Which Foundations Are Your Best Foundation Funding Prospects? Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed the key foundation funding factors that determine who gets funded – and who doesn’t. These factors were determined based on foundation funding statements and demonstrated funding preferences identified through analysis we have conducted on millions of Canadian foundation grants spanning 15 years. The identified factors are:

  • Project or recipient location
  • Grant size requested
  • Giving interests
  • Granting category
  • New versus old recipient giving ratios
  • Giving trends

Applicants ignoring even one of these when applying for funding may see their requests being rejected, so it is clear that the best approach is to evaluate every funder against all of the factors to maximize the probability of a successful fundraising campaign.

To start, in-depth foundation information is readily available through online searchable databases, such as FoundationSearch and Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online (FDO). In comparison, both provide tools to allow filtering of foundations by grant amount, location, area of interest, and funding category (however, note that FDO has only a fraction of the available Canadian foundations). While these filters are useful, they do not account for new versus old recipient giving ratios or giving trends. Recent testing of the filtering capabilities of both FDO and FoundationSearch prove both are adept at producing a “not so short” list of prospective funders for various search criteria. For example, a search for “scholarship” funding in Ontario quickly produces an unsorted list of 160 potential funders in FoundationSearch using that product’s Grant Analyzer feature. This is certainly gets the fundraiser much closer to their goal of a targeted and ranked list of the most likely funders, but still leaves much work to do.

Foundation Center acknowledges the problem and provides a Prospect Worksheet, designed to “help you focus on funders whose priorities match those of your project.” The PDF form, which is four pages long, covers some of the key factors that should be evaluated when reviewing foundation prospects (again, see my previous blog post for an explanation of those factors). The form includes a section for determining whether the funder is a good match or not; you can make notes on subject focus, geographic limits, types of support, and populations served. The worksheet helps you organize your research, but it is still a manual process, and would need to be repeated for every foundation you want to evaluate. We tested this method, and average time to complete a sample worksheet was 30 minutes for a prospect. To complete a prospect sheet for each foundation in our example of a search for funders for scholarships in Ontario implies over 80 hours of additional research work, which is not feasible for most organizations.

One fundraiser who has founded her own research group, Jennifer Filla, has developed a method she calls “prospect prioritization” for corporate and foundation prospects. This involves creating a worksheet to record the client’s specific project criteria, and a rating legend to rate the funder prospects she’s evaluating against criteria including giving interest, location, and giving capacity. Through detailed interviews with the client, she determines which criteria are most important for the project, and weighs those more heavily in the scoring system. This is a step beyond the simple prospect worksheet, because it integrates a rating or scoring element, so that prospects can be weighed against each other and evaluated against specific criteria and then ranked. Although I have not tested this method, it appears to be a better method than the one offered by Foundation Directory Online in terms of ultimately producing a ranked list of funders. Unfortunately, this is still a manual method, requiring upwards of an hour’s analysis for each prospect, implying 160 hours of additional research work for the scholarship example.

FoundationSearch provides an analytic tool (My Best Prospects, or MBP) that greatly speeds up the review and ranking process—analysis of more than 10,000 foundation prospects is reduced to minutes rather than months of effort. Basically, this tool takes the prospect worksheet concept, integrates it with the rating/scoring aspect, and—here’s the best part—automates the entire process.

The tool allows you to input your specific project criteria, including project or recipient location, granting category, grant size, giving interests, and types of support. It then takes those criteria and evaluates every single funder in the database, and scores each of them on how well their past funding history matches your project criteria.

It also rates the funders’ granting histories, by checking out whether they’ve given more grants to new recipients as compared to old (i.e. repeat) recipients. And lastly, the tool also checks to see whether the funders are increasing or decreasing giving to your granting category through time. Some funders won’t make the cut, but the ones that do are ranked in descending order by relevancy to your project, and by funding frequency to your project criteria.

With the FoundationSearch tool, the best prospects are selected automatically for you, and presented in a ranked list of the 250 best prospects, with research profiles related to your particular project criteria for each.

So what does all of this analysis achieve? Good, timely funder analysis will increase your chances of getting funding by enabling you to focus on funders most likely to fund your project. Seems obvious, yes? For those who are time-pressed, narrowing the list down further to focus on funders with immediate deadlines can also benefit (see my previous blog post for a discussion on researching deadline opportunities). With foundation funding histories readily available through online searchable databases like FoundationSearch, availability of information is no longer an issue. Efficient and accurate analysis becomes the challenge, and choosing the right tools to help with that analysis is key.

It would be interesting to hear how other fundraisers are dealing with evaluating foundation prospects…

Which Foundations Are Your Best Foundation Funding Prospects? Part 1

Defining what makes a best foundation prospect is easy to agree on – it is that foundation that is most likely to fund your organization, in the amount you need, when you need it. So much for the easy part; the tricky part is analyzing the over 11,000 Canadian foundations and their stated and actual funding criteria to determine which of them are most likely to fund you.

In this week’s blog post, we’ll review the key factors that must be considered when evaluating a prospective funder, in order to maximize your chances of getting funded.

