Connect With Us

44 posts categorized "Grantseeking"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2015)

October 02, 2015

Although PhilanTopic was on vacation for a couple of weeks, our readers found lots to chew on, content-wise, in September, including new posts by Derrick Feldmann and Claire Axelrad, infographics from Bloomerang and the ALS Association, a timely post by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, and perennially popular posts by nonprofit executive director Susan Danish and fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. As for us? We'll always have Paris....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that warmed your baguette? Feel free to it share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

PND Talk: Why Give to the Arts When People Are Starving?

September 23, 2015

PhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in January 2014. Enjoy.

Long-time readers of Philanthropy News Digest may remember PND Talk, the message board we launched back in 2004 and maintained for the better part of a decade (until the launch of our new site in November).

During its heyday, PND Talk was a lively community frequented by a regular cast of generous, knowledgeable nonprofit professionals — people like Susan Lynn, Sheryl Kaplan, Rick Kosinski, Julie Rodda, Tony Poderis, and the late (and much missed) Carl Richardson and Linda Procopio.

Recently, some of us were reminiscing about PND Talk and the friends who made it such a valuable resource for so many years. And that got us thinking: Wouldn't it be great if we could share some of their advice and wisdom with our readers here at PhilanTopic?

Well, we can and we're going to — starting with the post below by author and fundraising consultant Tony Poderis, who for twenty years served as director of development for the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra. In it, Poderis addresses the longstanding dilemma faced by all development professionals in the nonprofit arts world: How do you justify philanthropic support for the arts and culture when so many people, here and around the world, struggle to secure the basic necessities of life? It's an interesting and provocative post, and we think many of you will want to add your thoughts in the comments section below....


Arts_jobs_buttonFor those of you laboring — with love — in the nonprofit "field" of arts and culture, I can guess, with reasonable certainty (I come from that background, too), that you are challenged at times to justify your organization's existence, particularly at a time like this, when so many other, "more worthy" societal needs are crying to be met. How do you respond?

I've had to address that difficult question many times over many years. And for many arts and culture organizations, it continues to be a pressing one. I hope what follows is of some help the next time you are so challenged.

Why give to the arts when people are starving?

I actually saw that question scrawled among the marginal notes in a funding proposal for an orchestra. The notes were penned by a trustee of a grantmaking foundation during a meeting to review the proposal. Another trustee of the foundation, the one who presented the proposal on behalf of the orchestra, later shared the notes with me and asked what I could do to help counter his colleague's questioning remark.

Continue reading »

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

September 22, 2015

Rotary_phonePhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in March 2011. Enjoy.

Okay. You're working at a great nonprofit, you've got a wonderful idea that's going to change the world, and all you need is a grant to get you started. Guess what? The majority of America's foundations don't want you to send in a proposal.

Of the more than 86,000 independent, community, and corporate foundations in the United States, 60 percent state that they do not accept unsolicited proposals. Together they represent 32 percent of total assets and 34 percent of annual giving. Nearly $16 billion of the $46 billion distributed every year is not up for grabs; you need an invitation.

Foundations in America are private institutions and have the right to decide how, when, and on what terms they will accept proposals and make their grants. At the Foundation Center, we respect that right and clearly indicate in our databases when a particular foundation does not want to receive unsolicited proposals. But people seeking foundation grants find this more than a bit frustrating. One of their most common questions is, "Why won't foundation X let me send in my proposal?"

There are at least two reasons. The first is foundation size. Dealing responsibly with requests for funding requires significant effort, time, and people. Yet in one Foundation Center survey of 11,000 foundations, 76 percent of respondents had fewer than four staff. Foundations are frequently inundated with proposals. My own experience working in philanthropy has taught me that for every grant approved by a foundation, eleven more are declined. The ratio can be much worse. One year at the Ford Foundation -- which accepts unsolicited proposals and has hundreds of staff -- we decided to count every letter of inquiry, e-mail, and actual proposal and came up with something on the order of 144,000. The number of grants actually made that year? Fewer than three thousand. The situation could be helped if foundations were clearer about their grantmaking priorities and nonprofits were more careful in targeting their proposals, but the reality is one of greater demand than supply. From a foundation's perspective, not accepting proposals can be like building a dyke to hold back the flood.

