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!)

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…