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
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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
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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
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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.

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!)

Tracking Foundation Application Deadline Opportunities

As a non-profit, you know the challenges around keeping up to date on new and upcoming foundation funding opportunities and their deadlines. Although your first instinct may be to check a foundation’s website for deadlines, our research shows that fewer than one in ten US foundations provides this information on their site—or has a website at all.

A handful of deadline alerts services are available for non-profit researchers. Why so few? Because the main challenge you face is the same one these alerts services face: staying ahead of ever-changing deadlines. We’ll outline a few of these available services, and review some of their features and strategies for keeping informed of relevant opportunities.

Philanthropy News Digest, or PND, is a free US based service published by Foundation Center, and includes notices of awards and RFPs. Sent out biweekly as an email you can subscribe to, PND provides predominantly US opportunities, and those opportunities are grouped by category of giving. In conjunction with their email alerts, PND also provides an online search tool that allows you to search through their database of currently active RFPs; you can search by category of giving, state, or keyword. PND provides approximately 500 opportunity alerts per year, or about one alert for every thousand grants made.

FoundationSearch provides several comparable features related to keeping current with RFP deadlines and awarded grants. The Grants in the News Alerts can be emailed directly to your inbox and will also appear in your online Activity Box within the FoundationSearch product. You can customize the alerts you are sent, by selecting the granting state(s), receiving state(s), and category that you are interested in. You can also easily search the database of past Grants in the News alerts, using giving category, granting state, receiving state, or date range. FoundationSearch also provides Foundation Deadline Search, a search utility that lets you search for applicable deadlines from any of the active foundations included in the FoundationSearch database. You can easily search by deadline month, fiscal year end, foundation name, giving interests, city, or state, and can display the results sorted by either deadline date, foundation name, city, or state. A subscription is required to access this feature as well as the Grants in the News Alerts. As part of their subscription, members can also receive detailed RFP deadlines reports, customized by state and category. In the past three years, FoundationSearch has tracked more than 10,000 distinct funding opportunities from US foundations.

Beyond these tools, a quick search on Google for “foundation deadline opportunities alerts” will reveal a couple of free online grant deadline search services, most of which are specifically related to education (for example, GrantsAlert.com). Great if you’re a school or educator, but not so great if you’re looking for any other type of grant. Most other hits are postings from foundation websites announcing their own program application deadlines, which may or may not be applicable to your particular organization. Some larger foundations will provide email updates on upcoming deadlines if you request it, or provide RSS feeds that you can monitor. Ultimately the onus is on you as the researcher to find and request information on deadlines from these sources.

In brief, comprehensive deadline listings are few and far between. The larger services provide alerts and search capabilities, but even these provide only a limited sampling of all the possible granting opportunities available each year in the US.

While the challenge of keeping up to date with new and upcoming deadlines may be made somewhat simpler with alerts services, perhaps a better strategy for keeping abreast of the opportunities for your organization is to first identify the best funders for your organization, and then determine the application deadlines for each.

More on this in a future blog installment….

(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!)