Foundations themselves provide the best means of learning to become a pro at grantsmanship. Spend serious time carefully reviewing all the requirements, guidelines, and priorities that foundations specify in their grant packages and you will become an expert. This advice applies both to large funders who operate nationally and to smaller corporate and family foundations.
Following is some explicit advice taken directly from speeches and writings of foundation officers. Another tip: their advice is further elaborated on throughout this website.
Research is the First Step
“I would suggest that the very first step and one that is most important prior to writing anything is doing research on the foundation you wish to approach. The buzzword is homework. Do it well and thoroughly. It is more efficient and in the end more beneficial to send appropriate requests to fewer organizations than to send a shower of appeals in the hopes that one may land in the right place. While you may not receive an approval or even a hearing on the first attempt, if the appeal has been well thought out and is indeed within the guidelines of the foundation, the impression left is a positive one and the next time you try, you may be more successful.”
– Ilene Mack, Senior Program Officer at the William Randolph Hearst Foundation (cited on the excellent Foundation Center web site)
“There are always two kinds of homework that an applicant must do before writing a proposal: homework about the project and homework about the foundation to which the proposal will be submitted. The homework about the project is quite important: Has anyone else tried something similar? Is so, what were the results? Are there any potential partners for this work? Are they interested in becoming partners? What other funders might support the project? All this information is necessary in order to place the request into a context. The homework regarding the foundation is … not trivial. Is the foundation interested in this topic? Has it funded similar projects in the past? Might the proposed project be improved by lessons from those past efforts? It is discouraging to receive proposals that make empty claims about their ‘uniqueness’ yet were clearly written as generic requests sent on spec to many possible funders. A good proposal describes the context of the idea and directly relates that idea and its context to the foundation’s programming interests.”
– Joel J. Orosz. Senior Program Officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Insiders Guide to Grantmaking: How Foundations Find, Fund, and Manage Effective Programs, 2000
Funder Overload & Grant Appropriateness
“Because the electronic grant search and grant application process has flooded the Foundation with more proposals than we have staff to process, we cannot respond in a personalized way to every proposal. We carefully read each proposal and respond with varying degrees of detail depending on how close the fit is between what you propose and what we are currently doing.”
– Altman Foundation
“All letters are first reviewed to determine if they fall within the Foundation’s Program Guidelines. Those that do not are immediately declined. Letters that are within the guidelines are then reviewed to determine the following: the priority of the proposed activity within the Foundation’s goals, the impact of the potential results of the activities, and the availability of the Foundation’s funds.”
– Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation