Get That Grant: Foundation Funding Ideas
This article was originally published July 28. It has been updated to reflect new information provided by Sightsavers and LAPA Fundraising.
For 21 years, Laurence Pagnoni has worked with and developed strategy for hundreds of nonprofits seeking U.S. foundation support. His work with one such agency, Sightsavers, and its desire to grow its U.S. foundation support, is worth closer examination.
Sightsavers is a nonprofit development organization working in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries. It partners with local, regional and national organizations, including governments and NGOs, to distribute preventative treatments to combat neglected tropical diseases, carry out sight-restoring surgeries and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Confidence in Sightsavers from international donors has increased significantly over the last five years. The organization is registered in the U.S. and has been successful in developing a limited number of strategic relationships with some large-scale U.S. foundations. Sightsavers turned to LAPA Fundraising, the U.S. arm of International Fundraising Consultancy, to help broaden and expand its U.S. foundation relationships.
“They wanted to see how many foundations would be interested," said Pagnoni, who authored “The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution” and is chairman and founder of LAPA Fundraising. “So we analyzed their programs and contrasted that with the foundations’ interests, and at the end of the day we came up with about 10 foundations that could be approached for support to Sightsavers' work in the six-figure range."
For some organizations, Pagnoni advises looking at behaviors—what foundations do as opposed to what they say. The Gates Foundation, for example, said for years it didn’t want to be involved in the U.S. market, but when it came down to it, the foundation funded a number of domestic efforts.
“Looking at a foundation’s behavior is very important,” said Pagnoni. “There are a lot of hybrid models these days, where a few foundations get together on a particular issue they’re trying to solve. So, you have to understand how your organization’s approach matches the hybrid initiative, or not—and if it doesn’t, you have to be boldly honest about where it doesn’t and make a decision on whether to apply or not.”
That honesty can pay off, especially if organizations are assertive. It might seem counterintuitive, but there’s long-term value in not seeking funding in particular instances.
"Sometimes we’ve written letters to foundations saying, 'Hey, we saw your hybrid initiative and we think it’s terrific, but we’re not applying. Here’s why,'" Pagnoni explained. "And you wouldn’t believe how many times that level of thoughtful letter gets an immediate response. Foundation officers are trying to figure out the field, too. If you’re a thought-leader in the field, they want to work with you. And if you help them figure something out that they’re not aware of, then they’re going to have an experience with your organization. That’s not saying they’ll do some quid pro quo and fund you eventually, but at least they’ll know that you’re a player and you’re serious about understanding your field.”