Why You Should Care About “ADA”(Americans with Disabilities Act)

What do Dominos, Target, and Weightwatchers have in common?

These organizations are among a fast growing group caught in ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) non-compliance lawsuits involving their websites’ failure to meet standards of accessibility. According to Seyfarth, 2018 saw a record 2,258 ADA lawsuit cases filed in federal court, nearly triple 2017’s number and 2019 saw a similar increase.
Companies are not the only targets of ADA lawsuits, however – Harvard University and MIT’s legal losses in their attempts to seek dismissal of pending ADA cases – illustrate the increased liability non-profits face if they do not comply with ADA legislation.

The digital era has transformed how businesses and non-profits interact with society, and how we interact with each other. In response, the DOJ (Department of Justice) has taken the view that the internet is a place of public accommodation, which by Titles II and III of the ADA, must be offered in an equally accessible manner to the public. In determining ADA compliance for digital offerings (including websites), the DOJ has accepted WCAG 2.1 compliance (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) as a de facto standard and equitable remedy in the event of a suit.

Beyond the potential legal issues faced by non-ADA compliant websites, other important issues arise for non-profits due to ADA.

Equity and inclusiveness are paramount: in 2018, the CDC reports an estimated 35% of the United States population as having an ADA related disability (visual, audio, motor, or cognitive). Beyond the age 55, almost 53% of Americans report a disability.

Importantly, this demographic makes up in excess of 50% of individual donations to non-profits. Needless to say, a donation page with an unreadable font size, uncontrasted color combinations, or appropriate audible or motor assists is a certain recipe for reduced contributions.

Challenges to website accessibility vary greatly depending on the disability. What’s encouraging is the range of assistive devices available to bridge the technology gap. Those with visual impairments utilize their screen readers to synthesize text to speech. People with hearing difficulties may depend on the availability of closed captions on videos. Motor assists such as mouth sticks and head wands allow people with motor disabilities to control the input of a screen or keyboard. The innovations in adaptive technology allows those with disabilities to navigate computers through a wide variety of assistive technologies.

The good news is that there is an array of solutions available for non-profits.

Over the coming weeks, we will be completing an in-depth ADA survey, comprised of 238,000 US non-profit websites, to help the sector gain critical insight regarding where it is and where it needs to be regarding compliance.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning how “ADA friendly” your website is, and discuss strategies for making your site ADA compliant, the team at Silkstart can help. Contact us to learn more about our services.


FoundationSearch Success Story: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ


Faith-based nonprofits are discovering more foundation partners thanks to FoundationSearch. In this Success Story interview with a FoundationSearch member, Pam Hart of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ recounts her experiences and lessons learned in foundation fundraising.

FoundationSearch Member: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ

FoundationSearch Member Since 2014.

When Pam Hart started as the Development Director at Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ (MPYFC), the organization had never received any grants from public or private foundations despite its extensive programming focused on nurturing a healthy spiritual life, alongside emotional and physical development, for youth 11 to 19 years old; the teens meet at MP YFC facilities, schools and homes across the greater Pittsburgh area for structured conversations and just chilling out.

Fast forward five years and Pam describes an out-of-the blue telephone call from the local community foundation that resulted in a $6,000 grant. The staffer told Pam that a fund it administers “knows what you do, and wants you to apply for a grant.” Couple that with a local women’s philanthropy group selecting MP YFC as the 2015 recipient of a $10,000 grant, and it’s clear that MP YFC is gaining traction with the philanthropic community. Grateful for all that has happened, Pam explains how MP YFC’s firstever capital campaign and the critical assistance from FoundationSearch served as the launch pad for its fundraising success.


1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?

With legal restrictions preventing some government agencies in making grants to religious-affiliated organizations, MP YFC relies on private and public foundations to supplement the contributions from individual donors and company sponsorships. “Smaller foundations tend to be more interested in us than bigger foundations,” Pam states. Whereas large major foundations support the national Youth for Christ USA and its broad programming, family, community and corporate foundations with local connections are essential to MP YFC’s fundraising strategy. MP YFC appreciates, and maximizes, its hometown appeal. “Smaller local foundations tend to be more interested in what we do,” Pam says, adding how effective it is to invite funders to site visits and discuss in-person their investments.


2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.

In 2013, a leader with MP YFC discovered that a National Guard Armory was for sale – the facility was ideal in location and had a large gymnasium and meeting room but required substantial renovation. Because of the Armory’s potential, an individual supporter donated the money to purchase the building, setting in motion MP YFC’s first formal fundraising campaign. “We needed a lot of money to renovate this building,” Pam says, “And so we started to look at individual donors and businesses. Then we realized that there are foundations that would support something like this. So we started looking into foundation grants.”

