Foundation Grants – Five Secrets Grant Writers Won’t Tell You

Posted on by Aimee Vance in Blog

Has anyone on your board suggested that you hire an expert grant-writing consultant to secure all that “magical money” foundations give out?  Have you mistakenly bought into the myth that grant writers have some sort of extra special talent you’ll need in order to secure a grant? Well, here’s five secrets these so called “experts” don’t want you to know about foundation grants:

Secret #1 – There’s no such thing as a grant. It’s just another donation.
Secret #2 – Hiring an outside grant writer doesn’t work.
Secret #3 – Bypass the Foundation Director. Trustees are the ones who make the decision.
Secret #4 – Never fill out a grant application until you already have the gift.
Secret #5 – Ignore the Foundation Directory. Form 990s reveal the real way grantors give.


Let me explain.

There’s no such thing as a grant. It’s just another donation. Let me help you get your head around this. There’s no such thing as a grant, there’s no such thing as a corporate gift, there’s no such thing as a government contract! What do I mean? Foundations, corporations & governments are financial instruments USED BY PEOPLE to make a charitable investment. Here’s the key. Regardless of the instrument there’s someone on their leadership team who makes the decision. Unless you’re in a meaningful friendship with that person you won’t get the gift.

Hiring an outside grant writer doesn’t work. What happens when you pay a grant writer thousands of dollars to fill out and mail 100 grant applications? You’ll you get 100 rejection letters. Having an outsider fill out and mail in a grant application is the least effective way to receive these type of gifts. Why? Keep reading and all of this will begin to make sense.

Bypass the Executive Director. Trustees are the ones who make the decision. The number one function of a foundation executive director is to review your grant request and then throw it in the trash. Now, you don’t want to be at odds with executive director, so build your friendship with them. Here’s the more important task. Download the foundation’s form 990 and identify each trustee. Determine if you already have a linkage to any of them (an existing friend or supporter) and ask for  an introduction. If you don’t have a linkage simply call the trustee and invite them to share their personal goals and why they serve on the foundation board. Seven out of ten times they’ll give you an appointment.

Never fill out a grant application until you already have the gift. Once you’re in relationship with a trustee meaningfully involve them by asking them to mentor you  through the process of making a gift request. Seek to know what projects excite them personally. Invite them to provide you the information they believe you should include in your GIFT PROPOSAL (not their grant application.) Once they’ve reviewed your offer (gift proposal) invite them to present your written proposal at their next distribution meeting. If they agree to bring it to the meeting THEN FILL OUT THE GRANT APPLICATION RIGHT AWAY. Make sure they review that document as well. THEN…HAVE YOUR NEW CHAMPION BRING ALL OF IT TO THE TABLE WHEN THE DECISION MAKERS GATHER.

Ignore the Foundation Directory. Form 990s reveal the real way grantors give. When foundations initially incorporate they’re required by the IRS to choose one or more National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) Codes. (For instance, NTEE code A53 is designated for Folk Arts Museums.) The Foundation Directory has simply organized each foundation’s contact information and purports to know the purpose of each grantor. Here’s the truth. Regardless of “purpose” trustees bring all sorts of projects to the table that they love when meeting to disperse funds regardless of what NTEE code was selected years ago. Here’s the key. Go to GuideStar and download the last three years years of the foundation’s Form 990. Go to the last page of each document and see the list of organizations they give to and each monetary amount they share. MAKE SURE YOU REVIEW THIS BEFORE YOU MEET THE TRUSTEE. You’ll be one of the only prospects they’ve met that’s prepared to talk about the existing interests (instead of your own).

When it’s all said and done, filling out grant applications is a waste of time if you haven’t first built a meaningful donor-centered friendship with the person that’s actually going to give you the gift.

Don’t forget, foundation grants are just another gift. Happy Fundraising!

Your Friend In All This,

Aimee Vance

Foundation Grants – Five Secrets Grant Writers Won’t Tell You was authored by Aimee Vance. Aimee, a Certified Non-Profit Consultant, began her non profit career in 1989. Beginning her career in the local church, she helped developed strategies to increase giving and engage a larger portion of congregations in service to the community. In 1997, Aimee joined Esther Ministries. During her tenure there, she served as the Director of Client and Donor Relations and eventually Executive Director, where she increased the donor base by 52% and donor revenue by 65%. Her duties included overseeing the direct mail campaign, major gifts development, major event planning, volunteer recruitment, staff and volunteer training, and board development. Aimee also served Prison Fellowship as the State Director for Tennessee where she worked with government agencies, non profits and volunteers serving the prison and ex-offender population and their families. Aimee oversaw volunteer recruitment, training and retention of over 150 volunteers, development and oversight of the state and local boards, special event planning and fund raising, and program management. Aimee also served to help develop new non profits, guiding them through the start up process, including strategic planning, business plans, and fund raising strategies. Aimee’s greatest joy comes in assisting others and seeing them attain their goals to become successful in serving “the least and lost”.

For more information on foundation grants VISIT HERE to attend one of National Development Institute’s Major Gifts Ramp-Up Seminars.