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!)


Which Foundations are your Best Foundation Funding Prospects? Part 1

Defining what makes a best foundation prospect is easy to agree on – it is that foundation that is most likely to fund your organization, in the amount you need, when you need it. So much for the easy part; the tricky part is analyzing the over 120,000 US foundations and their stated and actual funding criteria to determine which of them are most likely to fund you.

In this week’s blog post, we’ll review the key factors that must be considered when evaluating a prospective funder, in order to maximize your chances of getting funded.

In analyzing foundation prospects, our experience shows that a review of foundation funding history is everything. Although many foundations publish detailed funding guidelines, actual funding history gives the truest picture of a foundation’s giving interests and patterns. Based on our analysis of fifteen years of granting and an analysis of almost ten million grants made by US foundations, we have determined that most foundations can be quite predictable in their granting behavior.

Multiple factors need to be considered when reviewing prospective foundation funders, and foundation research products like FoundationSearch and Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online provide many of the tools required to identify funders that meet a diverse range of funding criteria with comparative ease.

The funding factors that are the most determinate are:

Location of Recipient or Project. Geography – yours and theirs – is important. Our research has shown that funders can be quite geographically specific in their mandate (think “community foundations”), and will often reject otherwise very good proposals based on geography alone.

Giving Category. Arts, health, education, the environment, social services, sports and recreation, international causes – almost all funders are specific in terms of which non-profit categories they wish to fund. A few questions to ask yourself when evaluating a funder’s granting history: How diverse is the foundation’s funding pattern? Do they give to a wide range of giving categories, or are they very specific in what they choose to fund? If they do give to a wide range of interests, then perhaps they may be open to funding something new?

Grant Size. Grant size can be overlooked, but it’s important to note that if you are asking for too much—or even too little—the funder may be less likely to fund your project over a competing project that has an ask amount more in line with the funder’s giving preferences. Not only should you look at the dollar amount given per grant in your category, but also the total number of grants given at that dollar amount. There is no sense in asking for a $500,000 grant from a funder if they have not previously given a grant of this size. Similarly, foundations frequently set “floors” on the smallest grant size given as they find that it is difficult to cost-effectively oversee the progress made by recipients.

New versus Old Recipients Giving. Determining the degree to which a foundation is receptive to funding new opportunities is another key factor to evaluate. Funders may differentiate between recipients that have and have not been funded previously by the foundation. Some funders are very open to new opportunities, and a close examination of their past granting history may often reveal these preferences. To complicate matters, foundations may decide to change funding emphasis – or de-emphasis – by non-profit category or geography, so any analysis needs to be sensitive to these dimensions.

Giving Trends. Reviewing a funder’s funding history should also include reviewing the overall, general trends in giving. For instance, is their funding to the arts increasing over time, or decreasing within your category? It may be trickier getting grants from a funder that has given dozens of arts grants five years ago, but only one arts grant in the past year. The odds of getting grants from a funder that is increasing granting to a category is better than from a funder that is decreasing granting to that category.

Giving Interests. “Giving interests” are frequently a more specific level of funding interest within a category. For instance, “performing arts” is a specific funding interest within the Arts category, and “ballet” would be an even more specific interest within performing arts. Although it is tempting to qualify foundations to the most specific interest level, this poses two concerns – first, that you would be eliminating potential funders with a broad range of interest in the category but have not yet funded (in our example) “ballet.” Secondly, if the foundation has funded “ballet,” they may not be looking to make additional donations in this area. The general success principle would be to “cast a wider net” than you think you need.

Types of Support. Knowing what types support the foundation is willing to fund is also important. While some funders will not specify where or how the grant dollars should be spent, other funders will explicitly provide only program support, or may choose not to fund capital campaigns.

Note also that when reviewing each of these factors, the frequency of granting is critical. You may find a funder that matches on all vital counts—but if that funder has only ever given one grant that matched, how likely would that funder be to fund you next, compared to a funder that has given dozens of similar grants?

So all well and good. These are the things you need to look for in a potential funder’s giving history, in order to determine whether they’ll be a good match or not. But, how do you create a framework for generating a ranked list of prospects for your project, in a timely, efficient way? How can you find all the best potential funders, not just a single perfect funder?

We’ll discuss some of the options available in the marketplace in the next blog post.

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