In analyzing foundation prospects, our experience shows that a review of foundation funding history is everything. Although many foundations publish detailed funding guidelines, actual funding history gives the truest picture of a foundation’s giving interests and patterns. Based on our analysis of thirteen years of granting and an analysis of more than 900,000 grants made by Canadian foundations, we have determined that most foundations can be quite predictable in their granting behavior.

Multiple factors need to be considered when reviewing prospective foundation funders, and foundation research products like FoundationSearch provide many of the tools required to identify funders that meet a diverse range of funding criteria with comparative ease.

The funding factors that are the most determinate are:

Location of Recipient or Project. Geography – yours and theirs – is important. Our research has shown that funders can be quite geographically specific in their mandate (think “community foundations”), and will often reject otherwise very good proposals based on geography alone.

Giving Category. Arts, health, education, the environment, social services, sports and recreation, international causes – almost all funders are specific in terms of which non-profit categories they wish to fund. A few questions to ask yourself when evaluating a funder’s granting history: How diverse is the foundation’s funding pattern? Do they give to a wide range of giving categories, or are they very specific in what they choose to fund? If they do give to a wide range of interests, then perhaps they may be open to funding something new?

Grant Size. Grant size can be overlooked, but it’s important to note that if you are asking for too much—or even too little—the funder may be less likely to fund your project over a competing project that has an ask amount more in line with the funder’s giving preferences. Not only should you look at the dollar amount given per grant in your category, but also the total number of grants given at that dollar amount. There is no sense in asking for a $500,000 grant from a funder if they have not previously given a grant of this size. Similarly, foundations frequently set “floors” on the smallest grant size given as they find that it is difficult to cost-effectively oversee the progress made by recipients.

New versus Old Recipients Giving. Determining the degree to which a foundation is receptive to funding new opportunities is another key factor to evaluate. Funders may differentiate between recipients that have and have not been funded previously by the foundation. Some funders are very open to new opportunities, and a close examination of their past granting history may often reveal these preferences. To complicate matters, foundations may decide to change funding emphasis – or de-emphasis – by non-profit category or geography, so any analysis needs to be sensitive to these dimensions.

Giving Trends. Reviewing a funder’s funding history should also include reviewing the overall, general trends in giving. For instance, is their funding to the arts increasing over time, or decreasing within your category? It may be trickier getting grants from a funder that has given dozens of arts grants five years ago, but only one arts grant in the past year. The odds of getting grants from a funder that is increasing granting to a category is better than from a funder that is decreasing granting to that category.

Giving Interests. “Giving interests” are frequently a more specific level of funding interest within a category. For instance, “performing arts” is a specific funding interest within the Arts category, and “ballet” would be an even more specific interest within performing arts. Although it is tempting to qualify foundations to the most specific interest level, this poses two concerns – first, that you would be eliminating potential funders with a broad range of interest in the category but have not yet funded (in our example) “ballet.” Secondly, if the foundation has funded “ballet,” they may not be looking to make additional donations in this area. The general success principle would be to “cast a wider net” than you think you need.

Types of Support. Knowing what types support the foundation is willing to fund is also important. While some funders will not specify where or how the grant dollars should be spent, other funders will explicitly provide only program support, or may choose not to fund capital campaigns.

Note also that when reviewing each of these factors, the frequency of granting is critical. You may find a funder that matches on all vital counts—but if that funder has only ever given one grant that matched, how likely would that funder be to fund you next, compared to a funder that has given dozens of similar grants?

So all well and good. These are the things you need to look for in a potential funder’s giving history, in order to determine whether they’ll be a good match or not. But, how do you create a framework for generating a ranked list of prospects for your project, in a timely, efficient way? How can you find all the best potential funders, not just a single perfect funder?

We’ll discuss some of the options available in the marketplace in the next blog post.

Tracking Foundation Application Deadline Opportunities

As a non-profit, you know the challenges around keeping up to date on new and upcoming foundation funding opportunities and their deadlines. Although your first instinct may be to check a foundation’s website for deadlines, our research shows that very few Canadian foundations provide this information on their site—or has a website at all.

A handful of deadline alerts services are available for non-profit researchers. Why so few? Because the main challenge you face is the same one these alerts services face: staying ahead of ever-changing deadlines. We’ll outline a few of these available services, and review some of their features and strategies for keeping informed of relevant opportunities.

Philanthropy News Digest, or PND, is a free service published by Foundation Center, and includes notices of awards and RFPs. Sent out biweekly as an email you can subscribe to, PND provides predominantly US opportunities, and those opportunities are grouped by category of giving. In conjunction with their email alerts, PND also provides an online search tool that allows you to search through their database of currently active RFPs; you can search by category of giving, state, or keyword. As it is a US based service, the number of Canadian opportunities listed is quite limited.

