Foundation Funding

Foundation funding is an option to be considered, particularly when projects have a public dimension. Foundations vary from those with vast resources and significant experience funding higher education (such as the Rockefeller Foundation or the Mellon Foundation) to small family-owned foundations aimed at addressing public needs. All foundations, however, have a specific set of guidelines or priorities that guide their funding decisions. As you research foundations, look for significant overlap between your project and stated foundation priorities. Also check previously awarded projects to gauge how well your project aligns with a given foundation's priorities.

Research

Use Internet databases, 990 tax returns, and foundation websites to learn about the funding priorities, amount of giving, geographic location of giving, and giving histories of specific foundations.

  • Foundation Directory Online
    • This searchable database holds information on more than 80,000 foundations. It provides information on foundations' and corporations' funding priorities, past grant recipients, and current RFPs, and more. It can be searched using keywords, locations, foundation/corporation name, and so on.
  • Minnesota Council on Foundations
    • This organization offers subscriptions to a searchable database of Minnesota foundations. Non-subscribers can gain access to some information about Minnesota foundations.

Once a foundation whose funding priorities are a good match with your project is identified, research the foundation. Check their website and google the foundation to learn about other projects it has funded. If other awardees are in your network, contact them to learn about their experiences with the foundation.
 
Foundation websites which describe their funding priorities and proposal guidelines should not be treated as RFPs. Foundations refine/shift their priorities all the time, and it is better to open up a conversation with the foundation before you put time into developing a proposal than to write up a terrific proposal and send it in only to learn that the foundation is cutting back on their funding in your area. Think of the information available on a foundation website as that organization's initial contribution to a conversation; it is up to you, as a grant-seeker, to instigate that conversation.

Call Report

Foundations can receive hundreds of inquiries and proposals annually, and many foundations, not surprisingly, ask that large institutions coordinate their inquiries through a specific contact person or office rather than peppering them with multiple individual faculty queries.
Before you approach a foundation, you must submit a Call Report to the University of Minnesota Foundation.
 
The resulting report will have useful information on the following:

  • The history between the University and the foundation
  • Any special situations that might have a bearing on the relationship -- e.g., the participation of U of M alumni on the foundation's board of directors
  • Any foundation limits on the number of proposals it will accept from the University
  • Any outstanding or pending proposals from the University currently under consideration by the foundation
  • The name of the development officer who manages the University relationship with the foundation
  • Restrictions in place for contacting the foundation
  • Clearance to approach the foundation

To submit a call report, contact the research development team. Once your inquiry has been submitted, it should take only a few days to obtain the information you need. Once you’ve reviewed the call report, work with your grants consultant to develop a plan for approaching the foundation. 

Initiating Contact with a Foundation

In most cases, initial contact will be an email or phone call to a program officer or a brief letter of inquiry (LOI). Foundation websites often provide guidelines for making these initial inquiries.
LOIs must be carefully drafted to address the funding priorities of the foundation. Once you have a response to your LOI or other “go-ahead” from the foundation, draft your proposal.

Resources

For assistance with developing a relationship with a foundation, contact:

  • Jan Gerstenberger, Director of Corporate/Foundation Relations (jgersten@umn.edu or 612-624-8374) 
  • Mary Hicks, Director of CLA External Relations (hicks002@umn.edu or 612-625-5541).