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!)

FoundationSearch Success Story: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ

Faith-based nonprofits are discovering more foundation partners thanks to FoundationSearch. In this Success Story interview with a FoundationSearch member, Pam Hart of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ recounts her experiences and lessons learned in foundation fundraising.

FoundationSearch Member: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ

FoundationSearch Member Since 2014.

When Pam Hart started as the Development Director at Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ (MPYFC), the organization had never received any grants from public or private foundations despite its extensive programming focused on nurturing a healthy spiritual life, alongside emotional and physical development, for youth 11 to 19 years old; the teens meet at MP YFC facilities, schools and homes across the greater Pittsburgh area for structured conversations and just chilling out.

Fast forward five years and Pam describes an out-of-the blue telephone call from the local community foundation that resulted in a $6,000 grant. The staffer told Pam that a fund it administers “knows what you do, and wants you to apply for a grant.” Couple that with a local women’s philanthropy group selecting MP YFC as the 2015 recipient of a $10,000 grant, and it’s clear that MP YFC is gaining traction with the philanthropic community. Grateful for all that has happened, Pam explains how MP YFC’s firstever capital campaign and the critical assistance from FoundationSearch served as the launch pad for its fundraising success.


1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?

With legal restrictions preventing some government agencies in making grants to religious-affiliated organizations, MP YFC relies on private and public foundations to supplement the contributions from individual donors and company sponsorships. “Smaller foundations tend to be more interested in us than bigger foundations,” Pam states. Whereas large major foundations support the national Youth for Christ USA and its broad programming, family, community and corporate foundations with local connections are essential to MP YFC’s fundraising strategy. MP YFC appreciates, and maximizes, its hometown appeal. “Smaller local foundations tend to be more interested in what we do,” Pam says, adding how effective it is to invite funders to site visits and discuss in-person their investments.


2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.

In 2013, a leader with MP YFC discovered that a National Guard Armory was for sale – the facility was ideal in location and had a large gymnasium and meeting room but required substantial renovation. Because of the Armory’s potential, an individual supporter donated the money to purchase the building, setting in motion MP YFC’s first formal fundraising campaign. “We needed a lot of money to renovate this building,” Pam says, “And so we started to look at individual donors and businesses. Then we realized that there are foundations that would support something like this. So we started looking into foundation grants.”

At the end of the Armory Youth Center campaign two years later, MP YFC had raised a half-million dollars with $75,000 in grants from 10 foundations identified through FoundationSearch. Most of the funds purchased items that attracted youth to the Armory; recreational equipment, updated bathrooms and new paint transformed an old building into a vibrant youth center.


3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.

“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Pam says about the time before MP YFC became a FoundationSearch member. For example, while MP YFC operates in a large metropolitan area, its Armory Youth Center is in suburban Washington County, rendering it ineligible to receive grants from foundations in Pittsburgh that, in reality, fund within one county of the city center. Now, Pam searches and finds foundations that support nonprofits located in Washington County.

Pam, the only staffer at MP YFC using FoundationSearch, also saves time by finding prospects with track records in funding organizations similar to MP YFC, such as those seeking grants for the first time and religious-affiliated organizations. “One of the things I like is being able to look at the details about the foundation,” Pam says about the FoundationSearch interface. “You’ll have a page where you can find all of the information in a chart or a paragraph. You can see who is on their board and whom they supported in the past.” While guidelines can state that a foundation accepts proposals from faith-based organizations, its grantee list may indicate a focus on a specific religious affiliation. Thanks to FoundationSearch, Pam can quickly evaluate whether to allocate resources to approach a prospect “It’s just very easy to click and see all of the organizations they’ve supported in a year. To me, that’s very helpful.”


4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?

In YFC’s first significant outreach to potential foundations, Pam understood that the organization, at the start, needed to demonstrate that other community donors and sponsors believe the organization was a good investment. “I found that they really liked to not be the only funder,” Pam says about foundations that had not previously partnered with YFC. “If you’re talking about renovating the gym, a funder didn’t want to renovate the whole gym. They wanted to be a part of a bigger group of funders.”

Pam also wanted a foundation prospect to know that its mission and guidelines genuinely aligned with YFC’s needs; in other words, she was not wasting time with an inappropriate or long-shot ask. Equipped with information provided by the FoundationSearch database, Pam approached foundations with personalized and strategic requests. “I tailored my proposals to what I could tell they were interested in.”


5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?

Pam’s advice is summed up in two words: be realistic. “One thing to know is that you’re not going always to get the amount you asked for,” Pam states, adding that FoundationSearch showing a particular foundation’s average grant amount helps to determine a realistic request. “You don’t want to ask for something outside of that range.” Pam also encourages fundraisers to accept the lengthy timelines of foundations. “They can take several months to consider each proposal, so you can’t immediately need the money you are requesting. You have to give yourself a lot of time.”

Finally, Pam suggests viewing the grant process as a means to build a positive, on-going relationship with a foundation. From paying attention to application guidelines to keeping the funder informed about project changes, it’s beneficial to treat the foundation as a partner, even after the funds are awarded, received and used.

