Applying to private foundations as part of your funding strategy makes perfect sense. First, they too, have a mission they’re trying to achieve and are looking for partners like yourself to meet that mission. Also, it’s not a secret they are required by law to give away a minimum 5% of their prior year’s assets. That’s good news!
However, don’t be tempted to mass mail the same proposal or letter to all of your prospects. A “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work for seeking grant funds. Think of it as you would applying for jobs. Your chances of success are low if you send out the same cover letter and resume to every job prospect. The same is true for approaching funders.
You might ask, “But won’t mass mailing the same proposal or letter save me time?”. The answer is “yes”, but only in theory. The real question to consider is: Is it effective?
To effectively seek grant funds, you need to create an individual strategy for each funder you approach. Remember, you’re trying to establish a relationship. You need to articulate to each funder you understand what they’re interested in, what motivates them, and how you align with them.
Start with a Master Grant Proposal
While it may seem counterintuitive to use a “master grant proposal” while thinking about tailoring your appeal, there’s nothing wrong with starting with it for your grant-seeking efforts. In fact, this document helps you build a strong foundation of your organization’s history and current efforts, making it easier to tailor to each funder.
A Master Proposal often includes :
- Cover Letter
- Organization Overview & History
- Needs Statement
- Project Description
- Goals & Objectives
- Project Budget
Another bonus of starting with a master proposal is that it will save you loads of time as you work your way through different application types, whether online or in letter format.
Once you have your master proposal in place, there are areas you’ll want to tailor for each funder – here’s four ways how:
Follow the foundation’s application process
Each foundation has its own application process and it’s important to adhere to their specific guidelines. Also, many foundations are moving toward online applications and so mailing in your proposal or letter won’t make for a good first impression – no matter how well written your proposal is. Always be sure to check the foundation’s application process and tailor your approach accordingly.
Make the connection between the funder and your program
Think about what’s important to this funder. What issues do they care about? Now think about all the components of your program. You want to emphasize the parts of your program that align with the Foundation’s priorities.
Your organization has a mentorship program that benefits a multi-generation population by pairing youth with elderly adult mentors. When you approach a funder who’s passionate about the elderly community, then you will emphasize the benefits to the older adults who participate in your program. But if you approach a foundation that is focused on youth development, you’ll highlight the benefits to youth.
To clarify, you’re not changing your program – simply changing the way you write about the program to get the funder’s attention.
Speak their language
Get a sense of the funder’s voice and language by reviewing their website, annual reports, or any type of communication they put out. Pay attention to any repeated keywords or select language you could use in your narrative that will highlight your shared missions.
Does the funder use “Out-Of-School Time”, “afterschool”, or “school-age care”? Do they emphasize Southern California versus California? Do they emphasize “women and children” or “families”?
By tailoring your proposal to include the funder’s language, they’ll be able to tell you understand them and are well aligned with their priorities. Again, you’re not stating you’re doing work in areas you’re not or working with a certain population you’re not. You’re simply emphasizing your work within a specific geographic area or population group they’re most interested in.
Consider the Ask Amount carefully
While you may know the exact amount your program costs to run, you need to tailor your ask amount for each funder. You can gauge this by checking their past giving on their annual reports, 990s, or through your own cultivation efforts.
If the funder states first-time applicants should request no more than $25,000, then you’ll want to consider this in your ask amount to this funder. Landing on the right ask amount for each funder can be tricky, yet it’s an important step that demonstrates to the funder you’ve done your research.
The key takeaway is to tailor your proposal to align with each funder you’re approaching and articulate why you’ll make a great partner. It may seem like small changes, but it goes a long way to demonstrate you understand the foundation and their interests, solidifying the start of a long-term relationship.
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