The Importance of Foundation Engagement
I constantly review research information about philanthropy, as it is important to what fundraisers do every day. I enjoy learning about the historical trends of giving and the various elements that affect these trends. With the new year now here, I am very interested in predicting what could possibly occur in 2014. We live in such a fragile world, and perceptions and attitudes do affect giving.
One area of giving that is important is the area of foundations. According to Giving USA, approximately $316.23 billion was donated by Americans to charitable causes in 2012. Of that amount, giving to foundations was an estimated $45.74 billion, helped in part by an increase in giving by community foundations, which grew 9.1 percent in that year.
Foundation giving is an important source of funds. It is also imperative that you develop relationships with foundations for nonfinancial reasons. Typically, foundation staff and board members are keenly aware of community needs. Knowing these individuals makes you aware of these needs and helps you determine if your priorities are important to them. Be assured that many foundation leaders also talk to other foundation leaders either individually or in periodic foundation representative group meetings about your organization. You may be interested to learn that a foundation staff's perception is quite different than your perception of your organization.
By engaging with key foundation players, your organization becomes known and relevant in the community. You need to be known, especially with community foundations and United Ways or united funds. With engagement, these community leaders provide valuable insight and advice for the best way to promote your organization and enhance the perception of it in the eyes of the public at large. They also tell you what other organizations are viewed as potential partners with you in your service area.
Foundation leaders also make you accountable to them and your organization. Many foundations demand strategic plans, budgets, operational objectives and validation of priorities as elements of a typical grant request. These individuals help make you think and be responsible for your actions. Even if you do not receive funds from them, you are better off knowing why your proposal wasn't considered in preparation for another grant submission in the future.
I make every attempt to meet with various local, regional and, if relevant, national foundation representatives to learn how and why they give funds plus how they operate. I want these funders to be aware of my organization and the programs we provide. A by-product of this activity is exposure to other foundations and potential individual donors. I also always attempt to meet with foundation staff if allowed before I send a proposal. Through this process, I better understand how my chances for funding can be improved through staff engagement.
Many individuals typically believe foundation giving is a numbers game. Just send a proposal to many foundations and somehow you will be magically awarded funds. In this day and age, that is not how the process works. You need to build relationships, educate foundation staff and align your organizational priorities with foundation priorities. It is a long-term process that helps you better understand your organization.
While you need to develop a variety of ways to secure funds from many sources, the best way for you to be totally knowledgeable about your organization is to seek foundation grants. Through this process, you will engage various organizational representatives in the operational process. You will be challenged as never before but better prepared to raise funds.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.