Frequently Asked

Best Practices And Relationship Building

Communicating through a personal relationship is always the best option when contacting a potential funder. To discover if you have any hidden relationships with directors, board members or staff members of a foundation you can review the information on our profile pages. We always provide a list of the current directors and, in some cases, staff and board members as well. You can export this list to an excel file and distribute it to individuals associated with your charity. If someone knows a decision-maker within a foundation you can often fast track the relationship-building process by building on these already established relationships.

Respond to rejections with the same grace and professionalism as a positive response. Sending a follow up letter acknowledging the opportunity will set the tone to reapply in the next year. Consider making a call to the Foundation to ask what you can do differently next time.

If a foundation specifically says not to apply you must respect that request. In these cases, we recommend that you use the tools in Grant Advance to “block” that foundation from all projects. This will result in the foundation not coming up in any future searches and you accidentally applying again in the future.

Send a personalized thank you letter immediately after receiving approval. You may create a master thank you letter in the Document Generator and customize it for each foundation as the responses pour in.

We recommend that the letter come from the most senior representative of your organization. If there has been significant communication with a different member, or if there is someone with a personal relationship with the funding organization, include all these individuals in the correspondence.

Sometimes foundations make changes between reporting periods or are late submitting their filings. If you discover discrepancies in the data provided on the Profile Page, we encourage you to submit this information by using “Add Suggestion/Correction” option in the MORE tab at the top of the Profile Page.

Your submission will be reviewed by our Research Department, and the Profile Page will be updated upon verification. The participation of more than 1,500 member charities ensures that we are able to provide the greatest degree of accuracy in the information provided. We gratefully receive every submission and thank you for your contribution to our commitment to reliable information.

The Director drop-down list provides you with the most recent list of directors as reported to the IRS or the CRA. We recommend the following order of precedence when selecting your main contact:

1. Contact Person
2. Executive Director
3. President
4. Chair
5. Vice President
6. Secretary
7. Treasurer

If all the Directors are listed simply as “Director” or “Trustee,” you might consider addressing your correspondence by including all the contact persons listed. Using the Document Generator, simply copy and paste the information provided to the right of the customized document.

If the Funder is a private foundation and all, or most, of the directors share the same last name, and none of the directors are listed as Executive Director, President or Chair, we recommend that you address your correspondence to the entire family (i.e., Dear Van Norman Family).

Most foundations are headquartered in major cities. However, this does not mean that they will only provide grants to charities in their state or province. In fact, North American statistics conclude that 45% of all foundations have what is called a “nation-wide” giving interest. The best way to identify these organizations is to review foundations that have given to multiple regions. Even if a foundation has not given to your specific region, it does not mean that they never would. If a foundation has demonstrated that they fund a broad geographical area, you can conclude that they do not have geographical restrictions and that you would be considered a “qualified donee”.

Family Foundations are a major source of local funding support. Often, they require a far less formal approach and are more interested in hearing your “story” than reading a dry grant application. They are also less likely to require extensive follow-up reporting. Many charities receive grants from family foundations with nothing more than a well-crafted 2-page Letter of Inquiry.

While small family foundations are often easy to apply to and quick to decide, they are also not always professionally staffed, or able to review requests every week or month. This means that although you can usually apply at any time of the year, they may not process applications on a regular schedule. Be patient. Reach out and don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back right away. Think about applying in different quarters over a 12–18-month period to make sure you reach out at a time when they are focusing on their grant distributions for the year. And don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. A friendly chat could fast-track your request at any time of the year.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of understanding what really matters to them. While many family foundations have a wide range of giving interests, you will usually discover that there are certain causes that are close to their hearts. Using Grant Advance Profile pages, you can review the charities that they have funded in the past. This will give you a truly clear understanding of what causes they prefer to support and where they like to award their money.

Generally, you would not apply to a community foundation if you are not within a reasonable distance of its geographical mandate. Occasionally you may see that a community foundation has funded an organization outside of its regional mandate but in most of these cases there are extenuating circumstances for such an award.

