Foundations: A Beginner's Guide

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Like Goerig, teachers across the country are capitalizing on the growing number of programs that award grants to teachers. Today, according to the best estimates, private foundations and companies contribute well over $200 million annually to precollegiate education.

Most of that money goes to school districts or organizations, including, in some cases, local education funds. But a fair number of these foundations make grants to teachers--either directly or through the school--for a variety of purposes, ranging from individual study and research to special projects. Your chances with most foundations will probably be greater if you work with other teachers and your principal or superintendent to seek project support (e.g., an innovative program in team teaching).

Getting foundations or corporations to part with their money is not easy; it takes good ideas, hard work, and time. But if you're successful, it's well worth it. Here are some hints that should increase the odds in your favor.

1. Have a clear idea of what you want. Whatever kind of grant you are seeking--for travel, study, equipment, or a project--you will have to make your case in writing.

In clear and concise prose, describe your need and explain why it deserves to be funded and why you think the particular donor you are approaching should fund it.

People who give money away are likely to have huge stacks of proposals to read, so try to state your case in a two-page, typed letter. If it must be longer, begin with a summary. Include a budget or description of how the grant will be spent.

Whenever possible, obtain a copy of the donor's guidelines in advance.

2. Do your homework. You need to identify potential donors, find out what they support, and make sure that your need falls within their guidelines. In general, foundations do not make grants for religious or political purposes, construction, publications and periodicals, endowment, or scholarships. Most foundations also state that they make "no grants to individuals,'' but if you apply through your school (or a tax-exempt organization) a grant can be made to the institution that will administer the grant for your project. In short, pay more attention to a foundation's past gifts than to its stated restrictions, which are not always absolute.

There are more than 15,000 private foundations and thousands of corporate donors. Some give nationally for a variety of activities. Others limit their support to a region. Special-purpose foundations restrict their grants to a particular field, such as medicine or the arts. Community foundations administer a variety of endowments and trusts, usually within a metropolitan area. And corporate foundations are set up by businesses, often to support their interests. The relatively few foundations that are realistic targets for you are likely to be within your home state or region, so that is where to start.

The Foundation Center has the most current and comprehensive sources of information on fund-raising and grant making. It operates libraries in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and New York and maintains collections in 170 libraries across the country--at least one in each state. For the location of collections in your state, call (800) 424-9836. In addition, a nearby college or university may be willing to let you use its directories. You might even look under "Foundations'' in the Yellow Pages.

3. A personal visit can help. Although often hard to arrange, an appointment gives you a chance to answer questions in person, elaborate on parts of your proposal, and convey your enthusiasm. Moreover, a foundation official is more likely to read your proposal thoroughly and think about it if he or she is scheduled to discuss it with you in person.

4. Cast a broad net, and don't give up too easily. It's all right to send your proposal simultaneously to more than one donor. Foundations often take months to review and respond to a request. If you're successful with one before the others respond, simply let them know you received a grant.

Many successful novelists tell how their bestseller was rejected by a dozen publishing houses before it was accepted. Grant seekers frequently have that same experience. So keep trying until you've covered all likely donors. And if you strike out, wait six months or a year and start again. Foundations have been known to say "no'' several times and then say "yes.'' Changes in staff, mission, program, priorities, and giving guidelines can make your rejected proposal of last year a winner next year.

5. If you succeed, follow up. Donors like to know that a grant achieved its stated purpose. Let the foundation know how important its support was in accomplishing your objectives. That's the courteous thing to do; it's also the smart thing to do. Getting a second grant from a foundation is almost always easier than getting the first.

The sampling of community, regional, and national foundations listed on the following two pages represent a few of the more active in supporting precollegiate education. Most national and regional corporations make some charitable gifts; the best approach to them is usually through the branch office or plant nearest to you. R.W.

Vol. 02, Issue 02, Page 1-24

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