Writing Effective Foundation Grant Proposals

Winning a grant is as much planning, research, organizational development and public relations as it is grant writing. It is about building relationships and confidence with potential donors -- not a magical process where strangers give your organization funding. With certain exceptions, almost all of your grant funding is likely to come from local or regional funders. Wouldn't you be offended if your local foundations were making most of their grants to out-of-state organizations?

The Foundation Center website lists repository libraries in your community that carry materials foundations guidebooks and research materials. Guidestar provides online access to tax returns of most foundations. Tax returns include a list of grants awarded by the foundation, providing insight into the types of organizations that they support. However, always be sure to obtain the foundation's guidelines and annual report if they are available. Smaller foundations often do not publish an annual report, but often will include application information in their tax return.

Always follow the funders guidelines precisely. Double and triple check to make sure that you have provided all required materials (an estimated 50% to 70% of all proposals are submitted incompletely). Don't sound desperate, angry or preachy in your proposal. Use objective information that builds your case for funding, and clearly state how many people will benefit, what outcomes will be attained, how you will evaluate your program, and how you will continue to provide the service. Perhaps most importantly, make an initial contact with the funder to see if they would be interested in receiving a proposal from your organization.

Many funders only want to provide short-term assistance to grantees -- and want to avoid having nonprofit groups dependent on their funding year after year. Don't look to grant funding as a quick fix. Sometimes winning a grant takes several years of relationship building. Follow-up with a funding source even if your proposal is turned down with a thank you note, and even questions on how you could improve your proposal in the future.

Be sure to use personal contacts of board members and volunteers to make connections with funders. Always be careful you do not overstep your bounds by violating the privacy of a foundation trustee or go behind the back of a foundation staff member to lobby. Some funders prohibit grant-seekers from lobbying their board members, and automatically reject your proposal if you make that contact. It's a tightrope act but as you get to know the foundations in your area you will have a better idea on effective strategies to tailor to each foundation.