Friday, May 23, 2014

This month’s post comes to us from APRA-C member Nancy Hillsman, the Assistant Director of Research and Stewardship for Foundation Relations at Duke University.

Foundations need a little research love, too. Since that’s what our office does, I wanted to pass on an overview for those who may not deal with foundations on a regular basis but may bump into them once in a while. In researching that topic, I came across a very good article on the Arthritis Foundation website. They said it so well that I offer their wisdom:

 “How to Research Foundations”

  • Research is key to your success. But even when you've done the research, you must be able to read between the lines.
  • Always compare a foundation’s stated purposes, mission and guidelines to the actual grants distributed and grant-making patterns.
  • Even guidelines that seem explicit need to be read as if you are an investigator with the attitude of "this is what they say they are interested in funding, but is this really what they do?" Ask yourself:
    • What is the foundation’s overall mission and purpose?
    • What does the foundation say it does? What are its guidelines for developing an application?
    • Does the mission match the guidelines?
    • How are the grants actually made?
    • How do what it says it does and funds compare to what it actually does and what it actually funds?
    • Can the discrepancies between what the foundation says it does and what it actually does and/or its mission be explained? Review other available information, such as backgrounds on its board members to develop your best guesses about the reasons behind these exceptions or discrepancies.
    • How can I use this information to develop specific strategies for approaching each foundation?
  • Review foundation publications and materials with an eye to where the decision-making authority is within the foundation. A few foundations clearly spell out their review procedures, but most do not. Building lasting relationships with the “right” people is key to being funded.
  • If it’s not spelled out, ask how the decision-making process works when you speak with a foundation program officer or director. Use that information so you’ll know with whom you need to formulate a lasting relationship.
  • Always think of alternative ways to approach a foundation if you are turned down, but also realize that some foundations may not let you reapply for a period of time after you’ve been turned down. Nevertheless, keep them on your mailing list and find other strategies to remain visible to them.
  • Too many grant seekers send applications to foundations that have no interest in supporting their causes. Research is critical to avoid this mistake.
  • The more time you spend analyzing prospective funders and understanding each one you have initially targeted, the better will be your chances of developing strategies for successfully approaching them for grants. Each piece of information you collect about a given prospect helps you form a picture of that particular prospect.
  • After you’ve found the basic information, you then need to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes them meaningful for you and for the (foundation) so that they can become the basis for specific fund-raising tactics for that source, and for the other sources being explored. Again, strategy and relationship-building are key ingredients to successful fund raising through grants.

How to Research Foundations (2014). Retrieved May 19, 2014, from

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