Continue reading »

7 Ways to Make Your Year-End Fundraising Really Count

September 14, 2015

Get_Ready_Year_EndIt's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's when a majority of people are inspired (or habituated) to think about giving. Not a time your nonprofit wants to miss out on.

If you want to leverage people's feelings of generosity during the holiday season, you need to start planning now. If you've already begun (yay!), you need to make sure you're not missing any tricks that could help you raise more money.

Your year-end appeal is a terrible thing to waste

Sadly, I see wasted efforts at every turn, efforts that simply do not compel a response — or certainly not a generous one. A few of the more common missteps include:

  • Letters in envelopes no one in their right mind would open.
  • Wonderful letters sent to the wrong mailing list.
  • Letters without a specific ask.
  • Letters with no call to action.
  • Letters with no personalization.
  • E-appeals that strain the eye.
  • Donation pages that would take a degree in physics to complete.
  • Donation pages that convey zero emotion.
  • One-shot efforts that make no effort to remind folks of their noble impulses.
  • Appeals that lack urgency.
  • Thank you's that lack graciousness, or even manners.

Update your year-end fundraising to make it really count

Here are seven questions you may want to consider:

Continue reading »

3 Things to Know About Donor Behavior

September 02, 2015

Donor_brainWhen I first got into fundraising, I executed campaigns without worrying too much about donors or spending a lot of time thinking about why or how they responded to particular strategies or appeals.

Eventually, I realized that if development professionals really want to make a difference in their organization's ability to raise money, they not only need to think about their donors, they need to understand how the donor brain works. Let's face it: the brain is an economic weighing machine that makes hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunity-cost calculations a day. Rather than choosing the most difficult thing, it tends to nudge us down the path of least resistance.

What does that mean for the fundraising professional? It's simple. Donors are drawn to actions that, psychologically speaking, are low cost but yield a satisfying result. We need to build that recognition into our appeals and the way we communicate about our organizations.

The 'Me-Too' Effect

Imagine walking into a museum and at the entrance coming across three buckets. Bucket #1 has a sign asking you to donate the change in your pocket. You notice the bucket is almost full of coins. Bucket #2 has a sign asking you to donate $5 and is maybe half full of one- and five-dollar bills. The last bucket, bucket #3, has a sign asking you to donate $50 and has a few bills crumpled at the bottom.

Which approach is likely to raise the most money?

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2015)

September 01, 2015

With the markets sliding and the heat and humidity rising, it seems like a good time to take a step back and revisit some of the great content published here on PhilanTopic in August. Learning to embrace change and failure, tips for your next group interview, and the return of venture philanthropy and old-fashioned liberal education -- it was a month to remember, if not one to take to the bank....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that made you think? Feel free to it share with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Warning to All Grantseekers: When Markets Tank, HOLD That Request!

August 24, 2015

Markets_downYou can't time markets but you can time grant requests. So when newspapers scream: "Massive sell-off on Wall Street as investors fear China slowdown" (New York Post), you should think twice before asking a foundation for money.

In good times, foundations can drive grantseeking nonprofits crazy with their demands for effectiveness and metrics to support those claims. At regional and national gatherings, foundation professionals speak passionately about effectiveness in sessions with titles like "Unlocking Impact...", "What Works...", and "The Cost of Achieving Outcomes..." What's more, every year it seems more and more foundations turn to online application and reporting forms that require nonprofits to produce copious amounts of detailed information about their logic models, theories of change, inputs, outputs, and outcomes.

But when stock markets head south, especially in the dramatic way they have over the past few days, there are only three indicators that matter: the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the NASDAQ Composite. If you are ever fortunate enough to make it into a foundation president's office, apart from the usual large desk you will be greeted by a television or monitor tuned to CNBC with its endless chatter about share prices and market moves. Remember, the vast majority of the 87,000 foundations in the U.S. are endowed, meaning the income that underwrites their grant budgets comes exclusively from the performance of their investments. Foundation presidents and the trustees to whom they report know that the ability to advance a foundation's mission depends on that performance, and they also know that they are being watched by state and federal regulators tasked with ensuring they are responsible fiduciaries and "prudent investors" of foundation assets.

