How to Work Effectively with Foundations


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  • Research foundations to determine their funding priorities, policies and procedures for developing an application. When approaching a foundation that grants funding outside your service area (many fund in several geographic areas), communicate your intentions to the appropriate chapters or states that may be affected.


    When soliciting a foundation that funds “nationally,” AF chapters should contact the Major Donor Relations Department Research Specialist or Director, Foundation Development at 404-872-7100 at the national office before moving forward to avoid duplication of efforts.

  • Get to know the foundation staff. Do this either formally (ask for a meeting) or informally (at meetings, parties, conferences, etc.).
  • Arrange a formal meeting to discuss ideas and possibilities. You may have to do this by telephone. Have a concrete project in mind, or several projects, before you meet.  Don’t press for a commitment at this meeting, just for an opportunity to get direction and to continue the relationship. Listen carefully – the funder’s published guidelines and what they actually fund may differ. Learn about their priority areas.
  • Include the appropriate persons at this meeting – for example, your president, vice president for development, a committee chair and/or a volunteer whom you know has a relationship with one of the foundation officers. If the meeting can be held at your organization’s office, it increases your opportunity to tell your story.
  • Send a thank you letter after your meeting or after your telephone call with the foundation.
  • Place the foundation staff on your mailing list to receive material about your programs and services, invitations to donor cultivation activities and your other organization’s events.
  • Prepare a proposal in accordance with the foundation’s desired format. Personalize the proposal for the foundation and include a personalized cover letter. In the cover letter, include a summary if the proposal is complex or lengthy. Also in the cover letter, indicate that you are available to discuss the proposal and answer questions and that you will follow-up with a telephone call in a few weeks.
  • Follow-up with a courtesy call. Be discreet. Do not press, but appear helpful and ready to answer questions.
  • If you don’t get the funding, arrange a meeting or telephone call with the appropriate foundation staff person. Try to determine whether the difficulty was one of subject area, approach, technique, etc. Attempt to correct the difficulty and re-approach the foundation. Do not get angry or take the rejection personally.
  • If you do get funding, write a thank you note. Continue to provide reports to the foundation on significant accomplishments. Attach letters from clients, photographs, brochures in which you’ve given the foundation recognition for funding, letters of support from collaborative agencies and any other information that indicates that the foundation has made a wise investment in your chapter; this will increase your credibility and pave the way for future funding.


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