How to Know if a Grant Maker is “The One” for You
Grant writing can be overwhelming on the best of days. And while I happen to love it, I know writing grants doesn’t come naturally to everyone. There’s a reason “how to write a grant” is one of the most frequently searched phrases on Google! A lot of people need help, and I’m here for you.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. The first step – before sitting down to write a grant – is making sure you’re applying to a funder that’s a good fit for your organization. The last thing you want is to invest precious time and energy into writing a proposal that has little chance of success simply because you skipped a few easy steps in the beginning, am I right?
In last week’s post, I shared the number one thing to look for when deciding whether a funder could be “the One” for your charity – alignment of interests between the grantmaker and your organization – and provided some top tips on where and how to find this information.
But like any truly perfect pairing, it’s never about just one thing – if only life were that easy! So, let’s dive back in and look at four other factors to consider when figuring out whether a grantmaker is your charity’s funding match made in heaven.
#2. Location, Location, Location!
Home is where the heart is – and the money. Most foundations donate to organizations in their hometowns and provinces, and then extend their philanthropy outward from there. While a funder may seem like the perfect fit in terms of interests, if your charity doesn’t fall within their geographical areas served, you’re unlikely to receive a grant.
That’s not to say long-distance funding relationships don’t happen – they do! It’s just something you need to investigate thoroughly before investing time and energy into the grant writing process.
Foundations will sometimes indicate their funding regions on a website or their CRA filing. For most, it’s best to look at their giving history to get a sense of where they award grants and how frequently. Once again, it’s grant search engines for the win!
Take the foundation below, for example. Using my favorite grants database, it took only a few seconds to pull up a map of Canada representing the foundation’s grants awarded since 2004. As you can see, most of their funding goes to charities in Alberta, with some grants awarded in BC and Ontario. You can also see the number of grants made in each province when you hover over the map. Can you guess where this foundation is located? That’s right, Alberta.
Map of a Canadian Foundation’s Grants Awarded by Province
Source: Grant Advance Solutions Inc., 2022
#3. Show Me the Money!
Another important factor to consider is which funders have the financial means and are likely – based on their giving histories – to award grants at the level needed to accomplish your organization’s project.
Look at their smallest, largest, and median grant size. This information – all available through a top-notch grant search engine – is vital in helping you decide where to submit an application.
Grant Analysis of a Canadian Foundation
Source: Grant Advance Solutions Inc., 2022
Let’s look at the example above. If your charity needs to raise $1M, this foundation is worth pursuing. It’s median grant size is $112,500 – a healthy one-tenth of your goal – and it’s made at least one seven-figure gift.
On the other hand, if your organization’s objective is to raise $2,500, this foundation is likely not ideal. That’s not to say a larger foundation won’t give out smaller grants – always check giving history. A larger median grant size typically means a more rigorous application process. It may not be worth investing in such a time-consuming process given your project’s more modest financial goal – especially when there are foundations out there awarding smaller grants who often don’t require such a detailed application process.
#4. Timing is Everything
Simply put, when does your charity need dollars in the door, and what is the foundation’s grant-making cycle? If your organization is raising funds to send medical supplies to a hospital in Liberia in November, there’s no point applying to a foundation that gives grants in December – unless you’re a super-star and applied a year ahead of time.
Speaking of lead time, in an ideal world, your charity has a strategic plan with fundraising priorities mapped out for the next one, three, and five years. Timing is important in all fundraising but particularly so when it comes to foundations. Why? Because Canadian foundations are required by law to meet an annual disbursement quota of at least 3.5% averaged over a two-year period. Practically speaking, this means their giving almost always follows yearly cycles.
If a foundation doesn’t specify a grant cycle or deadline on their website, sending a Letter of Intent (LOI) any time of year is acceptable. Based on my experience, many foundations are looking to give out funds in the last quarter of the calendar year – October through December. Keep in mind that an LOI in December won’t allow much time for a funder to consider your submission before year end and may push their decision to the next year.
On the other side of the spectrum are foundations running multiple granting programs at different times over the year. The large community foundations or health charities are good examples. Each granting program is tailored to unique audiences and has a specific deadline. For this type of foundation, adequate lead time is critical.
To give your charity the best chance of success, begin your foundation research and identification process at least one year – better yet eighteen months – before your project start date to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities. If you laughed out loud – or even spat your coffee out – reading that, you’re not alone. Most of us aren’t that organized!
If you’re here because your project starts in two months and you need funding yesterday, don’t fret. You’ll focus your search on foundations without deadlines or those with grant-making cycles within your timeframe. Sure, your options will be more limited, but you’ll still have plenty to choose from.
#5. They’ll Fund You, They’ll Fund You Not
How exactly do you plan to use the grant money? I’m talking specifics. If you’re asking for a grant for a medical clinic in Guatemala, will the funding pay for equipment and supplies? Maybe you plan to use the grant to cover operating expenses, or perhaps you want to roll out a program on handwashing to reduce the incidence of transmissible disease in the community.
Whatever the case, keep in mind foundations tend to have specific ideas about what they will (and won’t) fund. Typically, the most difficult to fund requests are operating expenses and endowments, the latter, especially as interest rates, have performed so poorly over the past decade. However, there is an encouraging trend among grantmakers toward Trust Based Philanthropy – which includes, as one of its six practices, the giving of multi-year, unrestricted funding.i Of course, every donor is different – and foundations are donors, too.
My best practice advice is to always check a foundation’s website for criteria outlining what they will and won’t fund before applying. No website? No problem. You can always look at – you guessed it – giving history – to see if it reveals any clues. And, assuming you’ve exhausted every other available option, I recommend phoning or emailing the foundation to inquire about funding guidelines or restrictions.
Now, use these top four criteria – plus last week’s number one tip – to narrow down the huge list of Canadian foundations and identify the best potential matches for your charity. Have your list ready to go because next week, I’ll share my simple strategy to writing your compelling love LOI to help you win over the funder of your dreams.
And don’t worry dear charity, I’m getting closer and closer to answering the question on everyone’s mind – how to write an award-winning grant application!
Hint: it’s simpler than you think.
By Laura Ralph, Fund Development Advisor
Laura is a writing wizard with more than a decade of experience in higher education and medical fundraising.