Posted on

Grants feed World Hunger Relief budget

Former AAI client World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) of Elm Mott, TX is “a Christian organization committed to the alleviation of hunger around the world.” To that end, WHRI operates a 40-acre farm, manages an urban gardening program, and educates school children, community groups and churches in sustainable farming techniques and conservation.

After nearly 20 years as a volunteer with the organization, Dale Barron was approached by WHRI’s executive director about increasing his involvement there. He asked for more details and, as the director began listing several immediate needs, Barron recognized that he was describing a development position.

A clinical social worker at the time, Barron makes it clear that he had no interest in fundraising. “The image I had of fundraisers was one of a mercenary salesperson who could switch ‘causes’ seamlessly and often with little integrity.” But his passion for WHRI’s work led him to accept the offer; he has since found his own style of fundraising that has proven successful while counteracting his preconception. That style has allowed him to blend important fundraising principles with WHRI’s mission and his own personality in approaching prospective donors. During his tenure as development director, WHRI’s income has increased by nearly 500%, approximately one third of which is grant money.

WHRI sets goals for grant income based on both one- and five-year strategic plans. Barron explains, “Because our income stream is three-fold (donations, grants, and farm production), the balance is intentional in order to be able to respond to fluctuations in economy, agriculture, and markets.” To the extent that it can, WHRI strives to maintain this three-way balance from year to year.

By now Barron has developed a fine-tuned system of grantseeking. For example, this year he picked out 50 potential funders, four to six of whom he plans to contact each month. Some of these are regular funders, some have denied funding in the past but have invited WHRI back when it has met certain conditions and some represent completely new contacts. He tries to balance his proposals between personnel, programmatic and general operating expenses, and endowment.

But he also notes the need to look at other funding streams, recognizing that grants are both unpredictable—especially considering current economy—and time consuming. And he qualifies his impressive track record in a couple of ways. First, because he invests considerable time and energy in developing relationships with funders (more on this later), he ends up actually applying only for funds that WHRI is almost certain to receive. Second, he says, “Anytime I start thinking we’re really good at this, I remind myself that we are the beneficiary of having programs and services that meet fundamental human needs—food, clothing, shelter. Those seem like very essential products in these leaner times.”

That notwithstanding, Barron’s success in securing grant funds is notable. Some of this, he says, was instinctual, “a bit was diligent research, lots was consistent with my training as a clinical social worker, and much was working in concert with [current Executive Director Neil Rowe Miller], board of directors, trusted colleagues, spiritual guidance, and sound advice from a professional advancement consultant.” His experience has brought with it a wealth of knowledge and practical tips that he graciously shares.

1. Use technology. According to Barron, there are too many opportunities out there for one not to have access to a lot of information. He cites The Foundation Center and Guidestar as valuable online resources that allow him to view the 990s of various nonprofits and the giving history of foundations.

2. Get help from people that know your organization. While grantseekers will admittedly have to “kiss a lot of frogs” to unearth some opportunities, Barron suggests starting with the personal connections already present between members of your organizational circle and foundation representatives. He frequently puts out feelers to board members, major donors and other loyal constituents to see who might know whom. “Sometimes you have to look really hard for those connections,” he says, “but our main grants have come about that way. Those connections are often much more important than how well you write or how big your budget is.”

3. Start local. Grantmakers, says Barron, are quite jealous. That is, they want to be a part of successful organizations. Before going after the biggest, most competitive grants, you will do well to secure several local grants. The more extensive your record of local support, the stronger your case with larger (i.e. regional, national and international) grantmakers will be.

4. Ask lots of questions. Much of Barron’s knowledge has come from asking questions. At first, they were quite basic: “I don’t know what a grant looks like. Would you send me a copy?” Today, he might ask past grant recipients about their experiences working with certain foundations. When approaching new fund officers he frequently asks how each prefers to be communicated with and whether they’re open to him sending an annual report from WHRI. When a proposal is rejected he is not afraid to ask why or who else the foundation thinks may be interested. “I’ve learned that grantmakers are very appreciative of being asked these things. There are so many agencies that they never hear from again.” And when considering prospective funders, there is one question Barron always keeps in front of himself: Is there really a connection here? “Sometimes I have to conclude that, while we’re both good organizations, there’s just really not much overlap in our missions.”

5. Developing relationships is critical. Grants, according to Barron, are “absolutely a matter of partnership. I’ve been comfortable approaching new foundations because my focus is not just getting money, but finding people whose interest truly overlaps with our mission. One big revelation that I couldn’t have gotten any way but through direct contact and personal relationships [with grantmakers] is that they can feel as lonely as grantseekers. They are just as eager and passionate about being good stewards of the money they have to give as we are about using it. I’m not looking at it as a competition with other agencies; as a faith-based organization, I consider it somewhat of a spiritual task to find people who are very willing to work with WHRI as a partner versus just a financial resource.”

6. “No” isn’t necessarily the end. Finally, Barron acknowledges that grant cultivation is not for the thin-skinned or weak of heart, as some of his best leads come from executive directors and fund officers who ultimately turn him down. “The real work often begins at the time of denial. Grantmakers have their own network—they talk about who’s turning in proposals, who didn’t do their homework, etc. I spend just as much energy on the grants that we don’t get.” For Barron it’s just another step in an ongoing process of seeking, getting to know a grantmaker and developing a partnership that proves rewarding for both parties.

To learn more about WHRI visit

Posted on

Finding the best funders

From pop-ups on your web browser to glossy brochures that arrive in the mail, grant offers seem to be everywhere. Supporters pass on bits and pieces about specific grants they’re familiar with, or stories of other organizations that have benefited from grant money.

