From the Foundation Officer’s Mouth: Advice on Applying for Local Funding

Photograph of diverse professionals.

If you’re looking to diversify your youth-serving nonprofit’s “funding streams” by going after private grants, it’s best to look for foundations right in your back yard.

That’s a truism we’ve heard and repeated over the years. Local and regional foundations not only get a smaller volume of grant applications. They’re also more likely to know the neighborhoods and issues you’re dealing with.

To get the perspective of a foundation that funds organizations in its back yard, we contacted the William T. Grant Foundation in New York. The foundation’s Youth Service Improvement Grants program helps mid-size charities that provide “meaningful experiences” to young people in New York’s five boroughs. To qualify for the grants, organizations must have an issue or challenge they want to address, like a changing youth population or a revision in a curriculum the organization uses.

The Grant Foundation’s guidelines are likely different than those of the local foundations near you. Still, we think program coordinator Sharon Brewster and communications manager Krishna Knabe, a member of the staff committee that reviews applications, had a lot of great advice for staff of any youth-serving agency applying for local funding. Here’s what they told us, in their own words:

On following guidelines: “It sounds deceptively simple, but it really is that simple. … One of the best ways to get screened out is to send a general application that doesn’t match what we ask for.” -- Knabe

On content vs. style: “We look past the quality of the writing. … If there’s a clear problem and a clear solution that matches it, no matter how the proposal is written up, we end up funding it.” – Knabe

On foundations as people: “People think of funders as institutions, but we’re really collections of people who really want to fund these programs. We’re not trying not to fund them.” -- Knabe

On making a connection: “Don’t think about us. Think about your program and what you need and then just tell us. Tell us the story of what you want to do and how it will make your organization better. The more you can make a connection to us, the easier it is for us to connect to you. If you work at a nonprofit that serves young people, clearly you care, so tell us why.” -- Knabe

On picking up the phone: “If they have specific questions, definitely call me. If they have two or three ideas [about what to propose], I can’t help them choose, but I can answer questions about what we fund and whether they meet the grant criteria.” – Brewster

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