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Approaching a foundation with a project varies slightly from approaching a federal sponsor.  Foundations do not always announce funding opportunities. Sometimes a letter or phone call is necessary in working with foundations and non-profit agencies. Please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Research Support if you are interested is pursuing externally funded research through a foundation, or non-profit agency. 

Researching the foundation

Every foundation's purpose is expressed in a mission statement that can be found on that agency's website. This mission is reflected back into the community through the types of programs provided or supported by the foundation.  Usually, this mission statement is rather broad and global, naming the major issues the agency focuses on and a fundamental philosophy of how those issues are addressed. This mission statement changes over time to adapt to emerging needs in the community or region it serves. Purpose statements offer more specific information about the programs or approach that the agency will use to meet its mission.  The board of directors of the agency develops the mission and purpose statements based on the agency's scope and a general approach it wishes to take to a broad problem.

The majority of nonprofit agencies have an executive director who is responsible for developing the agency's overall services and implementing them in the community it wishes to serve. The executive director of a foundation works closely with its board of directors and staff; therefore, it is very important that you work closely with the director, or his or her designated alternate to develop the proposal. Most foundations prefer to have contact with only one representative from an institution. Clemson University has a staff that has established relationships with many foundations. Once you have a funding opportunity that matches your project please contact a member of the foundations staff for initial contact to be made with the potential foundation. Please keep in mind that foundations are all at various levels of sophistication within their focus areas, and a proposal they receive must fit in at a workable level of their mission and purpose.

It is a good idea to review the agency's website in order to gain a better understanding of the agency prior to making contact. Areas that are important to research are: 

  • past and current programs,
  • awards and future directions,
  • current staffing of the agency and experience of key staff, and
  • geographic service areas the foundation will fund.

Foundations are looking to fund projects and programs that fit with the mission and purpose, have measurable outcomes, a good chance of success, and are ambitious. After reviewing the agency's website you will be able to determine if your project is a possible fit for that agency.

Foundations are looking for something in return for their giving. This may be as small as naming the agency in publications and deliverables.  What the potential return on the foundation's investment will be should be considered prior to the initial contact with the agency.

Writing the proposal

Many foundations will specify the format of the proposals they wish to receive.  Some foundations request the proposal be submitted in a one-or-two page letter format, others have an application that is to be filled out and submitted.  Regardless of the medium, there are basic proposal components that should be included when submitting a proposal to a foundation.  The Foundation Center has and excellent guide entitled A Proposal Writing Short Course that houses the basic proposal components geared toward foundations. The Foundation Center also offers free classes in proposal writing basics, and budget development at its library location in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Searching for funding

Clemson University has one license for the funding locator.  It is housed in the Development Office, and is available for faculty and staff.  If you would like to use this search engine, please contact the foundations office. The Greenville County Library also has a license for the funding locator that can be used by anyone while at the main branch location. Foundation information can also be found in the Research resources section of The Grant Writer's Guide.

We hope this section on foundations is beneficial for those individuals who wish to pursue externally funded research. The Office of Research Support is available to assist you with any question you might have on any aspect of grant proposal writing.  We want this guide to help you as you prepare your proposals. Please give us your comments and suggestions.