Summer Series – Screening Funders

The first hard truth to know about funders is that most of them have no interest in you or your work. Effective nonprofits have relatively narrow missions and run efficient programs that fit the goals of those missions. Because most foundations have similarly narrow funding interests, this means that most foundations out there are not a funding match for any given nonprofit. The first thing you should do when you encounter a new funding opportunity is find their website. If they do not have a website, this should be an immediate red flag. This is probably a private foundation that makes grants at the direction of a board or a single wealthy benefactor. If the foundation does have a website, find the section containing their mission statement. Compare that mission to your own organization’s mission. Do you share a common purpose? Does their mission include funding organizations like yours? Does it reflect the values that guide your work? These questions are usually enough to rule out foundations that have zero interest in hearing from you.

Once you’ve decided a foundation fits with your mission, it’s time to figure out if they will be interested in hearing from you. Most foundation websites have a section with the word “Grants” or “Grantseekers” in it, though sometimes this can be folded into a larger “About Us” or “Contact” section. If there is no such section, you probably have your answer. Foundations that accept proposals want to make their process accessible to grantseekers, so if it’s unclear how to contact them about a proposal, you may want to look elsewhere. However, if the foundation still seems like an amazing fit, there are some creative strategies for outreach that we will cover in a later post. 

If you can find a section on the grantmaking process, the first task is to scan for two key phrases: “We do not accept unsolicited proposals” and “Our grantmaking is by invitation only.” If a foundation does not have an open proposal process, they will likely have one of these sentences on their website. That’s a sign to cross them off your list of potential funders. There are rare cases where a foundation will say they do not accept unsolicited proposals but still provides some sort of contact or inquiry form for interested nonprofits. This usually means that they will make an exception to the rule if they really like your nonprofit, so it’s usually worth at least sending a small note to describe your organization, maybe with a web link so they can learn more. Also, make sure to check that the foundation website is still being updated. If the last grant they reported on their website was from 2008, they may no longer be active. 

In short, the two questions you must ask about every potential funder is “Do they seem like they would be interested in funding my nonprofit?” and “Do they make grants based on unsolicited proposals?” Your initial research list is composed of only the foundations for which you can answer “yes” to both those questions. It may seem like you are spending hours researching to produce a list of only five or ten foundations, but it is better to have a short list of valid prospects than a long list of invalid ones. 

Don’t worry, we’re more than happy to help walk you through this process to make sure the funder finds your project. Contact us for more information and we’ll get you taken care of!