« June 2014 | Back to Eye on FDO | October 2014 »

August 2014 (3 posts)

Why Can't I Find That Foundation?
August 27, 2014

This is a cross-post of Sandy Pon's latest from the new GrantSpace blogSandy Pon is the lead editor for GrantSpace and the GrantSpace Blog. 

One frequent question that our Ask Us team gets, often fromFoundation Directory Online (FDO) subscribers, is “Why can’t I find the the foundation I’m looking for in FDO?” Understandably, they expect to be able to find every U.S. grantmaking foundation in our database. We do, too! Here are some reasons that make this an elusive goal:

It’s not a grantmaking organization

Not surprisingly, many people quickly assume that an org with “foundation” in its name makes grants. In fact, the term “foundation” on its own has no legal definition, so any org can use it in its name.

So before you get excited about discovering a new funding prospect, search the Internet or other sources to learn about its mission and activities, including whether or not it makes grants. (Can you think of an example of an org that has “foundation” in its title, but doesn’t make grants? Hint: It’s literally right in front of you. Answer is at the end of this post.)

It’s a public charity

Private foundations file Form 990-PF, so they’re easy to detect. However, grantmaking public charities file Form 990, the same form used by most nonprofits that  don’t make grants. Thus, they are harder to find unless we learn about them from the org itself, the news, or from members of the public, like you! Several public charities are in FDO, thanks to many of you who have asked about them.  

It’s not a separate organization

Some so-called foundations are actually donor-advised funds (DAFs). DAFs are separate funds or accounts maintained, operated, and legally controlled by an exempt sponsoring organization, like a community foundation, public charity, or a charitable fund.

Increasingly, individual donors are using donor-advised funds because they can direct how funds are invested and distributed, yet they can avoid the administrative requirements, operating costs, and public disclosure requirements involved with managing a separate private foundation. (Want more info about donor-advised funds? See this Knowledge Base Article.)

It’s a new foundation that was recently formed

The first time we will hear about most new foundations is when we get their initial Form 990-PFs from the IRS, at least one year later after they are established. Even then, many new foundations don’t start awarding grants until 2-3 years after they are initially funded.

If a new foundation is formed by a company or a high-profile or newsworthy individual, or if it’s formed with roughly $5-10 million or more in assets, our FDO editors will add those new entries based on news reports, telephone calls, and any websites available, even without a 990 in hand. But generally, they need some sort of proof first; otherwise, we’d have thousands of skeleton entries with nothing more than a name. What use is that?

It’s a foundation that was formed in another country

We're gradually adding more international grantmakers to FDO, but access to their information varies with each country. Meanwhile, for non-U.S. funders not listed in FDO, search the Internet to find their websites or news articles about them, or check the grantmaker association's website for their home countries.

How does this info help you become a better grantseeker?

If you can’t find info about a foundation that you know exists, that might prompt you to do some more investigation to figure out what kind of donor it is. Knowing the type of donor can inform so many subsequent steps, from research to cultivation to making the actual ask. In our next blog post, we'll talk about the tools that we use to answer this question, so you can use them, too. Even better, most of them are free! 

- Sandy Pon

Answer: Foundation Center! Do we get a lot of people asking us for grants? Yes. Good thing we’re not a grantmaker. We use these opportune moments to show how some quick Internet research into the org's mission and activities can avoid a bad first impression.)

Where are last year’s Form 990s?
August 22, 2014

This is a cross-post of Sandy Pon's post from the new GrantSpace blog.Sandy Pon is the lead editor for GrantSpace and the GrantSpace Blog. In her 11 years with the Foundation Center, Sandy has answered thousands of questions from our visitors about nonprofit grantseeking, fundraising, and management. Her experience also includes teaching and program design.

Our Ask Us team gets this question a LOT during the summer, more often than at other times of the year. Maybe it’s because most nonprofits have likely sent in their own 990s in mid-May.

May 15 is the first due date for filing 990s if your exempt org’s fiscal year ends on Dec. 31. But your org can request an automatic 3-month extension, plus an additional 3-month extension if needed. The second extension isn’t automatic, but it’s almost always granted. This means that Nov. 15 can be the latest date to file without penalties.

