fit into the priorities that the foundation has laid out. Say, for example, your organization does river cleanup. You will have a lot of information (history, mission statement, plans, etc.) ready to provide the program office when you call in. It has to be an elevator speech though, so don't get too wordy. Then you need to have them reiterate what their priorities are, probing deeper into what they might want to accomplish with their funding. They fund environmental issues, yes (which we would know from our research - if they didn't, we wouldn't be calling them just to have them sigh loudly into the phone and say, "Sorry, we only work with low income families! CAN'T YOU READ OUR WEBSITE?!"), but do they fund water quality issues? Or are they air quality and land preservation focused? These are the things that you need to be able to put things into order for your boss.

Um. Sorry for the wall of text. I hope it is helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to memail me.
posted by greekphilosophy at 4:32 PM on July 26, 2009 [13 favorites]


Very dangerous to make blanket assumptions like "baby boomers would rather you pick up the telephone." When dealing with foundations, follow all of greekphilosophy's advice except that. Foundaiton staff members are individuals with personal or institutional preferences or requirements and not cookie-cutter examples of someone's ill-considered prejudice. (This baby-boomer, for instance, would rather get an email.)
posted by nax at 5:48 AM on July 27, 2009


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