Tips Straight from Foundation Leaders

Want to hear a few tips from foundation funders?  

Read on...

Leah Bradford, Program Officer, The Chicago Community Trust; Steve Solomon, President, Exelon Foundation; and Diana Spencer, Executive Director, William G. McGowan Charitable Fund  - gave remarks at a funders' panel led by Jimmie Alford, Founder, The Alford Group, on the concluding day of the Axelson Center's "BootCamp for New Nonprofit CEOs".   Here are a few choice tips.  They may seem ordinary, but sometimes we overlook some of the basics.  Who knows, but one of these tips could prove invaluable!

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• Do you fit the particular foundation's guidelines? They are all different - know what they are and how your program fits.

• Do your homework.  When you're looking for a foundation grant, know what similar work other groups are doing in your community before you ask for funds to support your program.  It may be a duplication of services.

• Realize that funders do talk among themselves.  It might be about you or your organization.  Keep that in mind at all times!

• If something in your balance sheet might be a "red flag" or a barrier, say so, don't try to ignore it.  You're much better off taking the "offensive" and giving context for the issue.  Don't let a prospective funder think you're trying to hide something.

• Ask yourself whether your budget is aligned.  In other words, is there a balance - does the overhead make sense, given the program.

• Don't be afraid to ask questions.  If you're told no for your grant request, usually you can inquire and learn why.  That will help the next time - or with another funder.


• Relationships do matter.  Get to know your Program Officer. It's not always the "best" program or proposal that's funded - but the one where the foundation trusts that its investment is a wise one that will make a difference.

  • • Never forget - you're competing for funds!  One funder said "I always begin any proposal review assuming "no".  The submission has to convince me otherwise."


    Are there questions you have about interacting with foundations?  Are there situations you've encountered that you don't understand?  Let us know.  Maybe we can help you sort them out.

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