mythbustersWhen non-profit directors or development staff comes to me looking for help in the world of foundations, the first thing I usually have to do is dispel the most common myths surrounding foundation funding.

Myth #1: Foundation funding is easy.
Myth #2: Foundations are anxious to give money to organizations like mine.
Myth #3: Foundations just require a good grant proposal.

While each of these myths has some basis in reality, none are the whole story.

Myth 1: Foundation Funding is easy.

“Competition is a sin,” said John D. Rockefeller.
“Competition is good and has served us well,” Judge Harold Greene said.

Whichever way you look at it, finding foundation funding is competitive. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are nearly 1.5 million non-profits in the U.S. Like it or not, many of those organizations are seeking the same funding you are. Setting your organization apart in this pool of worthy causes is critical.

Ask yourself, “Why us, why now,” when considering how to make your non-profit stand out from the crowd. Do you have a track record of success? Perhaps you’ve accomplished amazing results in a very short time. Ask your clients and donors why they choose you to find answers if you are really stumped.

Myth 2: Foundations are anxious to give money to organizations like mine.

That may be true, but don’t make assumptions. Most foundations were started with a specific purpose in mind. They give to causes across the spectrum like human services, arts, community development and hundreds of other areas of interest. With the volume of requests growing rapidly, foundations may be more particular than you think.

Nearly every foundation I know gets approximately 10 times more requests than they can actually fund in a year. Many of those requests are form letters or template proposals. The writers have never bothered to research more than the foundation’s address.
Think about building relationship with funders – not just foundations but all your donors and potential donors. Then you’ll know which foundations are likely to fund your mission. Knowing is much better than sending blind proposals.

Myth 3: Foundations just require a good grant proposal.

Writing is only a part of finding foundation funding, a minor part at that. Behind the scenes of a successful foundation funding effort is strategic planning, outcomes measurement and many other components that ensure success. Finding a good writer is great for your organization, but a writer won’t bring dollars with them.

Research, reporting and relationship are essential to having a holistic approach to foundation funding. When you consider the entire approach, you give yourself a chance to stand out from the crowd and find good fits for your mission.

Before you begin…

When you start out to find foundation funding, you must be ready to take on some big issues. Have you asked yourself, “How are we measuring success?” Are you ready to be transparent with a donor?

Many foundations will value your forethought and candor when you approach them for the first time. Foundation staff is charged with giving away money in ways that get the best results. When you can say to a donor, “I believe what we do is the best approach,” then you are ready. Substantiate your claim with measurable outcomes, a prudent budget and realistic timeline. These tools allow you to plant seeds of fruitful funding for years to come.

This article is part of the Mythbusters series.

Here’s a list of each of the articles in this series:

  1. Fundraising Myth: If You Build It They Will Come by Sandra Sims
  2. The Myth of the “Selfless Volunteer” by Tom Welsh
  3. Fundraising Myth: It’s Great to Be Cheap by Marc Pitman
  4. Advertising and Marketing Are Too Expensive by Jim Berigan
  5. The Myth of the Dried Up Well by Sandy Rees
  6. Myths About Foundation Funding by Aaron Atwood

Posted on 24 April 2008

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