The Cold Hard Truth About Foundation Grants

photo by Dorian Mongel

Let’s face some uncomfortable facts about non-profit foundation grants:

  • Unfair fact 1: Many foundations seem to be used as a way to park wealth, after businesses get a tax write-off for charitable donation to what is essentially a family-owned foundation, and doled out to friends and family as “employees” of the foundation.
  • Unfair fact 2: Foundation grants are more likely to go to people who have connections with the foundation members.

It seems so unfair for foundations to collectively have billions of dollars in their coffers, while so many social needs remain unmet. Instead of staying cynical about this, let’s face some uncomfortable facts about us idealists who tend to be resentful of this situation.

  • We’re not going to create a better society by hating on the rich. We’re not going to create a just social order by trying to burn it all down. We’re not making friends with potential donors when we try to elect candidates based on an intent of wealth redistribution. Look back in history. Who is going to believe that this time we idealists know better and the most brutal authoritarian leadership this time won’t end up at the top?
  • You can’t simply cancel and shame people into being generous. Most people who have amassed wealth are immune to those tactics. That doesn’t make them evil. Consider how much of your own income you are giving away. Presumably you could downgrade your lifestyle and give more. Looking at the wealthy as potentially being people like you will help your mindset.
  • Many foundations are generous and well-intentioned, but they don’t want to risk wasting their funds on unproven projects. Anyone handing out free stuff and free money unconditionally is going to soon be depleted and may not have made their community much better. At least in this internet age we can get free advice, and here’s some if you want it…

How to Start Your Non-profit Project

  1. Investigate non-profits in your area and you will find there are many foundation grants that fund remarkable services that mostly go unnoticed. This investigation of non-profits can also help you identify areas of need that are not currently met. Instead of duplicating existing services, you might be more successful by finding an unfilled niche.
  2. When you feel stuck and that your efforts have been unsuccessful, try to find guidance to determine whether to try harder (more applications) or try differently (revise your planned use of funds). Try to get brief interviews with people who are doing something similar to what you want to do. Study what you can, because they’re more likely to give you an interview if you show you’ve done your homework.
  3. Your best start may come from volunteering with a non-profit organization. (That’s how this website got started.) The volunteering may lead to a paid position. (I’ve seen it happen.) Either way, you will learn a lot and can avoid the mistakes they made. In addition, when you are ready to branch out with your own program, the non-profit you served may act as a funding partner or fiscal sponsor to receive foundation grants.
  4. Every funding source, whether it be grant money or investor money, needs to see your project presented in a way that demonstrates your team has thought through a plan of action as well as financial and marketing details. Otherwise your project will fall into the pile of thousands of other projects that had a great vision but didn’t know how to present it in a way that both attracted investors AND gave the donors confidence that their money would be used for the intended purpose.
  5. Contact us for more details about foundations that fund projects in your area of interest. Rather than spend our resources transmitting all possible information about foundation grants, we believe our best contribution is to provide access to affordable grant specialists to help you identify opportunities. We might be able to assist you for free, based on grants to us. Also, we couldn’t simply re-publish information we get from grants databases without infringing on copyright laws.

Next Steps

Jumpstart Intentional Community With Grant-funded Consulting

Foundations have one of three strategies to select fund recipients: offer RFP or application, approach with LOI, or invite-only,

How to write an LOI