At the end of the Armory Youth Center campaign two years later, MP YFC had raised a half-million dollars with $75,000 in grants from 10 foundations identified through FoundationSearch. Most of the funds purchased items that attracted youth to the Armory; recreational equipment, updated bathrooms and new paint transformed an old building into a vibrant youth center.


3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.

“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Pam says about the time before MP YFC became a FoundationSearch member. For example, while MP YFC operates in a large metropolitan area, its Armory Youth Center is in suburban Washington County, rendering it ineligible to receive grants from foundations in Pittsburgh that, in reality, fund within one county of the city center. Now, Pam searches and finds foundations that support nonprofits located in Washington County.

Pam, the only staffer at MP YFC using FoundationSearch, also saves time by finding prospects with track records in funding organizations similar to MP YFC, such as those seeking grants for the first time and religious-affiliated organizations. “One of the things I like is being able to look at the details about the foundation,” Pam says about the FoundationSearch interface. “You’ll have a page where you can find all of the information in a chart or a paragraph. You can see who is on their board and whom they supported in the past.” While guidelines can state that a foundation accepts proposals from faith-based organizations, its grantee list may indicate a focus on a specific religious affiliation. Thanks to FoundationSearch, Pam can quickly evaluate whether to allocate resources to approach a prospect “It’s just very easy to click and see all of the organizations they’ve supported in a year. To me, that’s very helpful.”


4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?

In YFC’s first significant outreach to potential foundations, Pam understood that the organization, at the start, needed to demonstrate that other community donors and sponsors believe the organization was a good investment. “I found that they really liked to not be the only funder,” Pam says about foundations that had not previously partnered with YFC. “If you’re talking about renovating the gym, a funder didn’t want to renovate the whole gym. They wanted to be a part of a bigger group of funders.”

Pam also wanted a foundation prospect to know that its mission and guidelines genuinely aligned with YFC’s needs; in other words, she was not wasting time with an inappropriate or long-shot ask. Equipped with information provided by the FoundationSearch database, Pam approached foundations with personalized and strategic requests. “I tailored my proposals to what I could tell they were interested in.”


5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?

Pam’s advice is summed up in two words: be realistic. “One thing to know is that you’re not going always to get the amount you asked for,” Pam states, adding that FoundationSearch showing a particular foundation’s average grant amount helps to determine a realistic request. “You don’t want to ask for something outside of that range.” Pam also encourages fundraisers to accept the lengthy timelines of foundations. “They can take several months to consider each proposal, so you can’t immediately need the money you are requesting. You have to give yourself a lot of time.”

Finally, Pam suggests viewing the grant process as a means to build a positive, on-going relationship with a foundation. From paying attention to application guidelines to keeping the funder informed about project changes, it’s beneficial to treat the foundation as a partner, even after the funds are awarded, received and used.

“Make sure you do follow-up reports to thank them – whether they asked for it or not,” Pam says.

The mission of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ is to reach young people everywhere, working together with the local church and other like-minded partners to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their godliness in lifestyle, devotion to prayer and the Word of God, passion for sharing the love of Christ, and commitment to social involvement.



FoundationSearch Success Story: Kansas Council for Economic Education


In the second of a series of interviews with FoundationSearch members, Jim Graham of Kansas Council for Economic Education explains why the statewide nonprofit chose FoundationSearch on the eve of its 60th anniversary.

FoundationSearch Member: Kansas Council for Economic Education

FoundationSearch Member Since 2016.

Next May, the Kansas Council for Economic Education (KCEE) will celebrate a milestone birthday. Nearing sixty years old, the 501(c)3 nonprofit continues to provide programs and services that strive to ensure every kindergarten through grade 12 student in Kansas is economically and financially literate. Currently hosted by the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, KCEE has earned an impressive reputation thanks to its affiliation with Kansas’s six public universities, long-term relationships with Kansas business, philanthropic and government leaders, and a core passion for equipping teachers with the knowledge to teach personal finance and economics. However, as President and CEO Jim Graham explains, KCEE understands that even an established and respected organization like KCEE must adapt to a new funding landscape regardless of its age.


1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?

Though a variety of funding sources, such as individuals, corporations, government agencies, and private foundations, have consistently supported KCEE, an on-going decrease in giving by several long-time supporters is the primary motivator for KCEE to seek out new foundation partners. “We’ve been going to foundations for years, but are now trying to put more emphasis there, because of the funding we have lost,” Jim says.

