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.


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