Application Processes

Each Funder has its own process and criteria for assessing grant applications and may use a rating scale with numerics assigned to specific criteria. Some of the things that they will consider are:

  • The nature, quality, and impact of your campaign
  • The expertise engaged to carry out the project
  • The quality of programs presently offered
  • Your level of commitment
  • Your capacity to implement the campaign
  • Other completed campaigns
  • How your campaign or project benefits the community

Grant Secretary provides a valuable management tool that will allow you to automatically exclude any foundations included in earlier projects. Simply choose a recent project (or projects) and Grant Secretary will remove those foundations from your current campaign.

If a foundation denies your request but does not tell you not to apply in the future, we recommend that you try again within 6-9 months. Make sure to record any information the foundation provided in the Note section of their profile page. Important information to record would include why your request was declined, and any additional information related to their funding interests. Your focus here should be to record any information that will assist you in better matching their priorities in the future.

Yes. Most foundations today prefer that you send your Letter of Inquiry (LOI) first. Consider your LOI a mini-proposal. From the Foundation’s perspective it is more efficient for them to quickly make an initial determination on whether your campaign would be deemed suitable for further review. Once they make that determination, they may ask you to send your full Proposal document. You may also gain valuable feedback as a result of your LOI, or you may even be awarded funding just based on the information provided in your LOI.

Every Funder will behave differently and, as a result of this, the time from grant application submission until notification can vary from as little as a month or less all the way up to a year in duration. Some grantors accept applications on a rolling basis and some accept applications during a specific window.

See also What is the competition for grants?

Tips & Tricks

If a phone number is provided we strongly advise calling a foundation to get information about deadlines, mandates, policies, and any other beneficial information. Most foundations will welcome your call and will appreciate your attention to their processes and priorities.

Foundations do not expect additional information with the letter of inquiry. If they want more information, they will request that you provide it in a full proposal. You can offer to provide additional information in the concluding paragraph of your LOI but we would strongly recommend that you do not include information that has not been requested by the foundation. Remember, the Letter of Inquiry is a request for consideration. Save your heavy guns for when the foundation requests you to provide a full proposal.

You can never send too many Letters of Inquiry. In fact, most foundations only provide a mailing address so a Letter of Inquiry is often the only way you can make an introduction. Although the response percentage to these letters is admittedly low, it is still a great and affordable way to get (and keep) your name in front of some of the most significant philanthropic individuals and organizations in the country. We recommend sending a minimum of 100 letters per campaign and running at least 3 campaigns per year. We also recommend that you keep your vision and mission in sight of these critical funding organizations by sending a Letter of Inquiry every year, especially to those organizations that did not acknowledge your request. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is an effective way to get known in your community as a serious organization that is committed to making a difference. Let them know that you are not going away anytime soon.

Thankfully, there are industry-standard expectations when it comes to grant writing. If you carefully followed the simple instructions in our Document Generators, you will have written a Letter of Inquiry that meets every expectation and requirement of the philanthropic community. The next step is to review your document to make sure that you have covered the following items:

  • Your LOI should be no more than 2-3 pages in length
  • Briefly identify what your organization does
  • Provide a brief overview of the proposed project
  • If possible, document why the project is needed
  • Highlight how your project will make a significant impact
  • Make sure to show how your project promotes the mission/interests of the foundation
  • Clearly state the specific Ask amount that you are requesting from the foundation
  • State the overall project budget
  • Indicate if other funders are already on board as well as any funds your organization has committed
  • Provide contact information for the appropriate staff person at your organization
  • Indicate when and how you plan to follow up with the foundation
  • Usually you do not send attachments with a letter of inquiry unless specifically requested by the foundation

Have one or two of your colleagues, board members, or a friend of your organization review and edit your document. If you would still like a professional grant writer to review your document, there are many professionals that offer their services at a reasonable price. You can easily source a qualified fund development professional online.

Yes. Grants have been awarded to all types and sizes of non-profits. Your application is evaluated based on the strength of your organization, the strength of your project or campaign, the sustainability and overall impact of your campaign, and how closely you align with the mission and values of the foundation you are applying to.

Calling a foundation can be nerve-wracking, but it shouldn’t be. Most foundation directors are people, just like you, committed to making a difference. If you think of them as fellow travelers on a mission to make an impact it will help you to approach them with confidence. It would certainly help however if you made sure you were prepared.

