May 07, 2014
(Allison Shirk, a freelance grantwriter and grantwriting trainer based on Vashon Island, Washington, serves on the board of directors of the Puget Sound Grantwriter's Association. For more of Allison’s advice and wisdom, click here.)
You know that foundation that never returns your calls? The one you keep sending proposals to that never responds? You've poured over the foundation's 990-PF and its Foundation Directory Online profile. You've scoured the Web for information about its staff and giving. And everything you've found gives you reason to believe that if the good people at the foundation would just read your proposal, they'd want to invest in your organization. But you're still hanging on the telephone. Before you throw in the towel and decide to invest your time elsewhere, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Look at more than one 990-PF. One of the most important tools in the grantwriter's toolkit is the 990-PF -- the annual reporting form foundations are required to file with the IRS that provides information on their mission, programs, and grantmaking. And every good prospect researcher knows that it's essential to review more than the foundation's most recent 990-PF; the last two or three years should be your default, and four or five is even better. When reviewing 990-PFs, keep in mind the following: Does the foundation make a point of funding the same nonprofits? What are the exceptions? Does it make grants in the amount you’re looking for? (If the amount of funding you are requesting is too much – or too little – the foundation is unlikely to fund your project.) While you're at it, be sure to review every page of the form. Sometimes there are additional guidelines or notes tucked into the form that can be the difference between winning and losing a grant.
2. Try to connect, but don't overdo it. Every foundation is distinguished by its own communication style and willingness to connect. If the foundation's policy is "no phone calls," respect its wishes. On the other hand, if the foundation has published a phone number or email address, don't be afraid to use it. Just make sure you've done your homework and, should you reach a person in a decision-making role, that you're ready to ask and answer a few pertinent questions.