Philanthropic Organizations

Besides the government, philanthropic organizations, such as local foundations or the United Way, are a rich source of grants. Occasionally, in addition, people of wealth bestow grants without using a formal philanthropic organization or a grant-seeking process. A good grant writer is aware of these individuals in his or her community, but, because the needs and interests of these individual philanthropists vary widely — as do the best ways to approach them — they are not the subject of this book on grant writing.

Getting to Know the Funders

In Maggie's community, a midsized city in the Midwest, there are three major foundations: a large family foundation; a corporate foundation; and a community foundation. She has a local United Way agency and knows of several individuals who make large grants without using foundation governing boards. There are also numerous smaller foundations and corporate donors in her hometown. Maggie considers it a part of her service to clients to know what each of these local funders is interested in, what their program areas are, who is on their boards, and how often and when they meet to make decisions about grants.

Maggie got her information by meeting with funders, reviewing catalog listings of local funders, researching foundation 990s (tax statements indicating charitable gifts and their amounts available at, and talking with other clients about their experiences in local grant seeking. Her conclusions are not likely to be 100 percent applicable in your community, but they are worth sharing so you can look for similar patterns.

What Has Maggie Learned?

By doing her research beforehand, Maggie knows the following things:

  • The major foundations have regular meetings in which they discuss projects and their planned portions of giving.

  • Many of the smaller foundations wait to see what the corporate foundation does. They've come to understand and respect the staff person's approach to review and due diligence.

  • When there's a really large capital project (such as an arena, convention center, or large university installation) that requires full community support, it becomes more difficult to get other special projects funded from the traditional sources.

  • Staffs of foundations can't make promises or assurances on behalf of their boards.

  • Changes in staffing (especially at the director levels) and trusteeboard membership can affect grantmaking decisions and/or delay decisions.

  • The foundations publish their values and mission statements and expect you to address the ways that potential projects fit with their vision and values.

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