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GIM 28

Grant and Contract Proposals to Private Foundations


Office of the Vice President for Research
Office of Sponsored Programs


June 21, 1976

SUBJECT: Grant and Contract Proposals to Private Foundations


Proposals to foundations generally stand a better chance of being funded if they are preceded by an informal contact. This may take the form of a brief letter outlining the proposed project and suggesting why the foundation should be interested in it. This approach permits an investigator to make inquiries to several foundations simultaneously, and gives an interested foundation the chance to offer suggestions for incorporation in the formal proposal.

This letter of inquiry is crucially important. In preparing it, investigators should avail themselves of the advice and help of the staff of Office of Sponsored Programs. The office has information about many foundations and may be able to advise about which foundations are most likely to support a particular project, as well as about timing, approach, budgetary matters, whom to contact, and so on. Sometimes, the staff can also refer investigators to others within the University who have had experience with certain foundations, and they can help ensure that the proper University offices are kept informed about proposed approaches to foundations. It is important that budgetary matters not be discussed with foundations until they have been cleared through Office of Sponsored Programs.

The letter should, if possible, demonstrate that the investigator is acquainted with the work and purposes of the particular foundation being approached, and that he sees a clear connection between these and his proposed project. A letter so generally phrased that it could be a form letter is almost certain to be disregarded. An effective letter will discuss the significance of the project: Who will benefit? Who cares about the results? What difference will it make if the project is not funded? It will give enough indication of step-by-step planning to show that the project has been thought through and that pitfalls have been anticipated. It will demonstrate the writer's grasp of the subject and his ability to undertake the project. It will emphasize that his is a preliminary inquiry, not a formal proposal, and that the investigator will send further details if the foundation wishes, or better yet (if travel funds are available), will visit the foundation to discuss the project in depth. It is unnecessary in the preliminary inquiry to include a detailed budget, although an overall cost estimate may be mentioned to indicate an order of magnitude.

In directories and other general sources of information, foundations often indicate their areas of interest in such broad terms that one cannot tell with confidence whether a project will be likely to interest a particular foundation. Often, more detailed guidance can be gleaned from the foundation's annual reports and particularly from the list of projects that the foundation has supported. In general, foundation are interested in innovative projects that are (1) relevant to pressing national or regional problems, (2) directed to new methods, (3) capable of serving as a model or stimulus for further or related work in its general area, (4) capable of being continued after the end of the funding period without further assistance from the foundation, and (5) not capable of being initially funded by governmental agencies or the investigator's own institution. The letter of inquiry should highlight whichever of these characteristics best fit the project at hand.

Questions relating to the contents of this memorandum may be directed to Office of Sponsored Programs, extension 3-4043.