Cultivating relationships with private foundations takes time. According to eCivis’ Vice President of Grants Professional Services Dr. Bev Browning, “At least six months or more of introductory emails, telephone conversations, face-to-face meetings, invitations to public events, and more need to happen” before an applicant approaches a private foundation. That kind of effort can seem like a disincentive for local government grant writers given that they already have tried and true grant opportunities to pursue at the state and federal level (not to mention that grant writers often wear several hats, regardless of job title).
But tough times call us out of our comfort zones. By going after only state/federal funding opportunities, local government entities cut themselves off from potentially significant grants from key foundations. Below are some examples of major foundations that have a proven record of giving to local governments. These examples and tips are intended to offer a few research angles that you can consider before you apply to a foundation.
- Focus on the foundation’s focus. Take, for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the tenth-largest foundation in the United States in terms of total giving. The foundation supports health-related projects and also provides support to state and local governments. The purpose of their Public Health Law Research grant program, for example, is to analyze and bolster laws in order to improve public health. RWJF has collaborated with such agencies as the DOJ and HHS and partnered with local grant makers through its Local Funding Partnerships (LFP) program, which leverages community-driven projects to address social factors contributing to poor health among economically disadvantaged populations. How does your project align with the foundation you’re interested in, and have you considered leveraging a partnership?
- Identify the major foundations that give to your city. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (ranks 44th in the top 100 foundations for total giving) issues awards for a variety of projects across the state, country, and world, as well as projects addressing topics spanning economic, social, and racial challenges in its hometown of Flint, Michigan. In June 2011, for example, the foundation gave the city $1.2 million for community policing that would pay for 12 police officers, equipment and supplies, and more. Who are the major philanthropic players in your city or county?
- Look to the leadership and do your homework. In 2008, Luis A. Ubiñas took over as president of the Ford Foundation (ranks 6th in the top 100 foundations for total giving) and has since overhauled the organization and more clearly defined its objectives. In the wake of that year’s financial crisis, for instance, the foundation pledged $80 million to assist public benefit programs to help the unemployed and low-wage earners. Since then, it has packaged "its grants in bigger bundles" to ensure greater impact. When researching on a prospective foundation, have you checked to see if you know any of the foundation’s board members? If not, what steps will you take to acquaint yourself with those members?
It's important to stay informed not only about the legislative news in Washington but also about potential funders to whom you may apply down the road. The foundations mentioned above provide in-depth information on their grant programs as well as previous awardees. These foundations' programs can also be found in the eCivis Grants Network database, which you can learn more about on our Take a Tour page.
eCivis is the nation's leading grants management software solution and the ideal platform for improving local governments' and community-based organizations' grants performance. For more information about eCivis, visit www.ecivis.com.
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