Specifically, funding from two state agencies – the Office of the Kansas Bank Commissioner and the Office of the Kansas Securities Commission – has fallen, as much as 80%, due to a drop in fines from penalties, the source of funding from those government agencies. “Likewise, we have some significant corporate funding,” explains Jim, “but one of the things that has adversely affected us over the years, not just here in Kansas, but nationwide too, is tremendous consolidation of companies. We used to get a lot more funding from a lot more banks.”

With almost $106,000 raised from 22 foundations in KCEE’s most recent fiscal year, any difference between budgeted and actual amounts is a problem. “We’re very grateful for what we get, but we have to replace that.”


2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.

Presenting over a dozen programs ranging from poster contests to multi-day professional development conferences for teachers, KCEE relies on both general operating and restricted program funding from family, corporate, and other private foundations. Every year, those programs reach more than 100,000 students through more than 1,000 teachers acround the state. For example, Financial Foundations for Kansas Kids (FF4KK), a KCEE signature program developed and copyrighted fifteen years ago, is an interactive, self-paced online course that provides almost 30 hours of personal financial literacy training for grades K-8. A mix of funders – public agencies, national foundations, local family foundations, private foundations – support FF4KK development, distribution and teacher training.


3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.

“One of the reasons we love FoundationSearch is because of all of the information it provides,” Jim says. Since an estimated 90% of foundations do not have publicly available information , such as their giving areas, amounts or guidelines, Jim believes that being a FoundationSearch member with access to updated, in-depth info automatically increases his chance for fundraising success.

“I was frustrated when I would see a foundation’s name and then try to find information about it and then you couldn’t find it!” Jim says. After preliminary searches on the FoundationSearch database, Jim was impressed by the potential for new funders. “I couldn’t believe how many foundations are based here in Kansas and, in fact, right here in Wichita. It’s a tremendous number of foundations.”

Jim is especially eager to learn which foundations provide general operating or programmatic grants so that KCEE can continue its existing services at the quality expected by Kansas teachers. “I would not anticipate bringing on any new programs in the near term,” says Jim. “We’ve got such a good base of programs that it’s just a matter of keeping them active and effective.”


4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?

Despite KCEE’s solid reputation and donor relationships across Kansas, Jim wants potential funders to appreciate the organization’s significant need for new funding to maintain its current activities. “It’s interesting that we are a statewide organization with a lot of programs and with only two full-time employees,” Jim says, referring to himself and KCEE’s vice president for programs. KCEE also utilizes college students and volunteers to provide many of its services.

Jim also aims to convey that a six-decade-old nonprofit with limited staff capacity can adapt to a changing philanthropic landscape and is a good investment for foundations. Along with a commitment to foundation fundraising, Jim recently has established a development committee of the KCEE board as a tool to complement his use of FoundationSearch. Whereas FoundationSearch identifies leads for foundations, the Development Committee, as Jim envisions it, would generate connections to local wealthy individuals and corporate leaders who are peers or friends with KCEE board members. “The committee is now getting started, so hopefully over a period of time, it too will be helpful to me in fundraising.”


5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?

“I would certainly recommend that they use FoundationSearch to find foundations,” Jim says. “The information is there. It’s a huge database.” He adds that for charities like KCEE with one person who is fundraising in addition to managing a dozen other responsibilities, FoundationSearch saves invaluable time by doing initial pre-screening and prospecting* of foundations at local and national levels.

FoundationSearch, Jim says, works for you.

FoundationSearch is able to deliver customized screening and prospecting services for clients, separate from the database membership, through its Grant Development Services division; contact FoundationSearch for more information.

The mission of the Kansas Council for Economic Education is to equip Kansas teachers to educate Kansas students (K-12) on the principles of economics and personal finance.


FoundationSearch Success Story: Special Olympics Florida

FoundationSearch enjoys hearing stories from our members about how the service makes their jobs easier, and starting this summer, we will share these success stories with you in a series of interviews, starting with Janice Reardon of Special Olympics Florida.

FoundationSearch Member: Special Olympics Florida

FoundationSearch Member Since 2010.

In her third year as the Director, Foundation Relations, Janice Reardon describes Special Olympics Florida as “a rising star within the international community,” and her fundraising talent is one reason why. After raising $170,000 from foundations in her first nine months and $390,000 in 2017, Janice has generated, with the assistance of FoundationSearch, over $200,000 from private and public foundations so far in 2018. Next year, she plans to raise $1 million from foundations, a necessary amount as Special Olympics Florida aims to reach 60,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities across the state by 2020.


1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?

In a state with numerous private, public, and corporate foundations, there’s one type of foundation that appeals to Special Olympics Florida: family foundations. “I feel like you get to have a real conversation,” Janice says. Discussions about specific programs and needs of the Special Olympics lead to a meaningful connection, not a grant transaction, with the family foundation. “We do need to raise money but establishing relationships with people is what we are looking for.”