“Make sure you do follow-up reports to thank them – whether they asked for it or not,” Pam says.

The mission of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ is to reach young people everywhere, working together with the local church and other like-minded partners to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their godliness in lifestyle, devotion to prayer and the Word of God, passion for sharing the love of Christ, and commitment to social involvement.

FoundationSearch Success Story: Kansas Council for Economic Education

In the second of a series of interviews with FoundationSearch members, Jim Graham of Kansas Council for Economic Education explains why the statewide nonprofit chose FoundationSearch on the eve of its 60th anniversary.

FoundationSearch Member: Kansas Council for Economic Education

FoundationSearch Member Since 2016.

Next May, the Kansas Council for Economic Education (KCEE) will celebrate a milestone birthday. Nearing sixty years old, the 501(c)3 nonprofit continues to provide programs and services that strive to ensure every kindergarten through grade 12 student in Kansas is economically and financially literate. Currently hosted by the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, KCEE has earned an impressive reputation thanks to its affiliation with Kansas’s six public universities, long-term relationships with Kansas business, philanthropic and government leaders, and a core passion for equipping teachers with the knowledge to teach personal finance and economics. However, as President and CEO Jim Graham explains, KCEE understands that even an established and respected organization like KCEE must adapt to a new funding landscape regardless of its age.


1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?

Though a variety of funding sources, such as individuals, corporations, government agencies, and private foundations, have consistently supported KCEE, an on-going decrease in giving by several long-time supporters is the primary motivator for KCEE to seek out new foundation partners. “We’ve been going to foundations for years, but are now trying to put more emphasis there, because of the funding we have lost,” Jim says.

Specifically, funding from two state agencies – the Office of the Kansas Bank Commissioner and the Office of the Kansas Securities Commission – has fallen, as much as 80%, due to a drop in fines from penalties, the source of funding from those government agencies. “Likewise, we have some significant corporate funding,” explains Jim, “but one of the things that has adversely affected us over the years, not just here in Kansas, but nationwide too, is tremendous consolidation of companies. We used to get a lot more funding from a lot more banks.”

With almost $106,000 raised from 22 foundations in KCEE’s most recent fiscal year, any difference between budgeted and actual amounts is a problem. “We’re very grateful for what we get, but we have to replace that.”


2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.

Presenting over a dozen programs ranging from poster contests to multi-day professional development conferences for teachers, KCEE relies on both general operating and restricted program funding from family, corporate, and other private foundations. Every year, those programs reach more than 100,000 students through more than 1,000 teachers acround the state. For example, Financial Foundations for Kansas Kids (FF4KK), a KCEE signature program developed and copyrighted fifteen years ago, is an interactive, self-paced online course that provides almost 30 hours of personal financial literacy training for grades K-8. A mix of funders – public agencies, national foundations, local family foundations, private foundations – support FF4KK development, distribution and teacher training.


3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.

“One of the reasons we love FoundationSearch is because of all of the information it provides,” Jim says. Since an estimated 90% of foundations do not have publicly available information , such as their giving areas, amounts or guidelines, Jim believes that being a FoundationSearch member with access to updated, in-depth info automatically increases his chance for fundraising success.

“I was frustrated when I would see a foundation’s name and then try to find information about it and then you couldn’t find it!” Jim says. After preliminary searches on the FoundationSearch database, Jim was impressed by the potential for new funders. “I couldn’t believe how many foundations are based here in Kansas and, in fact, right here in Wichita. It’s a tremendous number of foundations.”

Jim is especially eager to learn which foundations provide general operating or programmatic grants so that KCEE can continue its existing services at the quality expected by Kansas teachers. “I would not anticipate bringing on any new programs in the near term,” says Jim. “We’ve got such a good base of programs that it’s just a matter of keeping them active and effective.”


4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?

Despite KCEE’s solid reputation and donor relationships across Kansas, Jim wants potential funders to appreciate the organization’s significant need for new funding to maintain its current activities. “It’s interesting that we are a statewide organization with a lot of programs and with only two full-time employees,” Jim says, referring to himself and KCEE’s vice president for programs. KCEE also utilizes college students and volunteers to provide many of its services.

Jim also aims to convey that a six-decade-old nonprofit with limited staff capacity can adapt to a changing philanthropic landscape and is a good investment for foundations. Along with a commitment to foundation fundraising, Jim recently has established a development committee of the KCEE board as a tool to complement his use of FoundationSearch. Whereas FoundationSearch identifies leads for foundations, the Development Committee, as Jim envisions it, would generate connections to local wealthy individuals and corporate leaders who are peers or friends with KCEE board members. “The committee is now getting started, so hopefully over a period of time, it too will be helpful to me in fundraising.”


5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?

“I would certainly recommend that they use FoundationSearch to find foundations,” Jim says. “The information is there. It’s a huge database.” He adds that for charities like KCEE with one person who is fundraising in addition to managing a dozen other responsibilities, FoundationSearch saves invaluable time by doing initial pre-screening and prospecting* of foundations at local and national levels.

