Foundations fundraising can be time-consuming and exhausting. But it’s worth the work, and it will pay off in the long run.
Last Thursday, Jeremy Beer was joined by American Philanthropic consultants Abigail Alberti and Aaron Brown for a Scotch Talk discussing grants and foundations. Amidst the casual and interesting conversation, Abigail and Aaron had plenty of advice for fundraisers seeking to grow their grants portfolio.
If you’ve got foundations on your mind this year—and they should be!—here are three top tips from the Scotch Talk.
IT’S WORTH THE WORK
It’s a common refrain: “raising money from foundations is just too much work. They’re too bureaucratic . . . they have complicated submissions criteria . . . they never respond anyway.”
That’s all true, to an extent. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your while to set up a solid foundations program for your nonprofit. Almost every year, according to Giving USA, foundation grants make up almost 20% of all charitable giving in the United States. In 2020, that added up to $88.55 billion. Do you want to leave that almost $90 billion on the table? Of course not. (Moreover, in American Philanthropic’s fundraising survey, foundations accounted for 30-40% of revenue for most nonprofits—many of whom are Philanthropy Daily readers.)
At the end of the day, foundations are labor intensive—and can seem odious—but it’s worth your while. Plus, if you are thoughtful about systematizing your foundation outreach—from moves management to proposal and LOI writing—you can make foundations less aggravating, more successful, and more efficient.
Foundations can often seem hard to read. In many instances they are but there is publicly available information that you and your team should be taking advantage of to get more information on these foundations.
The IRS form 990 is a tax document that grant making foundations are required to fill out in return for their nonprofit status. On these documents foundations have to provide a lot of information. Here is a short list of just some of the information provided: address, phone number, board members, staff, deadlines, and—most importantly—grantees and grant amounts!
Thankfully, there are easy and free ways to access these documents. GuideStar and ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, for example, allow you to make a free account and search organizations and look at their 990s. For a more robust and paid option, Foundation Directory Online allows you to search names of organizations supported as well as names of individuals. This allows you to find out who gives to a competitor or find out what foundation boards you might have personal connections with.
One last note on research. We highly recommend looking at your competitors annual reports and seeing which foundations they list as supporters. It’s an easy way to find foundations that might be interested in the work you do.
THE GOLDEN RULE
Aaron shared his key rule for soliciting foundations: “Assume nothing.”
Here’s another way of putting it: “Don’t quit.”
This rule is about follow up—and follow up can be exhausting, I know. But persistence is key.
Do not assume that they received your LOI. Do not assume that their silence is a no. Don’t assume anything!
Abigail and Jeremy both echoed this point. “On a scale of 1 – 10,” Jeremy said, “you should be at a 12 on the persistence scale.” Now, this should be done with grace and a little humor if you can. Nonetheless, too many people give up on a foundation because they haven’t heard back from them. You have to remember that often foundation staff or board members are very busy—whether that’s running the foundation or with their daily lives. And so, keep calling until you get a clear “no.”
And even then, ask yourself, is this a “no, never” or a “no, not right now” . . . and then plot out your next steps, maybe 6 or 12 months away.
If you are interested in becoming a master of foundation fundraising, you are in luck! Our next Master Class will be on this very topic. Sign up today to join us to learn how to land your next foundation gift.