Continue reading »

Being Counted: Funding for People With Disabilities

July 16, 2015

"It's a sad truth that in many developing countries people with disabilities simply don't count. No data is collected on their disabilities nor their abilities, so it’s as if they just don’t exist…."

— Former UK parliamentary undersecretary for the Department for International Development (DFID) (quoted in the Guardian)

Disability_symbolsRecognizing that, to date, development goals have not been reached because people at the margins have not been included, the concept of "leave no one behind" has been a key part of the post-2015 development process. Among those left behind have been people with disabilities who, until the publication of the first World Bank/World Health Organization World Report on Disability in 2011, were not specifically enumerated among the world's population.

As it turns out, people with disabilities make up an estimated one billion people around the world. That is 15 percent of the world's population, or one in every seven people. Further, children with disabilities are the single largest group excluded from school, making up 30 percent to 40 percent of the out-of-school population according to UNESCO. Women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to be victims of domestic violence than other women, and 20 percent of the poorest people in the world are people with disabilities.

Despite these dire statistics, most countries in the developing world either do not count their populations with disabilities or do not use standardized methods to do so, meaning that official data on persons with disabilities and the conditions they live in is poor or absent.

Until recently, this was also the case among human rights funders and human rights organizations. Disability — considered a charity or medical issue — was not delineated as a human rights concern. Indeed, it was only in 2010, following the implementation in 2008 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that even as formidable an advocate as Human Rights Watch started systematically reporting on rights abuses against persons with disabilities.

Thus, when the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center initiated a project in 2010 to map global human rights grantmaking, I was excited that the project would include people with disabilities among the recipient populations to be tracked. For the first time, people with disabilities would be listed as a population of concern for funders making human rights grants.

Continue reading »

Tips for End-of-Year Foundation Fundraising

November 18, 2014

End_of_year_fundraisingThis is the time of year when every nonprofit CEO sinks or swims. Either you secure the last of the grants needed to balance your organization's budget or risk running a deficit and ruining its balance sheet. But while you might think it's too late to save 2014, the last six weeks of the year are actually an excellent time to pursue foundation grants. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

Foundations are like people. At the end of the day, whether it's a small family foundation or a large independent foundation,
it takes people to make a grant, and, when it comes to deadlines, most people procrastinate. In other words, an awful lot of grants get made in the last quarter of the year, and a surprising number of those grants are made in December.

Meeting the payout requirement is trickier than you think. Foundations are required by law to spend 5 percent of their assets annually for charitable purposes. This can include a portion of their own operating costs, but most of it tends to be paid out in grants. Many foundations base this 5 percent minimum on a rolling three-year average of the value of their investments. With the fairly constant oscillations of the stock market, you can imagine this is something of a moving target for most foundations. Add to that the fact that grants sometimes don't materialize, organizations implode, and stuff happens, and foundations often have to scramble to make last-minute grants to achieve their mandated 5 percent payout.

The stock market is on a tear. Though 2014 has been a bit bumpy, the markets are up and have been very good to foundations over the past three years. This means that foundations will be calculating their 5 percent payout on an asset base that is larger than at any time since before the Great Recession. It's the reason why U.S. foundations will pay out nearly $60 billion in grants in 2014.

Continue reading »

A Message From GuideStar President/CEO Jacob Harold

October 27, 2014

Headshot_Jacob_HaroldIn 2013, I joined with partners at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator in writing an open letter to the donors of America explaining that "overhead ratios" are a poor way to understand nonprofit performance. We named this campaign "The Overhead Myth."

I'm glad to report that the response to the campaign, including the original Overhead Myth letter to the donors of America, far exceeded our expectations. More than one hundred articles have been written about the campaign. It comes up every time I hold a meeting or give a talk. For many in the field, it's been a deep affirmation of something they've long known. And, indeed, many leading organizations — the Donors Forum, Bridgespan, the National Council on Nonprofits, and others — have been working on the issue for years. 