Consider writing down your “elevator pitch” before you call. Also, review the Grant Advance profile page before you call so you will have a clear understanding of their previous giving history and the average size of grants that they historically award. And don’t forget to thank them for the great work they have already done. Expressing appreciation for some of their past grant awards and even mentioning previous recipients is a way to show them that you know about their contributions and that you appreciate their commitment to the community or cause.

But don’t be afraid to promote your own organization and the work you are doing as well. And don’t forget that you want to focus on their mandate and mission and how your initiatives blend with their priorities. Be sure to record any information related to their application guidelines and submission deadlines. Some good questions to ask include:

  • Based on what I’ve told you so far, do you think an application
    would be appropriate?
  • Your guidelines state that the next deadline is [date]. Is that correct?
  • Would you be able to review our proposal for input before final submission?
  • Can you advise me on the appropriate amount for a grant request?
  • What other foundations should we be talking to about this project?
  • How many copies of our proposal would be helpful (if not stated on website)?

Industry Knowledge

A family foundation is a private foundation usually set up by a family or a family-run business. They are funded with the family’s assets and often run by the family members. Many family run businesses set up family foundations as an instrument for charitable giving.

Family foundations are also typically much harder to find, but much easier to apply to. They rarely have websites so they may be right in your backyard but you wouldn’t know it. They are also usually willing to accept requests at any time of the year without administratively heavy application processes, requirements, or reporting.

Our Platform

As of July 1, 2019 the IRS required that all foundations file their annual 990 returns electronically. While there has been some delay in this transition, most foundations currently file electronically, and this data is made available as public domain information by the IRS. The transition to electronic filings, combined with the vast amount of information involved, has resulted in instances where the most recent filings have not yet been released by the IRS. However, all our profiles provide the critical information necessary to determine the historic funding partners (mission and vision of the foundation) as well their typical award amounts (average and median grant size). As more information is processed and released by the IRS Grant Advance Solutions accesses and analyzes this data and updates our database and profile information based on these most recent electronic filings. In Canada, a similar process is used through records provided every month by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

The reporting periods are of course for the previous year. In addition, many foundations file in different months of the year and/or as much as 18 months late. For these reasons, the most current data ever available is usually for a period 12-24 months prior to the current date. However, our monthly updates ensure the most up-to-date information that has been filed and is available is immediately incorporated into our Profile Pages.

Even when foundations do not provide a lot of detailed information about their organization Grant Advance profile pages still provides you with valuable information that you can leverage to send an effective Letter of Inquiry. Grant Advance has analyzed several years of donation history for every foundation in our system. This enables you to “intuit” the primary giving interests and mission of each foundation. Using this data, you can determine the geographical preference of the foundation, the typical grant size that they award, whether they issue one-time grants (project funding) or multi-year grants (operating and capital grants). Most importantly, you can determine the types of organizations that they usually fund, allowing you to identify the sectors that matter to them. For example, when you see that more than half of their grants are given to Health organizations you would tailor you request to take this into consideration. If their second largest sector is Education, you might want to include a paragraph in your LOI that highlights an educational component of your project. By properly reading the data we have provided you are now able to ask for an appropriate amount as well as match your request to their interests and mission. You can contact our support team if you require initial assistance on how to effectively interpret the data we have provided.

Absolutely! We don’t believe you should have to reinvent the wheel. Grant Advance Solutions is not a self-enclosed system and provides you with the convenience to import or export your information as required. You can utilize your own documents in their entirety or build new ones by cutting and pasting your text into the text fields provided for you in our Document Generator.

You are also able to customize your document with a wide variety of word processing tools such as font type, size, bullet and number lists, text highlights, importing pictures, graphs, charts, etc.

Grant Advance provides you with the ability to export data to excel files. This data can be exported directly from our Search Engines, Favorite Lists, or Projects in Grant Secretary. You can export the following fields: Name of Organization, Address, City, State/Province, ZIP/Postal Code, Phone, Public Contact, Average Grant, Median Grant, Range Grant, URL, and Notes. Importing this data to other software platforms depends on the capability, permissions, and restrictions of the software programs you are using. Our experience indicates that most management software programs will allow for importing data from excel files.

