Right on the Money: Ten Ways to Find Foundation Funding

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Photograph of a woman doing online research.

Last month, we addressed how to write a better grant proposal. But before youth-serving organizations apply for funding, they have to pinpoint likely donors. How to do that with no fund raising staff and barely enough time to get your to-do list done each day?

We turned to Helen Brown, president of The Helen Brown Group, a Boston-area consulting company specializing in fundraising research, and to NCFY’s own youth policy researchers. They had the following tips for readers setting out to identify promising foundations:

1. Be focused. Be clear about your specific financial needs and identify programs that are most likely to be fundable (based on their success rates, the unique populations they serve, and so forth). Don’t chase after funds that take you away from your core mission (for instance, providing emergency shelter when your mission is to teach nutrition). But do think outside the box a bit—if you run a basketball program, could you use a grant for computers or for training volunteers?

2. Consult your board. Talk to your board and find out if they have any connections with foundation funders, even if that foundation’s guidelines don’t match the type of program you seek to fund. “You may discover hidden funding sources or a chance to speak with a foundation officer,” Brown says.

3. Check out your “competition.” Which foundations have funded them? You may be able to develop a good list of foundation candidates by noticing the funders that support similar organizations in your geographic and program area.

4. Go to the library. Besides offering libraries at its five locations, the Foundation Center cooperates with local libraries and nonprofit resource centers nationwide to provide reference materials, training courses and networking opportunities.

5. Hop on the Internet. Many foundation directories can be accessed online. The Foundation Center and GuideStar both have free and paid searching options.

6. Get training. Look for free or low cost training in your community or online. The Foundation Center offers a wide variety of free and low-cost Web seminars including Grantseeking Basics for Nonprofit Organizations and Getting Ready for Foundation Fundraising.

7. Consider asking for help. An experienced volunteer or research consultant can save you a lot of time. “While paying someone to do the work may seem expensive, their experience can home in on the right funders, eliminate ones that just aren’t right, and eloquently make your case in a proposal in language the funders need to hear,” Brown says. Make sure you hire someone who has a proven track record of success and knows your particular funding market.

8. Start local. Local funders are more likely than, say, the Gates Foundation, to make grants to groups that serve a specific community. Once nonprofit groups have local individual, company and foundation support, then they can make a much stronger case to national funders, Brown says. “Of course, the national funders will want to see how the program or service can have an impact or be replicated nationally.”

9. Go corporate. Look for corporate foundations that might be interested in reaching the populations you serve, and pitch your funding ideas as “cause-related marketing.” For instance, you might ask a soft-drink manufacturer or a local grocery store to sponsor a talent show or fund-raising gala in return for advertising at the event.

10. Network. Once you’ve identified potential foundations to which to apply for funding, ask for informational interviews or attend attending public forums hosted by foundations in your area. Meeting grant officers in person will help you gather information about what foundations look for in organizations that they fund. Brown notes an added bonus: “As with any profession, foundation officers network, too, and tell each other about interesting programs.”

For additional guidance on finding foundation funding for a youth program, contact NCFY.

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