Question #5: How can my organization get funding from foundations?

By Rachel Cyrulnik

[Eight Burning Fundraising Questions for Eight Nights of Hanukah continues.]

Foundation funding is viewed as the Holy Grail for many small nonprofits who have already extensively tapped their pool of individual donors. Grants may constitute a viable revenue stream, but foundation fundraising, much like individual fundraising, requires extensive research, cultivation as well as grant management. Organizations will be disappointed if they expect to hit the jackpot by merely filling out an application.

The most important ingredient in securing foundation dollars is alignment of priorities between your organization and the foundation of interest. Namely, do your mission and activities fulfill the foundation’s strategic priorities? A foundation director once described this concept to me as the overlapping section in a venn diagram between the work of the nonprofit and the goals of the foundation. The larger the “sweet spot,” the more consistent and significant the grants from the foundation will be. And foundations have a keen eye for detecting organizations that are “stretching it” to attract new funding.

Further, as with individual fundraising, identifying personal connections between your board members – or any champions of your organization – and foundation staff or officers can only strengthen your chances of gaining access to the foundation, or, ultimately receiving the grant. Make sure that you regularly run the names of prospective foundations and their officers by your board to turn up any relevant contacts.

Researching your prospective foundations is critical – just as you go to a donor meeting prepared, you will want to know the profile of the typical grantee – mission, activities and budget size as well as the type of grants the foundation makes – programmatic, capacity-building or other.

Cultivation is key – warm up a foundation prospect by having a “get to know you” meeting, sharing relevant news, organizational accomplishments and your vision for the future. Be prepared to explain why you would add value to the foundation’s portfolio and how you would help them achieve their own strategic goals.

Foundations typically demand more in the way of measurement and evaluation than your typical major gift donor. Make sure your organization has the resources to properly manage the grant, including tracking and reporting on impact data, and you’ll be much more likely to have the grant renewed in the future.

Rachel Cyrulnik is founder and principal of RAISE Nonprofit Advisors (, a strategic development firm servicing nonprofits. Contact Rachel at