FoundationSearch, Jim says, works for you.

FoundationSearch is able to deliver customized screening and prospecting services for clients, separate from the database membership, through its Grant Development Services division; contact FoundationSearch for more information.

The mission of the Kansas Council for Economic Education is to equip Kansas teachers to educate Kansas students (K-12) on the principles of economics and personal finance.

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.”


What Your Non-profit Needs to Know about Crowdfunding

Online crowdfunding has exploded in popularity among non-profits of all sizes and types in the past few years. And it’s easy to understand why: an estimated $5.5 billion was donated through online crowdfunding sites in 2015.

While online crowdfunding dollars are not a replacement for foundation grants, FoundationSearch clients wanting to diversify their contributed income have a flexible and powerful tool with crowdfunding.

Why Should You Care

The National Council of Nonprofits defines crowdfunding as an effort to raise money with donations from a large number of people through websites and apps. There are hundreds of charity-focused or social entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites and platforms, providing services (from a profile page within a platform to a branded website with the newest sharing features) to set up and administer campaigns, those single or on-going efforts, for a non-profit. Regardless of a non-profit’s fundraising experience, financial and organizational capacity, and focus area, venturing into online crowdfunding brings a number of benefits.

Raises New Money: Online crowdfunding raises money for one-time events, existing programs, pilot projects and long-term campaigns, such as a capacity building or annual giving campaign. Everything from a food bank’s new freezer to a multi-year, multi-million-dollar capital campaign can be funded through an online campaign that anyone – a former board member, a current donor or a stranger – can discover and fund.

A recent report by Classy, a fundraising platform for social impact organizations, found that though the median one-time gift size for crowdfunding is about $52, its value grows over time. Classy account manager Elizabeth Hilbert explains, “A vast majority of recurring giving occurs on donation and crowdfunding funding pages, so these donors acquired through crowdfunding are your future major donors and recurring givers.”

Expands Fundraising Capacity: Alison Carlman, the Director of Impact and Communications for GlobalGiving, a non-profit crowdfunding organization that has connected donors, non-profits and companies in over 170 countries, says that crowdfunding does more than generate dollars. “Our partners have described how their experience on GlobalGiving has helped them build their teams, develop processes, establish new relationships and revitalize old ones.”

Board members, staff, donors and allies can create their own campaigns to fundraise among peers, simultaneously with the non-profit’s campaign. One of GlobalGiving’s partners explained that online crowdfunding prompted staff previously not involved in donor development to transform into enthusiastic fundraisers.

Increases Organization’s Visibility: A non-profit grows its online presence through crowdfunding campaigns by sharing news and updates to prospective and existing donors. Keeping supporters updated through the life of a campaign (and afterward) goes a long way in building trust between a non-profit and its donors.

Additionally, donors discover non-profits by searching a crowdfunding platform to support a cause, not a specific organization. Classy’s Hilbert adds that if a visitor to a crowdfunding site initially does not donate, they are primed for future gifts. “Research suggests supporters have to be asked anywhere between 5 and 8 times before they take action.”

Comparing Online Crowdfunding Options

Crowdfunding sites differ in philosophies, features, and mechanics, so FoundationSearch suggests that non-profits ask the following questions when comparing platforms.

Fundraising Goals

Must your non-profit commit to specific fundraising goals and timelines? Understand what happens to funds if a goal is missed or exceeded; some online platforms only collect donations if the goal is met.

Donor Experience

Like tailoring your grant applications to different foundations, make sure your crowdfunding campaign is built with modern, tech-savvy donor in mind. GlobalGiving, for instance, works with its clients in the early stages to plan how their donors will be thanked at campaign’s conclusion.

How will donors find your campaign? How many steps are required to find your non-profit on the crowdfunding site? What does your campaign look like on mobile?

Does the platform allow corporate gift-matching? Some platforms link to corporate-matching databases so that employees can donate and then seek a gift match from their employer.

How easy is setting up monthly giving amounts and one-time, predetermined giving tiers? Does the platform link up with current trends such as #GiveBig days or #GivingTuesday?


What are the vendor and credit card transaction fees? Though most platforms offer free or low-cost versions, your campaign may be more successful by paying for additional features and support. Payment options now include one-time contracts, monthly and annual subscriptions, and goal-based fees.

Technical Assistance

Find out what is offered by the vendor’s customer service. Is tech help available 24/7? Do you need to schedule or purchase additional support during a campaign launch? What donor data is collected on the crowdfunding site, and how secure is it? Know how donor information will be integrated into your existing donor management system.

Ready To Launch?

Online crowdfunding can power up your fundraising strategy but, as the above demonstrates, it requires planning, implementation and maintenance. If you have questions about where to begin, contact FoundationSearch to discuss how we can help. Through our Grant Development Services (GDS) for non-profits, we provide customized, full-service fundraising support, such as developing an online crowdfunding campaign. Whether you are seeking new donors for an existing program or special funding to grow your fundraising capacity, drop us a note or share your comments below.