Asking For Donations from Foundations

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If you’re familiar with Qgiv’s blog, you probably know that we love discussing best practices and strategies for fundraising.

In the past, we’ve talked about asking for donations from individuals and corporations (often the two most common sources of revenue for nonprofits).

But in this article, we’re going to cover a somewhat elusive and tricky topic: asking for donations from foundations.

Let’s dive into how to raise money by asking for donations from foundations.

Before we get into the step-by-step process of fundraising from foundations, let’s go over some basic information.

Preliminary Questions to Ask

Before you start writing grant proposals and calling foundation officers, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Who will head up our grant program?
  2. How will we find the right foundations to approach?
  3. Who will write the grant proposals?
  4. How much time and effort can we spend on grants?
  5. How likely is it that our mission will match that of a foundation?

It’s crucial to be honest with yourself when answering these questions. The truth is that many foundations only fund established nonprofits who have a strong history of fundraising.

Asking yourself these questions will help you determine whether or not your organization is ready for the grant-writing process.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that foundation donations should only make up around 15% of your fundraising revenue total. Don’t ignore your individual and corporate donors and solely go after foundation grants.

How do Foundations Operate?

Typically, foundations are grant-making entities that exist to give money to other nonprofits.

Foundations have their own set of board of directors, staff members, and fundraising efforts to help fund the grants they distribute.

In general, a foundation will abide by the following schedule with regard to grants:

  1. They’ll set their own grant priorities for the fiscal or calendar year.
  2. Those priorities will then be published along with grant guidelines such as focus, deadlines, necessary paperwork, and more.
  3. After applications are submitted, the foundation’s staff will review the applications and rank them.
  4. The applications are then sent to a committee of the foundation’s board of directors.
  5. The committee reviews the applications and decides which nonprofit(s) will receive grants.

There are thousands of charitable foundations with trillions of dollars to give. These grants can be used to:

  • Fund educational programs;
  • Build or renovate new office spaces;
  • Purchase new equipment;
  • Assist in the start up of an innovative program; or
  • Fund a particular nonprofit project.

While most foundations give monetary donations to nonprofits via grants, a handful make program-related investments (PRIs). These are usually loans to for-profit or nonprofit entities for purposes that closely match the foundation’s funding interests.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how foundations function, let’s go through the steps for an effective grant proposal.

1. Research, Research, Research

The more you know about a foundation, the better position your nonprofit is in to receive the grant you’re applying for. Researching a foundation is the best place to start whether you’re just getting started writing grants or you’ve been asking for donations from foundations for a while now.

You can find information about foundations:

When researching, you’ll want to look at some key indicators, such as:

  • Application deadlines;
  • Paperwork requirements;
  • The foundation’s mission and how closely it aligns with your own work;
  • Post-grant reporting processes;
  • And more.

Starting with a strong knowledge of the foundation you’re requesting funding from will help ensure a positive relationship with that foundation down the line.

2. Organize your Grant Applications

If you’re asking for donations from a multitude of foundations, you’ll need to have a way to organize them all.

The best way to do this is to put them in order of their deadlines, with the soonest on the top of the pile.

Keeping track of which grant applications need to be sent out when will help you focus your efforts on the grant that’s in front of you.

Extra tip: If you’re applying for more than one grant, use a baseline letter or application that can be easily tweaked for the particular grant you’re applying for. This will save you time and effort. Instead of writing 12 different proposals, you only have to adjust and amend one standard proposal.

3. Make a Phone Call

Before you start writing your grant proposal, you should put in a phone call to the foundation. Try to get in touch with someone who works directly with the grant application process.

Note: Some foundations will explicitly say that they only want to hear from nonprofits via their grant applications. If this is the case, follow their instructions.

Once you have them on the line, introduce yourself and your organization. Let them know that you’re applying for their grant and ask them any questions about the application process.

Then, invite them to visit your nonprofit sometime. This adds a personal touch to the phone call and will help develop the relationship between your nonprofit and their foundation.

Making this initial phone call is crucial for your grant proposal’s success. Many foundation directors and staff members see it as their jobs to answer questions that nonprofit professionals may have about the grant-making process.

Don’t be hesitant to reach out to foundation staff members. They’re more than willing to answer questions you might have.

Plus, you’ll be able to establish a better relationship with the foundation!

4. Write and Send your Application

Writing a grant proposal can be tough, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

Here are some tips for creating a great application:

  1. Pay attention to the details. If a foundation has a list of particulars to follow, make sure that you are attentive to those specifics.
  2. Include all of the necessary documents. In addition to your application, include:
    – Your mission statement
    – Your organization’s history
    – A summary of the project you’re requesting funding for
    – Audited financial statements
    – Proof of your 501(c)(3) status
    – Your most recent annual report
    – Project and organizational budget (keep these brief)
  3. Review and revise. Look over your application and have a few other sets of eyes look at it as well. Avoid jargon and make sure you stick to the foundation’s guidelines for submission.

Then, mail in your application! Give the foundation a call a couple of weeks after you send in your proposal to verify that they’ve received it.

They probably won’t have reviewed your application by that point, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if they have any questions about your proposal that you can clarify over the phone.

Check out a guest post on our blog from Professional Grant Writers to learn more about how to get started with grant writing!

5. Acknowledge and Follow Up

If you received your grant, congratulations!

If not, then follow steps one through four and make adjustments.

As soon as you receive confirmation of your grant application being accepted, send a formal thank you letter to the foundation.

You should also call, email, or visit the program officer who helped guide you through the process and answered your questions.

Then, create a calendar of steps for developing the relationship you’ve just established.

This timeline should include:

  • A time for two newsletters to be sent to the foundation;
  • A series of invitations to program officers to fundraisers and events;
  • Sending in requested reports that detail how the grant is being spent;
  • Other paperwork required by the terms of the grant;
  • And more!

Make sure that you follow all post-grant-receiving requirements and spend the grant money for the predetermined projects or initiatives.

How you follow up after receiving a grant will help you in future grant application processes with that foundation. Don’t ruin or risk a future grant by failing to acknowledge the one you’ve already received!


And there you have it–a brief overview of asking for donations from foundations.

If you need more information about asking for donations in general, check out our other resources:

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