A News Non Profits — 04 June 2018

The recent fundraising buzz around major donors is understandable:  Individual giving comprises the majority of philanthropic contributions.  Why wouldn’t a development team spend its time where the giving is largely unrestricted and is likely to come in year after year?

Of course, that describes the old major giving landscape.  Major donors are increasingly looking to make an impact in ways that require gift restrictions.  They crave program outcomes.  They want detail around gift expenditures.  Sounds like another funding source, doesn’t it?

Major gifts—from individual donors—and major grants—from private philanthropic foundations—show increasing overlaps in terms of their interests. And this overlap influences the way in which your development team can cultivate them.  If your organization is looking to expand its income and hasn’t taken a hard look at its private grants efforts recently, you might find that a good deal of your major gifts infrastructure and practices can be repurposed for the new foundation landscape.  The skills your staff builds in one area will directly strengthen the other.

No matter your ability to stretch internal resources, you will first want to ensure solid reason to ramp up your relationship with foundations.  Few rules dictate how foundations award grants, so you can begin with some internal exploration.  Local organizations have some leeway and can often secure grants for general operating support as well as for programs.  For instance, you may seek to:

  1. Scale programs.  Foundations attempt to create maximum impact with their limited resources.  Often, this translates into growing a program from a limited area to multiple locations.  But if your organization has found a proven way to resolve an issue, say, face-to-face, foundations will expand access by taking your solution online or using other technologies.  In short, if your organization runs a program that can demonstrate proven outcomes and is looking to further its success, it is a better candidate for major foundation grants.
  2. Tackle social issues.  Increasingly, foundations are funded by living donors who are looking to make large-scale impacts on seemingly intractable social issues.  The larger the funder, the more inclined the foundation may be to take a risk to alleviate a major issue that could harm thousands or even millions of people.  While legacy foundations do not typically dabble in high-risk projects, those birthed by new economy entrepreneurs are far more likely to pilot unproven projects and see what might be learned from them.
  3. Conduct research.  It is no secret that foundations like data and have a propensity for awarding research grants.  While most grants fund the sciences, opportunities exist in other fields, whether as basic research or as part of a larger initiative.

While clearly defined strategy and tactics play a strong role in nonprofit grant success, it helps to first clarify that you are investing time and other resources in the major areas attractive to foundations. Plenty of major foundations award beyond these three areas, but if your organization dabbles in any of the above and has not yet made a concerted effort to secure private grants, you may be missing a ripe opportunity.


Susan Schaefer is a consultant, author and principal of Resource Partners LLC.  She will be speaking about securing foundation grants with Jessica Edwards and Charles Harman of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) at the 13th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference, July 31-Aug. 2, Gaylord National Hotel & Conference Center, National Harbor, MD, (adjacent to Washington, DC).



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