Often personable, the family foundation staff and trustees respond positively to the stories about the work of Special Olympics. Sometimes conversations with the right family foundation discovered through FoundationSearch quickly leads to a grant, unlike the effort and resources typically required for government funding. She estimates that the income from foundation fundraising currently accounts for at least 20% of the overall development department budget and is expected to grow.


2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.

Janice points to two programs made possible by foundation grants. First, the expansion of the Healthy Community program to Jacksonville was launched with a $10,000 grant from a local family foundation with the only condition that the funds be used within the county. With the foundation happy with the success of the program, they renewed their commitment for another year. The Young Athletes program doubled the number of athletes served to 16,000 in just one year thanks to a $10,000 grant from another foundation that allowed Special Olympics to focus on outreach to young parents, not only children.


3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.

“One of the things that FoundationSearch helps us do is tell our story,” Janice says. Like most nonprofits, Special Olympics does not have the resources to purchase advertising, so foundations learn about the organization through grant applications and direct outreach. Using results from her FoundationSearch reports, Janice communicates Special Olympics’ value and impact with receptive and appropriate foundations.

At the start of a year, Janice works with her team to plan their grantseeking strategy, aligning what the organization needs to raise with suitable prospects and realistic asks. She says that getting very clear about why you are seeking grants and your preferences for foundations will generate a more successful prospect search in FoundationSearch’s online database. “You have to sit down with your staff and cut the fat off the meat,” a process identifying the primary characteristics of the foundations Janice and her team want to find through FoundationSearch.

The FoundationSearch My Best Prospects feature lets her easily input project data. “When I finish a search. I’ve got a document that gives me the top 10 [foundations], and I know exactly the amount I should go after, and I know what my chances are for funding.”

Janice also builds her calendar around the due dates for grants shown by FoundationSearch. After reviewing the funding history, contacts, and guidelines, Janice then sends out emails, letters of interest and applications. “I don’t have to waste my time scrolling through lots of websites. It gives me everything I need.”

“I have submitted 30 grants already this year, and we have brought in over $200,000 in grants,” she says. “It’s the first six months of the year, so that’s great.”


4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?

Competition for limited dollars is a challenge that Special Olympics shares with other nonprofits, yet outdated assumptions about people with intellectual disabilities and the work of the Special Olympics is the most significant issue.

“Special Olympics Florida has evolved tremendously,” Janice says. Now, in addition to its legacy sports and fitness-related activities, Special Olympics offers a range of health resources and programming, from individual exams to community-wide initiatives. In the three years since Janice was hired, the organization has increased its reach from 27,000 to 46, 000 athletes – along with their families, caregivers, and coaches – receiving services, free of charge, mainly through 155 schools and 15 colleges across the state. “You have to tell people that or else they still think we just give out medals.”

“It’s a lot more than I thought,” she adds. “We have programs for our athletes from the age of two and upwards. We’re here for life.”


5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?

“Be reasonable and realistic,” Janice says.

She recommends approaching a new foundation prospect with the mindset of building a long-term relationship, aided by data gathered from FoundationSearch. Start with a friendly ask of $5,000, for example, to better understand how the foundation operates. She also suggests avoiding grants from foundations, particularly corporate foundations, that are industry competitors to your existing donors and vendors.

Janice reminds foundation fundraisers that if you do the work, you eventually will receive funding. “You’ve got to go do the work first,” she adds. “But it is really not work once you get into it.”

“The mission of Special Olympics Florida is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.


What Your Non-profit Needs to Know about Crowdfunding

Online crowdfunding has exploded in popularity among non-profits of all sizes and types in the past few years. And it’s easy to understand why: an estimated $5.5 billion was donated through online crowdfunding sites in 2015.

While online crowdfunding dollars are not a replacement for foundation grants, FoundationSearch clients wanting to diversify their contributed income have a flexible and powerful tool with crowdfunding.

Why Should You Care

The National Council of Nonprofits defines crowdfunding as an effort to raise money with donations from a large number of people through websites and apps. There are hundreds of charity-focused or social entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites and platforms, providing services (from a profile page within a platform to a branded website with the newest sharing features) to set up and administer campaigns, those single or on-going efforts, for a non-profit. Regardless of a non-profit’s fundraising experience, financial and organizational capacity, and focus area, venturing into online crowdfunding brings a number of benefits.

Raises New Money: Online crowdfunding raises money for one-time events, existing programs, pilot projects and long-term campaigns, such as a capacity building or annual giving campaign. Everything from a food bank’s new freezer to a multi-year, multi-million-dollar capital campaign can be funded through an online campaign that anyone – a former board member, a current donor or a stranger – can discover and fund.