But we also know we have a long road ahead of us. The myth of overhead as inherently "wasteful" spending is deeply ingrained in the culture and systems of the nonprofit sector, and it will take years of concerted effort for us to move past such a narrow view of nonprofit performance to something that fully reflects the complexity of the world around us. That effort is essential, however, if we want to ensure that we have a nonprofit sector capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. 

That's why last week the CEOs of Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and I released a second Overhead Myth letter — this one addressed to the nonprofits of America. In that letter, we suggest a set of steps nonprofits themselves can take to help dispel the Overhead Myth. We all share responsibility for allowing things to have reached this pass. And it will take all of us to fix it.

We direct this letter to nonprofits not because we feel they are the originators of the Overhead Myth but because they are in the best position to communicate with their donors and funders. We want to recruit nonprofits to help us retrain donors and funders to pay attention to what really matters: results. In the end, that means nonprofits have to throw away the pie charts showing overhead versus program — and  step up to the much more important challenge of communicating how they track progress against their mission.

In simple terms, we must — collectively — offer donors an alternative. In the letter, and on the accompanying website, we call on nonprofits to do three things as their part of this evolution:

  1. Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about their performance.
  2. Manage toward results and understand their true costs.
  3. Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

We have provided a list of tools and resources related to each of these  goals. These tools give nonprofits tangible steps they can take to engage their stakeholders around this critical issue. As the sector develops new resources and tactics, we will add them to the website.

We believe it will take a shared effort to focus donors' attention on what really matters: nonprofits’ efforts to make the world a better place. It doesn't matter whether you work at a nonprofit or donate a few dollars to a favorite charity every year, please join us as we seek to move from the Overhead Myth to the Overhead Solution.

For more information, or if you have a resource related to this issue that can help advance the cause, email

GuideStar, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects people and organizations with information on the programs, finances, and impact of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits, serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.

Grantees Sound Off About Philanthropic Funding System

August 15, 2014

MarcMaxson_GG_sweaterI believe that philanthropic foundations could make major progress in serving their constituents if they paid more attention to what grantees were saying about them. Not in the cozy pat-each-other-on-the-back love-fest way. I mean by listening to real, honest feedback.

Recently, we at Feedback Labs (as a neutral third party) decided to ask a group of twelve hundred organizations to publicly share stories about their experiences with funders, adopting our community storytelling approach to the task. That approach emphasizes open-ended narratives with a few follow-up questions, intermediation (people are a little more likely to say something negative if the boss isn't in the room), and confidentiality.

Sample Feedback

I selected these particular comments because the variety of issues addressed in them illustrates the importance of asking open-ended questions. In this case, the question was: "Talk about your experience approaching a grantmaking or funding organization that either did or did not grant you funding. What was the relationship like? Did you receive support from them?" (Feel free to add your own story to the collection here.) What follows are some representative highlights from the stories told by grantees about funders and the grantseeking process:

Comments from GlobalGiving partner organizations:

  • The process leaves little room to establish a relationship with a grantmaker because we're usually just asked to fill in a standard form and maybe attach a project summary and financial documents.
  • It was important for us to understand who the decision makers are. What are their priorities? And what aspects of the project are particularly appealing to the funder, given its vision and mission?
  • It was an unsolicited proposal, and we really didn't attempt to build any relationship with the foundation by writing to them or calling them up to ask where our proposal the previous year had fallen short. That really affected our chances of winning a grant.
  • We got to meet the organization through a mutual friend who had been following our work for years.
  • I was nervous when I sent the first email requesting support for a program in Nairobi. However, the funder responded positively and even made a trip to Nairobi to see the program first hand.
  • We waited endlessly for a decision on our proposal. One of the basic problems in dealing with a large CSR unit is that you have to keep following up and have a person dedicated to making sure that happens.

And here are some comments from smaller, emerging organizations not yet partnered with GlobalGiving:

Continue reading »

A Framework to Communicate Philanthropy

April 25, 2014

(Jeannine Corey is director of grants information management at the Foundation Center. A version of this post also appears on the GuideStar blog.)