The filing date is just the IRS’s receipt date that gets stamped on the 990. It’ll take several more weeks for the IRS to scan it and then send it on DVDs, along with hundreds of other 990s, to us and other orgs that put 990s online, like GuideStar and Economic Research Institute. Thus, if your foundation prospect is a Nov. 15 filer (and a lot of foundations are), you might not see its 2013 990 online until early spring 2015. In other words, 12-15 months later.

This also partially explains the delay in providing updated foundation trends at Foundation Stats. (More about this in a future post.) We’d love a direct feed from the IRS so that when it gets a 990, we would get it at the same time. Until that happens, we’ll need to rely on the batches of DVDs that we receive from IRS every few months.

What’s better than a direct feed from IRS? A direct feed from the funders themselves. A growing number of foundations report their grants electronically to the Foundation Center, which means that their grants data is available sooner for our Research team to analyze, and for you to find in a search in Foundation Directory Online (FDO), our database of grantmakers, or on Glasspockets, a Center initiative that champions philanthropic transparency in an online world.

Why should you care about 990s, anyway?

These IRS forms may be the only source available to learn about past grants, especially for small foundations. Past grants can suggest a funder’s giving preferences and help you determine how much to request from a foundation. After all, you don’t want to ask for $50,000 when the funder seems to give only $5,000 to projects like yours, and vice versa.

990s include info on board members and key staff, as well as application guidelines. They are the basis for many FDO foundation profiles. Plus, you can view them for free at several websites, including our own 990 Finder.

Want to know more? See our Knowledge Base Article, “What is Form 990 or 990-PF? How can I learn about using them?”

Why does this info help you become a better grantseeker?

Now that you know about the typical lag time in getting 990s on the Internet, you can:

Save time by not searching for the most recent 990s when the funder hasn’t even submitted them yet. Instead, set a recurring reminder to look for it 2-3 months after the usual IRS receipt date, stamped on the 990.

Explore other ways to get the latest news about foundation prospects. Do they have websites? Do they use Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, other communications channels? Subscribe to them all. If any of your prospects is a large national foundation, Glasspockets has a colorful chart that quickly shows which communications channels they use.

Does the foundation provide an online grants archive, like Robert Wood Johnson Foundation? If yes, you’re in luck since most foundations don’t even have websites. Bookmark the archive and learn how it works. It’s probably easier to read and understand than the 990s, and it’ll likely have more details. See also this free world map at Glasspockets to explore recent grants from some of the world's largest foundations.

Try Google News Alerts or similar tools to get notified whenever news about the foundation is published online. You also can subscribe to nonprofit news sources, like The Chronicle of Philanthropy or our own PND.

What other tools & tricks do you use to get the latest scoop on your donors? Share if you care...share them in our Comments area. Thanks in advance!


How To Be Heard By Foundations Not Accepting Unsolicited Proposals
August 11, 2014

The question of how to attract the attention of foundations that give only to preselected organizations (by some estimates, this is as many as 60 percent of all foundations) is a vexing one, and one that we hear frequently from our FDO users, library visitors, and other constituents. Personally, I hear from many FDO users who simply click the "Exclude grantmakers not accepting applications" checkbox on their searches and never see other prospects. It's an understandable choice - why sift through record after record of funders who are indicating that they don't want to hear from you? - but it can limit your possibilities. 

So what do you do? Rick Cohen writes today for Nonprofit Quarterly on just this subject in a detailed and advice-filled post, Scaling the Wall: 5 Ways to Get Unsolicited Proposals Heard. Cohen suggests that the practice is not just widespread, but growing:

Plenty of respected foundations with solid track records of excellent grantmaking have decided to close the door on unsolicited proposals, too. [...] These are respected, admired foundations, all making it clear that without an invitation, you shouldn’t come knocking. It’s as if being able to submit unsolicited proposals or LOIs has become a quaint, nostalgic practice of a bygone era.

His suggestions on increasing visibility, building relationships, researching board and staff names, sending other information besides proposals, and working for change in philanthropy can be read in more detail in the full post.

For my part, when it comes to searching FDO I'd say by all means, click that checkbox to save yourself time and effort, but when you can, try your search without it and see what other potential prospects might make your "parking lot" list - the ones you can devote some time (I know, I know: what time?) to researching further to find professional connections or other ways of getting noticed. And for more tips, please visit our Grantspace Knowledge Base article on approaching these funders.