Sunday, October 14, 2007

New column every Monday--"The Fundraising Guru"--Oct. 14, 2007

Foundation foundationals
by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein,
author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising
host and producer of "Fundraising Success" on WXEL/National Public Radio: Internet radio/podcast at

For many fundraisers, foundations are a tantalizing cross between Fort Knox and the Sphinx. They know that there’s “all that” money there, they know it gets given away —t o others, but they just don’t know how to get their fair share. So, here are some initial foundation foundationals to help you open sesame — and get your cash register to ring.

1. Know which foundations give money, and which don’t. The first two things you need to know about an organization calling itself a foundation is (1) that it’s a nonprofit and (2) that it makes grants. Some for-profit businesses may use the word foundation in their name. Of course, you could ask them for money, the way you would any business. Just don’t approach them as you would a nonprofit foundation. Some foundations receive, rather than give, grants. So, they may be your competition, certainly not your benefactors.The foundations you want are grant-making. Some give away large amounts of money; others have more limited resources. The best-known foundations in America have been established by major corporations or wealthy individuals and have become the brand-names of charitable giving — historically Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie and now Gates. They have given the world of foundations its panache and mystery, because they are so big and involve rich people who appear remote and unapproachable.

2. Even if you can’t get to Ford or Gates, you are literally surrounded by local foundations that can help you, some even in major ways. Many, even sizeable, foundations are established by “average” people. They may literally be your neighbors, “the millionaires next door,” or their family members or friends. You probably don’t even know it. And yet, they may be far more approachable than you ever imagined. If they are sophisticated enough to have established a foundation, they not only have financial resources, but an unusually high commitment to ongoing charitable giving — every fundraiser’s dream donors.

3. Research the foundations in your area. Of course, you do not have to limit your approaches just to foundations in your community, but starting there is a great way to take the mystery out of the process and to begin forging an overall success strategy. First, go to and register for free, if you haven’t already done so. Then, in the search box, type the word foundation and your zip code. You may be amazed at what you’ll find. Once you make a list of foundations, you’ll have to sort through it to determine which give, and which receive, donations. But that’s just the beginning of (what could turn out to be) a most profitable adventure. will give you perhaps your only reason to love the IRS: Annually, almost all foundations have to file a Form 990. It’s public information, chock-full of spicy details — readily available on the Internet. So, when you find a grantmaking foundation in your zip or others near you, click on its 990. You’ll find out how much money the foundation has, what its giving priorities are, how much it gives away and to whom. Best of all, you’ll also see a list of its board members, in some cases, even with their personal addresses. Obviously, they help make the decisions that will mean the difference between your getting or not getting a grant.

4. Your board is key to approaching all foundations, but especially your local ones. Fundraising is always about people giving to people they know and trust. Ask your board members if they are close to any of the people listed on a foundation’s Form 990 — or if they know someone who might be.

5. Remember: By law, foundations have to give a certain percentage of their money away — why not to you? Usually, foundations of any size establish priorities for giving — for example, health care, education, the homeless, music education. Larger foundations will have formal guidelines for requesting money and timetables for making awards. Smaller foundations operate more loosely. No two foundations are alike. Each has a personality, like an individual donor. Obviously, you want to look for foundations whose giving priorities match those of your nonprofit. But, no foundation’s priorities are written in stone. With the right entree from your board member or someone else who knows you, almost any foundation will befriend your worthy cause.
E-mail Stephen Goldstein your comments and questions at

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