Trusts and Foundations

Ten tips for successful grant seeking

By James Huitson

Time for a voyage into the nerdy world of Foundation grant seeking and into a very unglamorous area of fundraising. Not for us the glitzy world of ball gowns and auctions or the cut and thrust of copy, design and creative.

However, Trusts and Foundations are an important part of the overall fundraising mix and your organisation should be working hard to get your maximum potential from them. And there is potential – where else in the fundraising universe do you find bodies whose main purpose is to give money away?

To a certain extent there is money for everyone – though as ever some causes will be more widely supported than others, but as someone who has raised money from Foundations for drug and alcohol abuse, young offenders and mental health I know it is possible to get cash for a cause however seemingly unpopular.

So, what are my top ten tips?

Well they are slightly undermined by a maxim I heard from a Canadian grant maker whose words were I fear very true. It is “when you know one foundation, you know one foundation”, they are filled with the same oddities and idiosyncrasies as anything else, but I do think there are some pointers that cover most eventualities. So here goes:

1. Research

This is number one for a very good reason. A scattergun approach to making applications won’t work – and worse it will annoy all the people you send unfundable applications to.

Don’t listen to anyone who says you have to get x number of applications out a week. It is about understanding who is most likely to fund you and using your resources accordingly.

Many foundations have clear guidelines and giving histories on their websites, other charities publish their supporters, many countries have specialised directories and even the tax office can help you work out what they are interested in. If your aim is to conserve the three legged Siberian whistling mole, then do not apply to a Foundation that only funds women’s health in Darwin.

2. Understand their finances

Depending on how nerdy you are, this is either fascinating or insomnia curing.

Find out how much money the Foundation have to give away and ask appropriately. If you can see that they have given 99 percent of their income for the last ten years to the same three charities, maybe you shouldn’t ask them straight out for $1 million bucks. Similarly, if they can give away $100,000 and you need that much, don’t ask them for $500.

3. Exit

Although a Foundation may support you for years, by and large they are wary of entering into an open ended commitment to you and will want to know what is going to happen to your work when their grant ends. You need to have some idea, either of how you shut it all down responsibly or where you will get replacement money from.

4. Answer all the questions

If you are lucky enough to be applying to a Foundation with an application form, then you know what it is they need to know.

They will have asked for a reason, answer all the questions and make sure you do them all with appropriate effort – no ducking the ones about finances, progress and exit for a super long section on why your work is important. Incidentally use applications forms for guidance on what Foundations are interested in to help you frame applications to those with no set guidelines.

5. Don’t lose money doing it

Foundations are often lovers of the special project and funding a specific piece of work of a set period of time is one of their favourites.

When you are preparing your budget, don’t forget to add in management costs, recruitment costs, the photocopier and such. The Foundation may well moan, however if you don’t cover the actual costs of operating a particular piece of work you will ultimately ruin your organisation.

6. Leave enough time

Unless you know them very well, or if you are riding on the tide of a tsunami style global catastrophe, you need to ask well in advance.

Foundation’s typically only make grant decisions four times a year – and often it is less. You should plan at least 6 months and ideally much longer in advance.

7. Understand your environment

What happens if you are the Australian Friend of the Three Legged Siberian Mole Foundation? You end up knowing a lot about them, all the organisations helping them, what they doing and what works.

Don’t forget that grant givers get loads of applications and the narrower their focus, the more likely these applications are for broadly the same things. You need to know what makes your charity stand out and what similar organisations are doing – and ideally how it all fits together.

8. Know what you are trying to achieve

If you are asking someone to invest a large amount – or to be honest even a small amount – of money with you, then you need to expect that they will want to know what you are trying to achieve, why you think your approach to achieving it will work and how you will measure your progress and outcomes.

9. Build Relationships

However much there is a fixed application process with forms, assessments and scoring systems, somewhere in the process there is a person – who may or may not like you.

Do your best to find out what interests them and their trustees.

Keep them updated on your work even when you are not after their money.

Be the person that helps them out and sends them interesting and relevant information not the person sending in the irrelevant application.

10. Report back

I have been told that a disturbingly high number of people who get grants never say thank you and that an even higher number ever provide the requested update and progress reports.

They have been exceedingly kind to you, so show some appreciation and keep them up to date with your progress – even if things have gone horribly wrong.

More pragmatically, you will probably want them to carry on supporting you which they are far more likely to do if they believe in your organisation’s credibility.

About the writer

James Huitson is Pareto Fundraising’s director for South East Asia. Pareto Fundraising have been working in Hong Kong for just over two years and have achieved remarkable results for its Hong Kong clients. Before joining Pareto Fundraising, James was UK charity Turning Point’s director of fundraising and developed and lead a fundraising team that raised considerable amounts of money from the UK central government, trusts, foundations, companies and the national lottery.