Best Friends
No More Homeless Pets Forum
June 9, 2003

Grant Writing

Jim Mason
Jim Mason

What do grant makers want? Jim Mason of the Two Mauds Foundation; and Carol Moulton and Patty Finch of PETsMART Charities, offer their perspectives on how you can make your organization more attractive to potential funders.

Introduction from Jim Mason:

I'm Jim Mason, secretary and a member of the board of Two Mauds, Inc., a New York City-based foundation that gives grants to grassroots organizations for spay-neuter and other "hands-on" programs in the southern states and Appalachia. I've been active in the animal protection movement for 30 years.

These days I spend most of my time corresponding with a pool of potential grantees and networking with other animal people at local, regional, state, and national levels.

I'll be happy to answer your questions this week about how you can reach out to foundations for grants and what they are looking for from you.

Introduction from Patty Finch:

I've been on both sides of the table, as grantor and grant writer. I look forward to your questions! Part of my time each day is spent calling and e-mailing grant applicants with questions and suggestions.

What I enjoy most is matching talented people on great projects, knowing each side will enjoy and benefit enormously from a conversation together as they share their efforts and ideas.

There is so much talent out in the field, so many new "lessons learned," so much innovation going on. It is an exciting time for our field!


Do you need a professional grant writer to get grants?
Finding sample successful grants
Grants for coalitions
How much can we expect funding for based on our organizational budget?
What types of programs do PETsMART and Two Mauds fund?
Tips when applying for grants
Funding for wildlife and other species
How to we evaluate our programs if the community doesn't keep good stats?
How do you approach foundations that don't accept unsolicited proposals?
Working under the umbrella of a larger group trying to get funding
How do you know what level of funding to ask for?
How do groups that are just starting out get funding?
Do grantmakers fund positions?
Funding an umbrella organization for a coalition

Do you need a professional grant writer to get grants?

Question from Denise:

I am the director of a small animal charity that has only a handful of volunteers. Although we have applied for many grants throughout the seven years we have been up and running, we have not been awarded any. These grants were written by the group of volunteers who originally started the organization. Can a group expect to be awarded a grant even without a professional/experienced grant-writer?

Response from Carol:

No, you don't need a professional grant-writer to get a grant, but you may need to do a little reading on how to write a grant proposal. Any community library should have books and materials on this topic, or you can search the Internet and find many helpful sites.

Before you even write the proposal, though, make sure that you've found out all you can about the foundation's interests, and that your proposed program fits their interests. One of the biggest complaints of grantmakers is the number of applications they get that don't come close to fitting their guidelines.

Most libraries have foundation directories that will help you determine the interests and application guidelines of each one. The Foundation Directory, published by the Foundation Center in Washington D.C., is commonly found in libraries. The reference librarian can help you find it. If the foundation has a website (many don't), it should also give you the information you need. You can also call or write the foundation directly and ask for that information.

Another key is to find out what the average gift of the grantmaker is. The Foundation Directory generally gives the average grant amount, and high and low grants for the most recent year for which they have information. You can also probably find the foundation's IRS 990 form at Foundation 990 forms list grants given for the reporting year.

Aim your first proposal between the low and average gift - it's best not to aim for the top amount for a first time grant from that organization.

Briefly, the standard parts of a grant proposal are the following:

Problem Statement - Document the needs to be met with the requested grant. Statistics on the number of animals sheltered and euthanized in your community (not just at your agency) will be helpful. Include a description of the geographic area you serve. Give estimates of: human population, average income, availability of (or lack of) animal services such as shelters, veterinarians, low-cost spay/neuter, etc., that provide a background for your proposed program. Don't assume the grantmaker knows anything about the problems animals face in your particular community.

Objectives - Describe how the funded program will solve or help solve the
stated problem. Tell how this program will increase the number of animals you are able to help. Whenever possible give quantifiable results (estimated # of animals to be neutered, adopted, etc.).

Methods - Describe step by step how program will be implemented to achieve results.

Evaluation - Tell how you will assess and report back the degree to which objectives are met.

Budget - Give a detailed expense and income summary for project. Show any other funding going into the project, and any in-kind services your agency will provide.

Timeline - Give the time period over which the project will take place, or during which the grant monies are expected to be totally expended.

Organizational qualifications - Give background information on your group's programs and capabilities, and the qualifications of staff in charge of the program for which funding is requested. Show you have the ability to carry out the program you'd like funded.

Future funding - Show how the organization will fund this program in the future.
In addition to these items, make sure you include any specific information requested by the grantmaker in their grant guidelines. Typically requested are copies of your 501(c)(3) letter and an annual financial report.

If your proposal is turned down, you can ask why and whether there are ways to improve the program and proposal to achieve better results with that grantmaker in the future. If you ask politely, you may get a very helpful answer.

Response from Jim:

Hello Denise!

I sympathize with people and groups trying to get foundation grants because I believe their experience is similar to mine as a freelance writer. You have to tailor your project to a lot of finicky (and often fickle) entities. Each one has its special wants, needs, and priorities. It can be bewildering to try to figure these out and make the right approach. Even if you do, more often than not, you get a rejection.

