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Developing a Foundation Proposal

To ensure the greatest chance for developing a strong relationship with a private foundation and securing a grant to support your project, we have developed the following guidelines to assist you.

1  Discuss the proposed project and the foundation you wish to approach with your department chair, center director, dean and/or other administrator to obtain approval to begin. The Office of Foundation Relations will require approval from the appropriate academic administrators before moving forward. Administrative approval is required to verify the project has institutional support and that it is considered your unit’s top priority for funding from the sponsor.

2  Contact the Office of Foundation Relations for guidance. The foundation relations officer (Amber Padgett) is typically the institutional liaison with the foundation program officer and can provide guidance on next steps. A brief discussion with the Director of Foundation Relations will help determine if there is a good match between your project and the potential funder. If there is, the next step is to draft a proposal/concept paper using our Proposal Development Guidelines (next tab).

Note that certain foundations are managed by the Office of Foundation Relations; a list of these foundations can be found here. Top university administrators, such as the provost or president, serve as key contacts for many of these foundations and communicate with foundation program managers to develop long-term strategies for collaboration on major initiatives. Faculty should not contact these foundations directly; you need to contact Amber Padgett in the Office of Foundation Relations for further information and guidance regarding your interest in any of these foundations.

3  Develop your proposal concept using our Proposal Development Guidelines (next tab). This exercise will help you create a concept paper that addresses the questions that foundations typically ask. While the specific application format varies between foundations, the essential questions that must be answered are the same.

View the latest installment of the OSP/Foundation Relations Roadshow on Developing Proposals to Private Foundations

To begin drafting a proposal and to help with identification of an appropriate funding opportunity, we ask that you construct a concept paper using Steps 1-7 below. 

Please note that the project must be approved by your department/unit head and dean, and your unit’s OSP grant coordinator must receive a copy of your approved (signed) concept paper. Once you have clearance from your department, please send your concept paper to Amber Padgett.

  1. Keywords: List keywords relevant to your project. This will facilitate the foundation research process.
  2. Project Description and Objectives: Describe your proposed project in two paragraphs. Focus on your objectives and describe how this project fits into or extends ongoing work. Note that private foundations do not fund general operations support.
  3. Project Methodology: Describe, in two paragraphs, specifically how you will accomplish your goals, i.e., “what exactly are you going to do?”
  4. Measurable Outcomes and Evaluation: What specific, quantifiable outcomes do you plan to achieve by the conclusion of this project? What assessment tools will you utilize to evaluate the success of the project? Please write one to two paragraphs.
  5. Estimated Budget: What is the approximate total cost of this project? How much of that cost are you seeking from private foundation funds? What other funding commitments or potential funding sources can you identify? What are the general budget categories?
  6. Potential Funders: Have you already identified any potential foundations for your project? If you have seen a specific RFP from a target foundation, please share it with us.
  7. Administrative Approval: Signature of your academic unit administrator (department chair, center/institute director or dean) is required for all proposals of $25,000 or more.
  • Please contact Amber Padgett, Development Coordinator - Corporate and Foundation Relations, to assist you with the process and to make sure that you have clearance from Clemson University to submit your proposal. Clemson does not want to send more than one proposal to the same foundation at the same time, which can lead to instant dismissal of such proposals. It is also important that we protect existing relationships with program officers, who prefer to work with one contact person at Clemson. Amber may be reached at 864-656-2247 or

  • Make sure that your proposal concept addresses an important problem. Your problem and approach to solving that problem should pass the “So what?” question.

  • Research the previous work on your topic/issue and become an expert with the literature.

  • Put together a high-quality and interdisciplinary team that has the experience, interest and ability to successfully accomplish project goals. Unless you are responding to a specific call for proposals, most foundations do not support individual (research) projects.

  • Plan ahead of time. Many foundations take at least six months to make a decision on a proposal.

  • Work with Amber Padgett to identify the best funding opportunities for your project. She can make the whole process much easier and more manageable for you!