Grants 101: Finding the Right Foundation

March 5, 2019 – AWE Learning Staff

There are a plethora of foundations that provide funding to their community. Sometimes these foundations concentrate their giving on a specific region or even a specific focus. It is important to understand what to look for when seeking grant opportunities in order to find one that best suits your organization and your needs.

What steps should I take in making sure a foundation is the right one for my library to apply to?

Think of the relationship between a grantor and a grantee like that of a buyer and seller of a house. The seller is expecting to receive an offer equal to what they are asking for or the best offer. The buyer has certain criteria they are seeking in a home, including price, location, and living accommodations.

In a similar fashion, a library should make sure that the giving focus of a foundation aligns with their own mission, vision, and programming. Always consult the “What We Fund” section of a foundation’s website to gain insight into the kinds of projects and organizations they will or won’t fund.

Below are some specific items to check when determining if a funder is the right fit for you:

Geography: A Foundation may say it’s based in your state, but it may only give funding to specific towns, cities, or counties. Community Foundations are a good source if you are looking for an organization that is more localized to your location.

Focus: Foundations may be organized to fund a variety of needs. If they have grant cycles with different focuses, confirm that they are currently, or will be, funding education-based opportunities. Foundations like Walmart and Lowe’s rotate these focuses throughout the year into multiple submission cycles.

Looking for education-based foundations will narrow things down to a smaller search but it’s still important to read the fine print. If a foundation’s funding page says they do not give to libraries or towards focuses like organizational upkeep or technology purchases, then you will want to avoid these applications. If their page says they do give to libraries, make sure it clearly states “public libraries” as in many cases this might mean they give to public school or university libraries.

Giving Amount: If you plan on asking for a certain dollar amount, make sure that you aren’t asking a foundation for too much money. In many cases, a foundation will say on their website how much they normally give. If you want an even clearer picture, access their Form 990 which breaks down all their finances including their average giving amounts. This is also a valuable resource if you want to see how frequently, if at all, they fund organizations in your state. A great resource for accessing any Form 990 is GuideStar, which is free to register and access.

Deadlines: As you move closer to finding the right foundation to apply to, make sure you don’t miss their deadline. Don’t procrastinate. Many grant applications require supplementary materials. You want to give yourself enough time to compile all necessary supplementary documents and finalize the actual application. A good grant takes time to put together, sometimes requiring multiple drafts, before you can submit, so make sure you have enough time to work on your proposal before submitting. Think about looking for grants with a rolling deadline, i.e. foundations that meet regularly to review requests. This will give you the assurance that even if you don’t get a proposal out in the current month you have another opportunity.

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