Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Family Foundations are a great source for local funding support. Often they require a far less formal approach and more interested in hearing your “story” than reading a dry grant application.

The Director drop-down list provides you with the most recent list of directors reported to 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).

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.

Most foundations are headquartered in major cities. However, this does not mean that they will only provide grants to charities in their home 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 province, 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 most likely do not have geographical restrictions and that you would be considered a “qualified donee”.
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.
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.
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.

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.

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
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?

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.
If a foundation denies your request but does not tell you not 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 to better match their priorities in the future.
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.

Tips and Tricks

If a phone number is provided we strongly advise calling a foundation to get information about deadlines, mandates, policy and any other beneficial information. Most foundations will welcome your call and will appreciate your attention to their processes and priorities.
Yes. Grants have been awarded to all sizes of non-profits. Your application is evaluated based on the strength of your organization, the strength of your project or campaign, and the sustainability and overall impact of your campaign.
Thankfully there are industry-standard expectations when it comes to grant writing. If you carefully followed the simple instructions in our Document Generators you have most likely written an acceptable Letter of Inquiry. 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.

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 the 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 actually a great 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.
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.
Calling a foundation can be nerve wracking. Make sure to maintain your professionalism by having an elevator pitch written down. Also, review their 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. Don’t be afraid to promote your organization and the work that you are doing. However, 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.

Public Foundations (Family, Special Interest or Corporate Foundations): These organizations are set up solely to make grants. Their assets are most commonly derived from the gifts of an individual or family or from a profit-making business.

Public and Community Foundations: The funds for a Public Foundation are usually derived from many donors that want to designate their funds to a particular area of interest. Community Foundations usually restrict their grants to a particular geographic area.

The CRA allows the formation of three different types of federally registered charitable organizations: Public Foundations, Private Foundations, and Charitable Trusts. A Charitable Trust is most commonly referred to as a “charity” or a “non-profit”.  While most foundations are established primarily to provide grants to charitable trusts, most charitable trusts are established to directly provide services to the area identified in their mission statement. The “mission” of these charities and foundations broadly falls into the following categories: Health, Education, Religion, Welfare, Benefits to Community. These sectors are further divided to include causes such as: Art & Culture, Environment, Animal Welfare, Sports, & Civic Organizations. The important point here is that there are foundations and charities to support almost any kind of philanthropic interest. Interested “Turtle Crossings” or “Parrot Rescue”? There is charity for that…and a foundation to fund them!

These Foundations generally do not issue grants but simply redirect funds as they are instructed. Usually, this information will be identified in the Profile Page under the Programs tab. Typically, they are listed as “designated giving” or “donor-advised.” Examples of designated giving Foundations are CanadaHelps, CHIMP, Aqueduct, Abundance, Blue Sea Philanthropy, and most Employee Trusts. Be careful, however, about simply dismissing Foundations that identify as “donor-advised.” Many of these Foundations are interested in establishing relationships with charities that share their values and mission. In addition, these Foundations are often open to multiple year partnerships. However, Grant Advance provides the option of flagging individual Foundations as “donor-advised” and filtering them to exclude them from search results.

The Platform

Our records are updated every month and are based on reports received from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). However, foundations submit filings based on their previous year’s activity. 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 recent information filed is immediately incorporated in our Profile Pages.

Our primary source of data is derived directly from reports that each foundation and charity must submit annually to the CRA. 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.

Grant Advance provides you with the ability to export data to excel files. This data can be exported directly from our Search Engines, Favourite Lists, or from Projects in Grant Secretary. You can export the following fields: Name of Organization, Address, City, Province, 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.

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

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.


There are over 85,000 non-profit organizations in Canada who are eligible for grant funding. 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.
Prime funding season is generally 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.

  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 in order to meet the CRA requirements of donating 3.5% of their total assets.
Grants are awarded according to the population distribution of the country. While that means that Ontario receives more grants than any other province, that shouldn’t deter non-profits from applying even if they are not an Ontario-based organization. Every province receives substantial grants each year. Non-profits should not limit themselves to Foundations located in their own province or city. Although most foundations in Canada have chosen to have their head office in one of the five major cities in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg), this does not mean you should avoid Foundations located outside your region. Many Canadian Foundations have a “Canada-wide giving interest.”
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.
Foundations provide operational funding to organization they have a relationship with. 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! 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 in the future.
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.

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?
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.

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