Grants can indeed be an important ingredient in a successful fundraising project or capital campaign. But actually tracking down a funder whose philanthropic interests are compatible with your needs can be a bit more difficult. Investing in dedicated research may be well worth your time and money.

Casting the net

A good place to begin your research is the Foundation Directory, which allows one to search grantmakers by a wide range of criteria, including:

• geographic focus

• fields of interest

• size of gift

• types of support (general/operating support, donated products, scholarships and program development to name just a few)

Once the search criteria are entered, the directory generates a list of potential funders and allows one to view a profile of each. In addition to the items listed above, this profile provides contact information, names of officers and board members, deadlines and, often, a sampling of past recipients.

One drawback to the Foundation Directory is that it requires an annual subscription of anywhere from $195 to $1295, depending on your membership plan. This can be cost prohibitive for organizations operating on a tight budget or planning to make only a minimal investment in the grant process. A second disadvantage is that it only includes grantmakers who are registered with the Foundation Center; some private family foundations are not. Even so, the database contains over 96,000 foundations, corporate giving programs and public charities, and makes an excellent starting point for grant research.

Other free sources provide some of the same search options, though are not as comprehensive as the Foundation Directory. One is, which sorts available grants by subject area, population group, and a general category “Regional Grants and Resource Sites,” that includes grant opportunities in each of the 50 states. State libraries also commonly maintain an online grant directory and/or links to other grant resources.

Identifying the best prospects

Once you’ve compiled an initial list, it’s time to go over the resulting grantmakers with the fine-toothed comb to yield the best matches for your organization. In many cases this process whittles a few hundred possibilities down to just 10 or 15 best prospects.

An obvious first step is visiting each foundation’s website and/or requesting any publications they have. In addition to more complete application guidelines, these materials often reveal whether or not the Foundation Directory profile is up to date. For example, perhaps the foundation is no longer accepting unsolicited applications; perhaps it has decided to add or drop one of its giving programs; perhaps it has a new program officer or contact person.

At this point, the Directory offers another helpful tool: a grants database that profiles additional past recipients, often providing links to their respective websites. As an example of how this can be useful, a church camp and Advancement Associates client was looking for money for a capital campaign. Two organizations with “Camp” in their names showed up as past grant recipients from a specific foundation, whose stated areas of interest included children/youth services, environment, and medical research. Judging from the names alone, the first two interest areas made our client seem like a good candidate for grant money. A visit to one recipient’s website, however, produced an important realization: this “Camp” also engaged the foundation’s third area of interest, as its patrons were children with cancer.

As a second example, suppose an organization similar to yours—maybe even in your geographic area—has received grant funding, but you don’t know from whom, for what or how much. If the funder is registered with the Foundation Center, you can learn all of that information and more by entering the organization’s name in the “Recipient Name” field.

One word of caution at this point in your research process: be realistic. Your passion for your organization can tempt you into thinking that by wording things just right or by enthusiastically conveying the uniqueness of your ministry, that you’ll find favor with a grantmaker, even when its profile suggests otherwise. If a foundation specifies a geographic location, respect it. If it indicates there is no funding for specific kinds of projects, believe it. Don’t expect to be the exception. A foundation’s past giving record is the best evidence of whether or not your project is likely to catch its interest.

Getting your hands dirty

The research steps described thus far can be accomplished anonymously. Not so from here on out: it’s time to make some phone calls, arrange some meetings and send some emails before submitting your request. The more you know about a potential funder, the better your chances of preparing a winning grant proposal. Here are a few pointers:

1. Capitalize on personal connections. Take a list of a foundation’s key personnel to your next board and staff meetings. Especially at the local level you or someone connected to your organization—staff, board, loyal donors, campaign cabinet members—may be personally acquainted with a board member or CEO of a foundation or corporate giving program. If you’re fortunate to find a connection, ask that person to arrange an introductory meeting for you or to put in a good word for your organization.

2. Learn as much as you can about each grantmaker. If you’re unclear about whether you’re eligible to apply or if your project fits the grantmaker’s guidelines, call the program officer and ask. Pay attention to what you hear; even if the project you have in mind doesn’t seem to fit the foundation’s priorities, maybe a different need would. As long as your project is mission driven, be open to other possibilities. If you’re comfortable doing so, call past recipients to ask if they’d mind sharing their experience working with a given foundation and what advice they would offer you.

3. Keep track of what you learn. Even if a particular giving program doesn’t seem to be a fit right now, it might in the future. While some foundations limit the amount an organization can receive within a certain amount of time, others fund repeatedly the same places. Documenting your previous contacts can help you save time later in identifying the relationships from which you are most likely to benefit in the future.

Final thoughts

Remember, the ideas presented here pertain only to the first step of the grant cycle–research. Once you’ve identified the most promising grantmakers and have your foot is in the door, more work remains:

• Preparing and submitting the grant proposal;

• Exercising good grant stewardship (allocating funds correctly, filing program and financial reports on time, etc.);

• Maintaining an ongoing positive relationship with the foundation and program officer.

As with research, each of these steps requires careful diligence and attention to detail from those involved.

How AAI can help

Organizations with little or no previous grant experience or limited staff time should consider enlisting outside help for grant research. Advancement Associates, Inc. subscribes to the Foundation Directory and offers grant research services that ensure efficiency and care in identifying best prospects for our clients and the wisest use of organizational resources for pursuing grants. To inquire about these services, email us.