A recent report by Classy, a fundraising platform for social impact organizations, found that though the median one-time gift size for crowdfunding is about $52, its value grows over time. Classy account manager Elizabeth Hilbert explains, “A vast majority of recurring giving occurs on donation and crowdfunding funding pages, so these donors acquired through crowdfunding are your future major donors and recurring givers.”

Expands Fundraising Capacity: Alison Carlman, the Director of Impact and Communications for GlobalGiving, a non-profit crowdfunding organization that has connected donors, non-profits and companies in over 170 countries, says that crowdfunding does more than generate dollars. “Our partners have described how their experience on GlobalGiving has helped them build their teams, develop processes, establish new relationships and revitalize old ones.”

Board members, staff, donors and allies can create their own campaigns to fundraise among peers, simultaneously with the non-profit’s campaign. One of GlobalGiving’s partners explained that online crowdfunding prompted staff previously not involved in donor development to transform into enthusiastic fundraisers.

Increases Organization’s Visibility: A non-profit grows its online presence through crowdfunding campaigns by sharing news and updates to prospective and existing donors. Keeping supporters updated through the life of a campaign (and afterward) goes a long way in building trust between a non-profit and its donors.

Additionally, donors discover non-profits by searching a crowdfunding platform to support a cause, not a specific organization. Classy’s Hilbert adds that if a visitor to a crowdfunding site initially does not donate, they are primed for future gifts. “Research suggests supporters have to be asked anywhere between 5 and 8 times before they take action.”

Comparing Online Crowdfunding Options

Crowdfunding sites differ in philosophies, features, and mechanics, so FoundationSearch suggests that non-profits ask the following questions when comparing platforms.

Fundraising Goals

Must your non-profit commit to specific fundraising goals and timelines? Understand what happens to funds if a goal is missed or exceeded; some online platforms only collect donations if the goal is met.

Donor Experience

Like tailoring your grant applications to different foundations, make sure your crowdfunding campaign is built with modern, tech-savvy donor in mind. GlobalGiving, for instance, works with its clients in the early stages to plan how their donors will be thanked at campaign’s conclusion.

How will donors find your campaign? How many steps are required to find your non-profit on the crowdfunding site? What does your campaign look like on mobile?

Does the platform allow corporate gift-matching? Some platforms link to corporate-matching databases so that employees can donate and then seek a gift match from their employer.

How easy is setting up monthly giving amounts and one-time, predetermined giving tiers? Does the platform link up with current trends such as #GiveBig days or #GivingTuesday?


What are the vendor and credit card transaction fees? Though most platforms offer free or low-cost versions, your campaign may be more successful by paying for additional features and support. Payment options now include one-time contracts, monthly and annual subscriptions, and goal-based fees.

Technical Assistance

Find out what is offered by the vendor’s customer service. Is tech help available 24/7? Do you need to schedule or purchase additional support during a campaign launch? What donor data is collected on the crowdfunding site, and how secure is it? Know how donor information will be integrated into your existing donor management system.

Ready To Launch?

Online crowdfunding can power up your fundraising strategy but, as the above demonstrates, it requires planning, implementation and maintenance. If you have questions about where to begin, contact FoundationSearch to discuss how we can help. Through our Grant Development Services (GDS) for non-profits, we provide customized, full-service fundraising support, such as developing an online crowdfunding campaign. Whether you are seeking new donors for an existing program or special funding to grow your fundraising capacity, drop us a note or share your comments below.



Year-End Thoughts and the “January Effect”…

At FoundationSearch, we are frequently asked whether there is a seasonality to foundation giving, as there is in individual giving.

Unfortunately, foundations most often don’t report the exact month of their donations, however we can easily determine their fiscal year-end.

Why is the year-end date of the foundation important? For a few reasons…

“Year-end” is the time that funders must ensure that they have met their minimum required donation amounts to qualified donees. The Internal Revenue Service requires that private foundations donate at least 5% of their assets averaged over a 5 year rolling timeframe. If they have not met this donation threshold, they will most likely be looking to meet it before their year-end. This presents an opportunity for charities to apply at an advantageous time.

Even if foundations have met their minimum giving thresholds, “left over” funds at year-end can leave the impression that those in charge of the grant making process have been unsuccessful in their efforts to locate a worthy recipient. This also presents an opportunity for the grant seeker.

The “new year” for every foundation starts the day after “year-end”, with renewed purpose – and funding. All donation budgets and plans are refreshed and await a new cycle of funding requests, decisions and grant awards. The sooner the grant seeker approaches the foundation after the start of their new year, the better the chances are that funding will be available.