Our primary source of data is derived directly from reports that each foundation and charity must submit annually to the IRS (USA) and the CRA (Canada). We also supplement our data using information developed by our research department. In addition, our membership community often submits valuable information using the “Update Request” feature on our profile pages.


There are over 1.5 million charities in the US and more than 85,000 federally registered charities in Canada. Most of these organizations are eligible for grant funding from foundations. That’s a lot of competition. The key to grant funding is having a well-developed Strategic Plan in place that includes extensively researching to find the best Funders for your organization, establishing and maintaining relationships with your Funders, and submitting competitive and compelling Letters of Inquiry and Full Proposal documents as requested.

Foundations are more likely to provide operational funding to charities that have taken the time to build a relationship with them. A good strategy is to always make your first grant request one that is in their comfort zone in terms of the Ask Amount – meaning you ask them for a grant that is consistent with the typical grant size they usually award. You can find this information on the profile pages that Grant Advance provides for every foundation you discover through our search engines.

It is also wise to make your first grant request for a specific project that has a clear start and end date. This reassures the foundation that they are not making a long-term commitment before getting to know you a little. Consider this initial grant request somewhat like a first date. If all goes well this could lead to a long-term relationship.

After securing your first grant be diligent to keep the foundation in the loop about what you did with their gift. Send a thank you letter or invite them to an event! After your project is complete, or at timely intervals send them an “Impact Report” (see our helpful blogs on writing a winning Impact Report). It is always wise to keep them updated if they have shown interest in your work and may encourage them to consider multiple-year grants and operational funding in the future.

Prime funding season is between September and June. Unless a foundation has indicated a specific deadline for a grant application, the three best times to submit a Letter of Inquiry or a Proposal is at the beginning of the first, second, and third quarter of the year. And keep in mind, foundations must award 5% of their total assets in grants each year. This means they are actively involved and interested in partnering with charities that align with their mission and purpose.

1. January: For many Foundations, this is the beginning of their new fiscal year and they have new funds available again for distribution.

2. April: Foundations that accept applications throughout the year often have more time available to review applications compared to busy seasons like January and September.

3. September/October: Many foundations are coming close to their fiscal year-end and must distribute any money remaining to meet the government requirements of donating 5% of their total assets each year.

4. June-August: holiday season may not be the best time to reach out to foundations and their directors. You don’t want your letter or email sitting on the bottom of a pile or buried in an inbox.
However, this is your ideal time for strategic planning,
research, and wordsmithing those compelling Letters of Inquiry and Proposals that you will be sending out in September or October.

Strategic planning provides a sense of direction and identifies measurable goals. Specifically, an effective strategic plan will evaluate where your non-profit is now, where you intend to go (and why), and most importantly the steps to how you are going to get there.

Strategic planning is not limited to non-profits and is considered a widespread and popular business practice. The key concept here is that an organization will operate most effectively with an established, current, carefully thought out, written strategic plan. In addition, parts of a written strategic plan can often be important elements of some of the required information that foundations will want to see in your grant proposals.

Grants are awarded according to the population distribution of the country. While that means that more densely populated regions of the country will receive a larger number of grants, that shouldn’t deter non-profits from applying even if they are not located in a heavily populated area. Every region receives substantial grants each year and non-profits from less populated areas have the distinct advantage of facing far less competition. In our view, charities should not limit themselves only to foundations located in their own backyard. In fact, many foundations have no geographical restrictions at all when it comes to where they will award their grant dollars. Although most foundations do have their head office in a major city, this does not mean you should avoid foundations located outside your region. Many foundations have what could be called a “National Giving Interest” and award grants from coast to coast.

A well thought out Strategic Plan always makes good business sense. Strategic planning is essential because it forces you to examine in detail the reason that you exist, specifically what you do, how you do it, and the end result. As businessman and consultant Harvey MacKay (b. 1932) said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

See also What should I include in my strategic plan?

Foundations will often provide operating funds or multiple-year funding to organizations that have made the effort to establish a good relationship with them. In these cases, you can strategically apply to funders for assistance with operational and capacity-building grants. Contact support if you need some assistance reading our data to help identify these foundations.

As a minimum, at least once per year. In addition, plan on follow ups at regular intervals throughout the year in your annual strategic plan (monthly, quarterly, bi-annually) at which time you should review and revise your progress as necessary.