Heasdhot_jeannine_coreyLanguage allows us to communicate complex ideas and acquire information using an agreed-on structure and process. Variations in language around the globe increase the level of effort needed to communicate with people across borders, but it's not impossible if you have a way to translate your ideas into a language others can understand.

The Foundation Center is currently undertaking the challenge of devising a language that can be used by philanthropic organizations around the world to tell the story of their work. That common language is crucial for a field as diverse as ours: not too long ago, we determined that U.S. foundations have more than two hundred and fifty ways to describe "general operating support"!

In 2012, the Foundation Center began to rethink the classification system that has been at the core of our work, a system largely based on the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities structure that we helped create thirty years ago. Given how much the sector has grown and evolved over the past few decades, updates to the taxonomy are critical in order for it to more accurately reflect the work of the field and serve as a relevant tool for a 21st-century global philanthropy community. Why is this important? Because a shared taxonomy makes it easier for grantseekers to find targeted support, helps funders collaborate with each other and identify potential grantees, and assists researchers and academics who are analyzing the work of the sector.

To that end, staff at the Foundation Center have spent eighteen months evaluating our codes, mining the text of the nearly five million grants and one million philanthropic institutions in our database, and cross-referencing that information against other international standards to inform the creation of a revised taxonomic system. Our goal is not to create another standard but to develop a framework that meets the needs of the sector and can serve as a language that organizations use to communicate their work to each other. For example, we've added new subject areas related to information and media, including associated technologies. We've replaced "type of support" with two new categories: support strategy, to reflect the goal or approach behind the actual support, and transaction type, to capture the various forms of philanthropy beyond the cash grant that happen around the world.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2014)

March 01, 2014

Tragedy in Syria. Civil strife in Ukraine and Venezuela. Not enough snow in Sochi and more than enough pretty much everywhere else. The Fab Four at fifty and other reminders of boomer mortality. Here at PND, February 2014 was best summed up by a colleague who dubbed it "the longest short month ever." It was also the busiest month ever for PhilanTopic, as readers flocked to Laura Callanan's four-part series on social sector leadership and found lots of other things to like as well. Here, then, are the six or seven most popular posts on PhilanTopic for the month that just wouldn't end....

What did you read/watch/listen to in February that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section....

Foundation Fundraising for the 99%

November 20, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

It’s that time of year again: nonprofit execs are turning over every rock in sight to find the resources they need to close the gap between their ambition to make the world a better place and the hard reality of meeting payroll and paying rent. Many nonprofits rely on government contracts and individual donations, but many also go for foundation grants. Yet a significant portion of the $50 billion in grants made each year by America’s foundations is captured by just 1 percent of nonprofit recipients. Here's something that can help the other 99 percent level the playing field.

FDO_FreeIt's called Foundation Directory Online Free, a searchable database of close to 90,000 foundations and three years of their most recent 990-PF tax returns. Okay, I'm the president of the Foundation Center and can hardly be considered unbiased. But I cut my teeth in this business years ago by using the old Foundation Center print directories and ever since have believed the center to be the most reliable source of information for foundation grant research, period.

Open Foundation Directory Online Free and key in the two-letter code for your state or type a city name to search for foundations in your area. Change the ranking of the list you get by giving, assets, or name. Explore an individual foundation by clicking on its name. The profile will give you contact information, some financial stats, a URL (read on!), and the foundation’s fields of interest. This kind of basic information on foundations is surprisingly hard to come by; 93 percent of America's foundations do not have Web sites. That doesn't mean they don't make grants; they're just harder to find. Moreover, if you really want to dive deep into a particular foundation's grantmaking, FDO Free links you to the foundation's three most recent 990-PF tax returns -- a great source of information that includes a list of all the grants made by that foundation, the recipients of those grants, and grant dollar amounts.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2013)

November 01, 2013

A shutdown of the federal government that lasted sixteen days, the botched rollout of, a well-deserved (!) Red Sox win in the World Series -- October was nothing if not eventful. And now that it's history, it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....


Quote of the Week

  • "If you're asking me my opinion, [Edward Snowden's] going to die in Moscow. He's not coming home...."

    — Former NSA head Michael Hayden

Subscribe to Philantopic


Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »


Other Blogs