So why did I title this blog “the January Effect”? Because December and January see more foundations ending their fiscal years and starting their new ones than any other months in the year. Of the 122,345 foundations contained in FoundationSearch, 87,424 have their year-end during this period.

So, while we cannot prove that there is a granting seasonality, there certainly is an “opportunity” seasonality awaiting the grant seeker.

If you want to learn more about how to identify the year-end for foundations, please drop us a note and we’d be pleased to help you.

In the meantime, all of us at Metasoft wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday!

Trevor Skillen

For other blogs in this Foundation Fundraising series follow this link.


Foundations – Should they be part of your fundraising strategy?

In the course of speaking with almost 20,000 non-profits each month about their funding needs and plans, we sometimes hear that “foundation fundraising is not part of our focus”.  We believe that there are some very compelling reasons to introduce or re-visit foundations as a potential source of funding for your organization. Those reasons are:

Growth – the most recent GIVING USA report from Indiana University indicates that foundation funding was the fastest growing giving source in 2015, growing at a rate of 6.5%, compared to 3.8% for giving by individual donors. Foundations gave $58.46 billion, in the form of an estimated 832,000 grants – that is one grant for every two charities in the US so your odds of getting funded – if you apply of course – are good.

Stable Giving – Foundations must make charitable grants – in good times and bad – of at least 5% of their assets, averaged over five years. Importantly, foundations frequently INCREASE their donations in challenging times to attempt to compensate for the financial difficulties their recipients may face.

Predictable giving – Foundations exist to donate to charity (unlike individuals and corporations) and often publish giving guidelines relating to geographic and philanthropic areas of giving interest – furthermore, analysis of giving through time indicates that most foundations maintain a strong, consistent focus in the areas they support.

Low risk / low cost – unlike high, upfront expenditure fundraising efforts like golf tournaments and galas, foundation fundraising requires very little upfront investment, typically $5,000-$10,000, and with the average foundation grant amount of $66,300, it provides a cost efficient method of fundraising – all that is required to start is a funding database which identifies good funding prospects, a good letter, and stamps and envelopes.

Low effort – relative to almost any other form of fundraising, approaching foundations requires fewer resources to succeed. This is particularly true of the upfront work in sorting through the over 120,000 US foundations to identify a list of “best prospects” for your project, a task that a few years ago could consume months of effort. Foundation funding information and management systems like FoundationSearch are now able to intelligently and accurately identify a short list of the best prospects for a variety of project funding needs – and recommend a safe asking amount based on the funders prior giving history.  The balance of the upfront effort simply involves writing and sending a letter of inquiry to your foundation prospects to determine their interest in helping you.

Increased credibility for you and your organization – well, once you get funded by a foundation that is. When Metasoft was a small, three person software start-up, we had only one customer – but that customer was Microsoft, and that client said good things about our software and people and opened the doors of more than one hundred other large high tech companies who became customers of our graphics and imaging technology. Similarly, if you were to be successful in attracting a grant from the Gates Foundation, this would open up many doors in the foundation and corporate world for your organization for years to come.

Diversification of funding sources – financial advisors will strongly advise you not to put your life savings into a single stock or sector; for the same reason, having a variety of funding sources—including foundation funding—will strengthen your organization and protect it from the sharp downturns every economy periodically experiences.

Want to learn more or add your thoughts? Feel free to contribute….

With foundation funders, does “No” mean “Maybe”? – Part 1

A sizeable number of the more than 121,000 foundations in the US -19,888- indicate that they do not accept unsolicited proposals.

We also know that a significant number of current and past FoundationSearch members (more than 16,000) do not approach them for that reason. Is there a missed opportunity here?

Many grant seekers believe that these funders are “captive funders” that act to support a single non-profit such as a school or hospital; or they have a small list of charitable organizations they wish to support and are not receptive to solicitations from new charities. In fact, many of our FoundationSearch users “tag” these foundations in order to exclude them from searches and prospect lists altogether.

But is this really an effective or advisable strategy?

Internet research on the topic reveals that Bradley Smith, the President of Foundation Center, wrote about this topic in 2011 in a blog post entitled “Don’t Call us, We’ll Call You”.  In this piece, he addresses some of the reasons why foundations state that they do not accept unsolicited proposals – the two principal reasons he cites are – one, a desire by funders to limit the volume of requests they are receiving, and two, a desire to proactively choose charities to fulfill their strategic goals. Unfortunately, he did not examine how pervasive the issue is with foundations, and we found no other credible research on the matter. So as such, we decided to do our own.

To do this, we conducted a comprehensive review of FoundationSearch data spanning more than fifteen years of US granting history for over 75,000 grantmaking foundations including more than 10 million grants to gain some insight.

