Should Foundations Be Part of Your Fundraising Mix?

It’s official: Foundation giving has officially exceeded pre-2008 levels. Many of us have been waiting for this day. Then, why is grant-seeking still so targeted and competitive? Is it worth the effort? I get asked that question often these days.

My response: If your organization has a compelling message and competitive results, then yes. It’s certainly true that nonprofits that are now entering the grants game for the first time face significant challenges. Staff must come prepared to deliver succinct, compelling statements about its work. Employees must forgo early-state proposal writing for cultivation efforts. They must know when to contact program officers and when to back off. In short, there are more nuances than ever.

Preparation is also increasingly critical. It begins with solid research. A long list of prospects is not typically a good result these days. It tends to signal a need to cull through the list again. Why? As with all types of fundraising, there is a true opportunity cost to pursuing grants. When you begin the process—or continue it—with a honed plan of action, you reduce the likelihood of rejections or time wasted getting to “yes.” While a development plan lays a solid foundation for any fundraising shop, solid planning within each funder type can focus staff on the most important foundations and their year-round deadlines. Consider making a plan, keeping a calendar of activities, and maintaining regular touch points with potential donors throughout the year.

For nonprofits who have done their homework, created a solid plan, and are ready to diligently execute it, foundations can still be a good funding partners. Not only do they continue to fund new and expanding programs, they often provide bridge funding while a nonprofit develops other revenue sources. A growing number provide capacity building assistance. Still others are open to the increasingly creative breakthroughs in our sector. So, don’t give up on foundations. Just be prepared to spend more time in the lead-up to the solicitation than you do on the proposal.