Corporate & Foundation Relations

About foundation funding

Why seek foundation funding

Foundations fill an important niche, often leveraging their resources to make catalytic impact where other funders won’t venture.

Whereas government funders tend to fund projects likely to succeed, there are foundations that will fund pilot or proof-of-concept work or even seed new research directions. Some take risks on novel, untested ideas and emerging fields, and many invest in the researcher’s potential as well as his or her work.

What do foundations fund?

Most foundations invest in projects with a clear purpose and defined beginning and ending. A few foundations provide general operating support, usually for a limited time and at a strategic point when that support can help an organization or project scale its impact. Foundations rarely fund endowments.

For nearly every issue imaginable, there is a dedicated foundation program. However, how the foundation aims to intervene in the issue makes all the difference in whether it is a match for your work — or not.

One key to understanding how a foundation addresses an issue is where it targets its funds on a continuum that spans fundamental discovery to application. Even the world’s wealthiest foundations use a carefully focused strategy to target their funds.

How do foundations differ from government funders?

Most foundations have been created by people who have enjoyed exceptional financial success. The first large foundations in the U.S. — Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller, for example — are the philanthropic result of wealth the Industrial Revolution created in steel, oil and manufacturing. Leaders and innovators in newer industries, particularly technology, have used their unprecedented wealth to create newer foundations. So foundations are personal at root, their purpose and strategy driven by the vision, values and seminal experiences of their founders. These founders often are actively involved in shaping their foundations’ direction, focus and strategy.

There is little that is standard about foundations. Importantly, review panels vary widely from foundation to foundation. Some comprise specialists with expertise tailored to the funding opportunity. Others are made up of accomplished professionals from across sectors with more generalist knowledge. Very few foundations engage review panels as highly specialized as those of government agencies, although they may consult with external experts. In many cases, reviewers make recommendations to the foundation’s board, which makes the final determination of awards. In framing pre-proposals to foundations, it is important to know your audience.