I want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list. When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies. Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else. And to some extent this is true. If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding. But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded. So, how do you stand out from the crowd?
The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business. I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved. But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail. I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers. And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.
So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs. How do we find this out? The foundation screening list.
The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours. Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer. If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer. You can see a sample layout here.
Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one? Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you. Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone. Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them. Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.
Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.
Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf. Record everything in your database.