FoundationSearch provides several features related to keeping current with RFP deadlines and awarded grants. The Grants in the News Alerts can be emailed directly to your inbox and will also appear in your online Activity Box within the FoundationSearch product. You can customize the alerts you are sent, by selecting the granting province(s), receiving province(s), and category that you are interested in. You can also easily search the database of past Grants in the News alerts, using giving category, granting province, receiving province, or date range. FoundationSearch also provides Foundation Deadline Search, a search utility that lets you search for applicable deadlines from any of the active foundations included in the FoundationSearch database. You can easily search by deadline month, foundation name, city, or province, and can display the results sorted by either deadline date, foundation name, city, or province. A subscription is required to access this feature as well as the Grants in the News Alerts. As part of their subscription, members can also receive detailed RFP deadlines reports, customized by state and category. In the past three years, FoundationSearch has tracked more than 1,000 distinct funding opportunities from Canadian foundations.

Beyond these tools, a quick search on Google for “foundation deadline opportunities alerts” will reveal a couple of free online grant deadline search services, most of which are specifically related to education (for example, GrantsAlert.com). Great if you’re a school or educator, but not so great if you’re looking for any other type of grant. Most other hits are postings from foundation websites announcing their own program application deadlines, which may or may not be applicable to your particular organization. Some larger foundations will provide email updates on upcoming deadlines if you request it, or provide RSS feeds that you can monitor. Ultimately the onus is on you as the researcher to find and request information on deadlines from these sources.

In brief, comprehensive deadline listings are few and far between. The larger services provide alerts and search capabilities, but even these provide only a limited sampling of all the possible granting opportunities available each year in Canada.

While the challenge of keeping up to date with new and upcoming deadlines may be made somewhat simpler with alerts services, perhaps a better strategy for keeping abreast of the opportunities for your organization is to first identify the best funders for your organization, and then determine the application deadlines for each.

More on this in a future blog installment….

SO, I know which foundations to approach, but how much do I ask for?

You have worked your way through over 10,000 Canadian foundations to find the best foundation funding prospects for your organization (see my previous blogs on how to determine your best funders, and my review of some of the tools available to do this). Now, you need to answer a crucial question: how much do you ask for from each funder?

It’s a question that every fundraiser needs to ask, and more importantly, needs to have the answer to. In this week’s blog post, we’ll review the problem, do a web survey of the prevailing wisdom, and then outline some of the possible solutions.

You may be asking yourself why you should not just simply ask each of your funding prospects for the amount you need to fund your project. The answer is that foundations have both “floors” and “ceilings” on the amounts they give. These floors and ceilings are rarely stated, but they are implied by a funder’s historical giving—a request that is too small may be deemed too expensive for the funder to oversee relative to the amount donated; too large a request may exceed the funder’s capacity to give. To compound the problem, these floors and ceilings vary by funder, your area of operation, your non-profit category and other factors including the size of your proposed outcome.

There has been little discussion in the sector on the topic of ask amounts for foundations. A survey of some of the advice available online about optimal ask amounts reveals that most advice is geared toward individual giving capacity—how much to ask from individual donors. From blog posts at DonorPerfect (the secret to asking the right amount), to gift range calculators from Blackbaud, most of the guidance and recommendations center around how to deal with individual giving. Some of the suggestions can translate to the world of foundation fundraising, but some of it simply doesn’t apply.

A post on TheGrantPlant, a blog site, directly addresses foundation funder ask amounts and suggests the following: do your research for appropriate funding prospects, check the foundation’s giving history, and don’t expect the entire amount to come from a single foundation funder. All of which makes sense in a very basic and time consuming way. Cataloguing a foundation’s giving history can take time, even when you have tools like Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online and Metasoft’s FoundationSearch available. Some foundations actually state their desired gift amounts and publish their desired grant range amounts, but most do not. So, a review of the foundation’s past granting history can give good—and perhaps the only—indication of what an ideal ask amount should be. To do this, you would examine all recent grants made by your foundation prospect, select those that were made to your funding category and location, and determine the “median or middle” amount given, and repeat for each funding prospect—lots of work but essential work. If you had originally identified 200 good foundation prospects for your project, this work could take an hour per prospect, or 200 hours, time you might rather spend fundraising….!


FoundationSearch is working to take some of the effort out of this process, by providing a method of calculating the ideal ask amount automatically, for each funder. Built into its analytic tool for finding the “best funders” for your project, a recommended ask amount is calculated on a foundation by foundation basis by your stated funding category and location. The system reviews the entire granting history for each of your foundation prospects, selects the historic grants that most closely match your project parameters, and calculates the median, maximum and minimum grant amounts made by the funder. The median (middle) grant amount is selected as the “recommended ask amount.” Users can click the amount, and easily view a chart (like the one shown above) of the relevant historic grants and see in which range most of the grants fall.

By asking for a grant amount that is in the middle of the amounts previously granted by the foundation, you dramatically lessen the risk of your request being rejected, and you stand a better chance of securing the grant from the foundations you approach. With a list of the best funders, and the ideal amounts to ask from each funder, you are in a much better position to succeed in your fundraising efforts.

(Please feel free to leave a comment, or link/re-post as you like. I look forward to your comments, and opening up the conversation on foundation fundraising!)