Grant Seekers Toolkit Step 1: Define the Project

This article focuses on general support and project support grants, which are the ones most frequently requested by non-profits and most frequently awarded by foundations.

There are three main kinds of grants given by foundations:

  • General Support
  • Project Support
  • Capital/Endowment

General vs. Project Support: The Foundation Point of View

Foundations typically prefer to give grants for specific projects rather than for general support. Foundations are giving more general support grants than ever before – but these grants still account for less than a quarter of all foundation giving. While many non-profits want and need operating funds, there are good reasons, from the foundation point of view, for focusing on project support. Most foundations are not interested in becoming the long-term funders of individual organizations. While some foundations will elect to support an organization for several years, they usually want to fund different projects or initiatives during that time. Additionally, most foundations legitimately see themselves as having limited funds to distribute among a growing and competitive group of grantseekers. Given this, they often prefer to invest in start-up initiatives that will then generate revenue from other sources.

What Foundations Really Care About

It is important to remember that foundations, in all of their variety, want more than anything to make a difference in the world. They are universally interested in funding projects that they believe will improve something – whether that is through supporting educational institutions or hot lunch programs for homeless kids. Regardless of the type of support you are seeking, it is critical to look at your station and its activities from a foundation point of view: Who are you serving? How are you doing it? How are you making the world a better place?

To do this, think about your station from the point of view of your listeners. Public radio stations are not just broadcasters: they are community-based institutions that bring people together by offering a critical conduit of ideas, a bridge to help diverse groups develop understanding of each other, a connection to the broader world, and a forum for civil discourse in a world that desperately needs it.

Defining a Project

When you are considering whether to approach foundations for support, one of the first and most important steps is to define your project(s). Your project should:Be grounded in your station’s mission

  • Extend your station’s public service
  • Build on, leverage or extend the work that you’re already doing
  • Meet a specific need and/or seize a specific opportunity
  • Have some means of evaluation to measure success

For example, you might seek funding in order to expand your reporting of local issues. You might seek foundation support to advance your transition to digital technology. You might request a grant in order to produce special coverage of a major event, coupled with a community forum. You might seek support to launch a partnership with another station or local institution, or to begin broadcasting a new program that will expand your station’s appeal to new listeners.

Not every project that you take to a foundation has to be brand new. It could be the next step in something you are currently doing. It could be something that adds value to a current project and generates revenue both for the new activity and for current ones. It can certainly be something that meets needs that your station currently has.

Here are some questions to ask as you define each project for which you’d like to seek foundation support:
  • How would I summarize the project in one sentence?
  • How does this project reflect our overall mission?
  • What will a grant enable us to do or achieve that we could not have done otherwise?
  • What are the activities that will occur as part of this project?
  • What personnel, tools or resources do I need to implement this project?
  • What is a rough estimate of the budget for this project (specific budgeting can be done later)?
  • How will we be able to determine if this project was successful?
  • What will the impact of this project be? How will this project make a difference?

The answers to these questions will help you assess whether you are ready to approach a foundation and will help you determine which foundations will be the best match. Answering these questions will also put you well on your way to crafting a compelling proposal.

When Your Station is the Project

There is nothing wrong with seeking general support from foundations, although it may be more difficult to secure these funds than it would be to find money for a specific project.

If you choose to seek general support, you will need to articulate the “case” for your station. Specifically, this means answering the following questions:

  • Why does my station/organization exist? What is its purpose in the world? What is its mission?
  • What is my station/organization working toward? What is our vision?
  • What are the values and beliefs that guide our work?
  • What will be my station/organization’s main programs or activities during the coming year?
  • What difference does my station make in the world? What is its impact?

If you are seeking general support, you will also need to ask yourself:

  • Why should a foundation give us a general support grant now if we managed to get along without it last year?

This is not to say that you should just tighten your belts, buck up, and get along again. It is to say that you will need to demonstrate why foundation investment is important to your station at this point in time and how it will help you move successfully into the future.