Foundations can be an important source of funding and should be part of your strategic mix. Knowing how and when to approach them, and understanding what meets their needs, requires some research and planning on your part.
Time invested with Foundations can pay big dividends over time if done correctly. Here are some strategies and tips to keep in mind as you move forward.
- Foundations are people, too. Even though a board makes a final decision, the staff decision-maker/board chairman/key board member has the influence to get your project approved. Your stewarding of this primary relationship is your key to success.
- Know the average gift of the Foundation for the previous year(s). It makes no sense to ask for $50,000 if the Foundation is contributing an average of $5,000 to projects similar to yours.
- Look for connections…does someone on your board know someone on their board? Can your staff or board member build a relational bridge to someone of influence at, or connected to the Foundation?
- Look for interest in projects similar to yours, but realize that if the Foundation is already funding causes similar to yours, they may have no room for you. Or they may fund a certain number of projects like yours and you need to look for your slot at the appropriate time.
- Realize that Foundations have process and procedures. Those need to be followed and adhered to by you. If their rules say send six copies of the proposal, make sure you do.
- Understand that Foundations like to be part, but rarely all of your campaign. Some like to contribute at a mid-stage, others toward the end when you’ve shown you have support from your various constituent groups. Understand the niche they have probably defined for themselves. It’s more rare for a Foundation to take a significant funding role in a start-up non-profit.
- There’s art, but no shyness required when approaching a Foundation. After all, they are the only entities set up for the expressed purpose of giving money away!
- Thank a Foundation they way it likes to be thanked. Naming opportunities can be one way. When you visit the Foundation, do they have a wall of award plaques from other non-profits? Search for the right, unique opportunity to express your appreciation.
- Stewardship. Follow up and thank them again after you’ve already thanked them. Provide reports and updates they weren’t expecting. It’s the right thing to do and you will be remembered.
- Share publicly, with the Foundation's permission, what they've done for you. This way, you help them accomplish their mission and they continue to help you accomplish yours.