10 Keys to Winning Foundation Grants
William Leitch | November 1, 2022
Winning competitive grants from family and corporate foundations is more science than art. This insight outlines 10 key principles that will maximize your chances of securing foundation grants and what grantors are looking for when determining awardees, including advice from the Executive Director of the Boston-based Lynch Foundation, Katie Everett.
1. Research thoroughly.
This is a tedious but critical first step that will prevent time wasted on hopeless or longshot proposals. Yes, use databases (my favorite is Instrumentl). A great way to find foundations that are likely to support your organization is to research similar organizations. Look at the websites, annual reports, and social media posts of your “competitors” and create your own database of prospects. “Do your homework,” said Everett, when asked what the most important piece of advice is for grant seekers. “Get to know what the foundation is interested in funding, review their priorities and process.”
2. Ensure alignment.
Study the foundation’s mission, priorities, giving history, geography, and award amounts to align your request. “Every foundation has a unique interest and perspective, you must tailor your requests appropriately based on that understanding,” said Everett. Focus first on local and smaller foundations so you are competing against a smaller field of applicants.
3. Build relationships.
How important is relationship-building with your foundation for grant seekers? According to Everett, building these relationships is “critically important.” She explained: “We tend to fund organizations over long periods of time. Relationships for us matter significantly, we work in partnership which requires an extraordinary amount of trust.” Communicate as much as possible—in person, on the phone, by email, in that order of importance—with foundation staff and/or board members.
4. Write well.
Be precise and concise, answer the questions and sub-questions, omit irrelevant information, and enlist two proofreaders—a program person for content and a writer for language. Use one or more proofreading tools or apps, in addition to your word processor's spelling and grammar check. (My favorite is Grammarly). “We often receive proposals with wrong contact names, misspellings, and wrong foundation names,” said Everett.
5. Emphasize results.
Emphasize past successes and be specific about what you will accomplish, how, and by when. Include how you will collect and measure outcomes. Do not over-promise; if you win a grant by overstating what you will achieve, you will be in trouble when it comes time to report.
6. Perfect your budget.
Your project budget is just as important as your narrative. Some foundation staff will skim your narrative but scrutinize your budget. Ensure it is detailed and in alignment with what the foundation will fund.
7. Fix your website.
Make sure your website looks professional and is up to date. If some sections have not been updated in years — e.g., your blog — either update it or delete it. Foundation staff will look at your website and your social media accounts.
8. Be persistent.
Don’t be discouraged by a denial. Unless the foundation has told you to “go away,” submit again in the next cycle. Solicit foundation feedback for the reason for the denial and adjust your next proposal. Again, building relationships with foundations is critical to eventual success.
9. Submit early.
Plan to submit well before the deadline. You will be less hurried, and your work will be better. If something unforeseen happens and you have given yourself no wiggle room, you will be in trouble. You may even get feedback or a request for more information if you submit early. Additionally, Everett advised that “If you have a grant writer that is not on your staff, make sure you are aligned and in agreement on how they represent you. Often, they are supporting several clients and manage numerous relationships. Make sure he/she can handle you as a client and has the same level of expectations and values.”
10. Steward the relationship.
In addition to submitting reports, communicate regularly (at least quarterly) with program updates. Notify the foundation if there will be a problem completing the project, or if you need to reallocate funding from one line item to another. Publicize the foundation on your website, annual report, and social media.
About Katie Everett:
Since joining the Foundation in 1997, Katie Everett has seen the Foundation grow from $40 million to $130 million and overseen the investment of $175 million in support of 350 social change organizations. She graduated from Notre Dame Academy, received her bachelor’s degree from Boston College, and completed Executive Programs at the Stanford University School of Business & the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
About The Lynch Foundation:
Carolyn and Peter Lynch established The Lynch Foundation in 1988 to spread the values that were instilled in them in childhood. Both children of educators, Carolyn and Peter went to public schools and attended college on scholarships. As they went on to have successful careers, they remembered the importance of education and the generosity of those who afforded them an opportunity to receive one.