This is what we learned:

19,988 foundations indicate that they do not accept unsolicited proposals.

Of these, 4,608 of these foundations – 23% –  provided no grants to new recipients over the period analyzed.  But 15,380 of these foundations – 77% –  in actual fact did provide grants to multiple new recipients over the period analyzed.

So, the good news is that the majority of funders that state they are not soliciting new proposals are, in fact, funding new recipients.

There are two takeaway lessons from this.

First; don’t be too quick to write off a foundation that states that they are not soliciting proposals –FoundationSearch provides detailed charts in each foundation profile indicating new vs repeat recipients by year. A review of these FoundationSearch charts offers detailed insight into grant funding provided to new recipients. These funding trends can be viewed by Value of Grants, Number of Grants, and Number of Recipients.

Comparison of the Value of New vs Repeat Grants Given by the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Value of New vs Repeat Grants Given by the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Click on chart to view full size
Comparison of the Number of New vs Repeat Grants Given by the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Number of New vs Repeat Grants Given by the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Click on chart to view full size
Comparison of the Number of New vs Repeat Grant Recipients for the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Number of New vs Repeat Grant Recipients for the Marvin and Donna Schwartz Foundation
Click on chart to view full size

Second; for those funders who are in fact funding new recipients year over year, you will need to find another way in the door – more on this in my next blog.

Recommended Ask Amount

You have worked your way through over 120,000 US foundations to find the best foundation funding prospects for your organization (see my previous blogs on how to determine your best funders, and my review of some of the tools available to do this). Now, you need to answer a crucial question: how much do you ask for from each funder?
It’s a question that every fundraiser needs to ask, and more importantly, needs to have the answer to. In this week’s blog post, we’ll review the problem, do a web survey of the prevailing wisdom, and then outline some of the possible solutions.

You may be asking yourself why you should not just simply ask each of your funding prospects for the amount you need to fund your project. The answer is that foundations have both “floors” and ceilings” on the amounts they give — a request that is too small may be deemed too expensive for the funder to oversee relative to the amount donated; too large a request may exceed the funder’s capacity to give. To compound the problem, these floors and ceilings vary by funder, your area of operation, your non-profit category and other factors including the size of your proposed outcome.

There has been little discussion in the sector on the topic of ask amounts for foundations. A survey of some of the advice available online about optimal ask amounts reveals that most advice is geared toward individual giving capacity — how much to ask from individual donors. From blog posts at DonorPerfect (“the secret to asking the right amount”), to gift range calculators from Blackbaud, most of the guidance and recommendations center around how to deal with individual giving. Some of the suggestions can translate to the world of foundation fundraising, but some of it simply doesn’t apply.

A post on TheGrantPlant, a blog site, directly addresses foundation funder ask amounts and suggests the following: do your research for appropriate funding prospects, check the foundation’s giving history, and don’t expect the entire amount to come from a single foundation funder. All of which makes sense in a very basic and time consuming way. Cataloguing a foundation’s giving history can take time, even when you have tools like Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online and Metasoft’s FoundationSearch available. Some foundations actually state their desired gift amounts and publish their desired grant range amounts, but most do not. So, a review of the foundation’s past granting history can give good — and perhaps the only — indication of what an ideal ask amount should be. To do this, you would examine all recent grants made by your foundation prospect, select those that were made to your funding category and location, and determine the “median or middle” amount given, and repeat for each funding prospect — lots of work but essential work. If you had originally identified 200 good foundation prospects for your project, this work could take an hour per prospect, or 200 hours…

Grants given by Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, to New York state, social & human services category
Grants given by Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, to New York state, social & human services category

FoundationSearch is working to take some of the work out of this process, by providing a method of calculating the ideal ask amount automatically, for each funder. Built into its analytic tool for finding the “best funders” for your project, a recommended ask amount is calculated on a foundation by foundation basis by your stated funding category and location. The system reviews the entire granting history for each of your foundation prospects, selects the historic grants that most closely match your project parameters, and calculates the median, maximum and minimum grant amounts made by the funder. The median (middle) grant amount is selected as the “recommended ask amount.” Users can click the amount, and easily view a chart (like the one shown above) of the relevant historic grants and see in which range most of the grants fall.

By asking for a grant amount that is in the middle of the amounts previously granted by the foundation, you lessen the risk of your request being rejected, and you stand a better chance of securing the grant from the foundations you approach. With a list of the best funders, and the optimal amounts to ask from each funder, you are in a much better position to succeed in your fundraising efforts.

(Please feel free to leave a comment, or link/re-post as you like. I look forward to your comments, and opening up the conversation on foundation fundraising!)

