Funder Compatibility: Have you Done Your Homework?
At Brightspot, we believe there are two fundamental elements to a successful grant program. The first and most obvious component is a well-crafted proposal. The second and more overlooked component, is funder identification. Without intentionality behind your prospecting, a well-written grant does little for your fundraising efforts. So exactly how do you know if the potential funders you have identified are truly interested in evaluating your well-written proposal?
Let me begin by saying that funder scans require more time, attention and super-sleuthing than a simple Google search. In 2015, there were more than 86,000 foundations in the United States (excluding corporate giving programs and charitable trusts). Ultimately, this figure demonstrates the breadth of philanthropic opportunities for nonprofits to pursue while also illuminating just how many opportunities there are to vet. While there are a small handful of sophisticated grant databases out there to support your prospecting, the onus still relies on you (or your grant consultant) to dig deep into the results of any grant search to protect your long-term investment of time.
Whether your funder search uses Google or a subscription based grant database, here are some tips for how to “dig deep” into the list of results you yield:
990s are a treasure trove of information for prospective applicants, providing concrete evidence of where a funders’ philanthropic dollars are directed. 990s can be accessed on Guidestar.org for free and on some of the subscription based grant databases. Once you have a 990 in hand, you want to begin by evaluating which organizations the funder has awarded grants to in the past. Do you consider these past recipients to be like-minded organizations to your own? If so, that’s a good sign. Has the funder only given to the same organizations year over year? If so, this funder probably is less inclined to allocate their philanthropic dollars to a new organization. Lastly, it is quite common for funder profiles or websites to list a geographic region where they make contributions. Be aware that oftentimes individuals or families affiliated with a foundation contribute to their Alma mater(s) thus skewing geographic parameters. As you can see, a deeper dive into 990s is essential to help organizations determine whether or not to submit an application to a particular funder.
As long as a funder profile or website does not discourage phone calls or emails, it is absolutely acceptable to reach out to share your mission and project idea with the funder to gain clarity about your compatibility. Be sure to let the funder know that you have done research on your end but are still unclear as to whether your project would align with their interests. Many funders appreciate the opportunity to save applicants (and themselves) valuable time if synergy does not exist.
Be discerning. When we love the organizations we work for, we can be tempted to believe that the entire philanthropic universe loves us too. As a result, we often convince ourselves that our project or mission aligns with a particular foundation’s field of interest even if it really doesn’t. If you find yourself investigating a funding opportunity and feel like it “sort-of-kind-of-fits”, do a gut check and be willing to accept that the opportunity probably is not a fit.
After years of grant writing, we can assure you that identifying a roster of compatible funders is just as essential to a successful grant program as the grant writing itself. Investing the time up front to vet funders will save you from many hours of fruitless labor and free up your valuable time to confidently focus on those funding opportunities that have your organization’s name written all over them. And for those of you who think this super sleuthing sounds too daunting or time consuming, well, Brightspot is just a call away!