Which Foundations are Your Best Foundation Funding Prospects? Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed the key foundation funding factors that determine who gets funded – and who doesn’t. These factors were determined based on foundation funding statements and demonstrated funding preferences identified through analysis we have conducted on over 10 million US foundation grants spanning 15 years. The identified factors are:

    Project or recipient location
–    Grant size requested
–    Giving interests
–    Types of support
–    Granting category
–    New versus old recipient giving ratios
–    Giving trends

Applicants ignoring even one of these when applying for funding may see their requests being rejected, so it is clear that the best approach is to evaluate every funder against all of the factors to maximize the probability of a successful fundraising campaign.

To start, in-depth foundation information is readily available through online searchable databases, such as FoundationSearch and Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online (FDO). In comparison, both provide tools to allow filtering of foundations by grant amount, location, area of interest, and funding category. While these filters are useful, they do not account for new versus old recipient giving ratios or giving trends. Recent testing of the filtering capabilities of both FDO and FoundationSearch prove both are adept at producing a “not so short” list of prospective funders for various search criteria. For example, a search for “scholarship” funding in New York state quickly produces an unsorted list of 1,670 potential funders in FoundationSearch using that product’s Grant Analyzer feature. This is certainly gets the fundraiser much closer to their goal of a targeted and ranked list of the most likely funders, but still leaves much work to do.

Foundation Center acknowledges the problem and provides a Prospect Worksheet, designed to “help you focus on funders whose priorities match those of your project.” The PDF form, which is four pages long, covers some of the key factors that should be evaluated when reviewing foundation prospects (again, see my previous blog post for an explanation of those factors). The form includes a section for determining whether the funder is a good match or not; you can make notes on subject focus, geographic limits, types of support, and populations served. The worksheet helps you organize your research, but it is still a manual process, and would need to be repeated for every foundation you want to evaluate. We tested this method, and average time to complete a sample worksheet was 30 minutes for a prospect. To complete a prospect sheet for each foundation in our example of a search for funders for scholarships in New York implies over 800 hours of additional research work, which is not feasible for most organizations.

One fundraiser who has founded her own research group, Jennifer Filla, has developed a method she calls “prospect prioritization” for corporate and foundation prospects. This involves creating a worksheet to record the client’s specific project criteria, and a rating legend to rate the funder prospects she’s evaluating against criteria including giving interest, location, and giving capacity. Through detailed interviews with the client, she determines which criteria are most important for the project, and weighs those more heavily in the scoring system. This is a step beyond the simple prospect worksheet, because it integrates a rating or scoring element, so that prospects can be weighed against each other and evaluated against specific criteria and then ranked. Although I have not tested this method, it appears to be a better method than the one offered by Foundation Directory Online in terms of ultimately producing a ranked list of funders. Unfortunately, this is still a manual method, requiring upwards of an hour’s analysis for each prospect, implying 1,600 hours of additional research work for the scholarship example.

FoundationSearch provides an analytic tool (My Best Prospects, or MBP) that greatly speeds up the review and ranking process—analysis of tens of thousands of foundation prospects is reduced to minutes rather than months of effort. Basically, this tool takes the prospect worksheet concept, integrates it with the rating/scoring aspect, and—here’s the best part–automates the entire process. 

The tool allows you to input your specific project criteria, including project or recipient location, granting category, grant size, giving interests, and types of support. It then takes those criteria and evaluates every single funder in the database, and scores each of them on how well their past funding history matches your project criteria.

It also rates the funders’ granting histories, by checking out whether they’ve given more grants to new recipients as compared to old (i.e. repeat) recipients. And lastly, the tool also checks to see whether the funders are increasing or decreasing giving to your granting category through time. Some funders won’t make the cut, but the ones that do are ranked in descending order by relevancy to your project, and by funding frequency to your project criteria.

With the FoundationSearch tool, the best prospects are selected automatically for you, and presented in a ranked list of the 250 best prospects, with research profiles related to your particular project criteria for each.

So what does all of this analysis achieve? Good, timely funder analysis will increase your chances of getting funding by enabling you to focus on funders most likely to fund your project. Seems obvious, yes? For those who are time-pressed, narrowing the list down further to focus on funders with immediate deadlines can also benefit (see my previous blog post for a discussion on researching deadline opportunities). With foundation funding histories readily available through online searchable databases like FoundationSearch and Foundation Center, availability of information is no longer an issue. Efficient and accurate analysis becomes the challenge, and choosing the right tools to help with that analysis is key.

It would be interesting to hear how other fundraisers are dealing with evaluating foundation prospects…

(Please feel free to leave a comment, or link/re-post as you like. I look forward to your comments and feedback!)