Foundations, like magazines, come in all shapes and sizes. Most, I believe, narrow their mission in order to focus on what their leadership thinks is the most important use of their money. A number of foundations including mine, Two Mauds, also focuses geographically. We give grants, for example, almost exclusively in the southeastern states and Appalachia because we believe that these regions are where conditions for animals (and fundraising!) are at their worst. You'll do better with foundations if you find out as much as you can about their grantmaking mission and focus, then go to the ones that fund the sort of project you have in mind.

Don't try to "spin" your proposal in an attempt to make your project look like it fits the foundation mission. We see a lot of this and to us it looks like dishonesty, and we don't like to fund dishonest people and organizations. More than a couple groups have pulled this one on me. One, for example, appealed to us for help with the costs of a spay/neuter program (knowing that's our focus) and then poured the grant money into its building fund, rationalizing, I suppose, that the building will house a spay/neuter clinic. How do you think I should handle their next request for a grant?

You don't need a professional grant writer to do business with Two Mauds because we specialize in small, volunteer-based grassroots organizations. But we are a relatively small, family-centered foundation and very informal; some of the bigger foundations that give bigger grants may do things differently. For them, a professionally prepared proposal may be what they are used to seeing and it could help your chances. But again, you should get to know each foundation, its mission, and focus. You can do this by making contact with the director or a grant officer, call and talk, or ask for a meeting. Fortunately, there are more and more foundations like Two Mauds being established to provide support to small, informal groups like yours. I would bet that a good many of them are like us and prefer informal, person-to-person communication instead of voluminous, professionally written grant proposals.

Finding sample successful grants

Question from a member:

Do you have successful grant applications that you can share with others to get an idea of how a good grant application is written? Also, do you ever publish the results from grants you have funded so that others can see model programs and perhaps duplicate efforts in their communities?

Response from Carol:

We can send you samples of successful grant applications we've received. Please e-mail your street address to if you would like those. We can only send these by snail mail, as we don't have them in a format that can be e-mailed.

We do publish results from grants we've funded in the PETsMART Charities Quarterly, our newsletter for animal care agencies. If your organization would like to receive this publication, please e-mail your organization's name and address to

We also encourage our grant recipients to contact national humane and animal control organizations when they have a success story to share, so those organizations can get the news out through their shelter communication channels.

Response from Jim:

Two Mauds does not use grant applications and we do not publish a report. Ours is a small, family foundation with very informal procedures but a focused grant program. If you are running a spay/neuter program in Appalachia or the southeastern states, we're interested. We network with key people in the various states, we go to the conferences, and we take referrals from people whom we trust. We maintain a "pool" of about 50 potential grantees, all of whom are doing spay/neuter in the SE and Appalachia. We maintain correspondence with them and do site visits to get to know the people behind the project. We ask an organization to keep in touch and keep us posted on developments. When our board meets each October, we look at each organization's performance and needs over the past year and award our grants accordingly.

Grants for coalitions

Question from a member:

We are in the very beginning stages of forming a coalition of our local animal groups. We would like to apply for grants, but wonder what is the best way to do this if we are not a 501(c)(3)? The coalition doesn't want to start up another entire new organization. Also, if we apply for a grant as a coalition, does that hurt an individual group's chances of applying to the same Foundation for funding on separate projects?

Response from Carol:

Most grantmakers are only able to fund organizations with IRS 501(c)(3) status. If the coalition doesn't have that, you can apply under the umbrella of one of the member groups that does. Another approach is to ask a non-profit unaffiliated with the coalition if it will agree to be the fiscal agent for the grant.

The check will be written to the individual agency applying under its 501(c)(3), and that agency will be held responsible for administering the funds and reporting on results. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the coalition and the group acting as fiscal agent both have a clear understanding of specifically what the program is and what the funding is to pay for.

I believe most grantmakers would differentiate between coalition funding and funding of individual groups within the coalition, so that the individual group wouldn't be hurt by being the fiscal agent for the coalition. But when in doubt, it is best to call the foundation in question and ask.

Response from Jim:

When I have a situation like this, I ask the coalition to agree among themselves which one of their member organizations will serve as the 501(c)(3) grantee. I would want some assurance that the grant money will be used by and for the coalition, and not just poured into the grantee organization's general funds. Perhaps the coalition members could agree to set up a special bank account to hold the funds for coalition purposes.

It depends on the project. If they are the same, yes, I might want to give out just one grant for the coalition. For example, if the coalition seeks money to establish a low-cost spay/neuter clinic to serve all member organizations, I probably would not give grants to any member organization for that clinic. If, however, a member organization wanted money for, say, veterinary expenses for rehabilitation of rescued animals, I would make the grant.

Having said that, such a grant could disturb the often fragile peace among members of coalitions so I would want to be careful. Suppose, for example, that all ten of the ten coalition members ask me for vet bills and for reasons known only to Two Mauds, I give a grant to maybe two of them? I might be able to take the heat from the eight rejected, but will that heat burn up the coalition?

How much can we expect funding for based on our organizational budget?

Question from a member:

I've read that grantors will give funding based on how much money your organization makes (if we make $40,000 a year you will only fund up to a certain % of our budget). Is that true and what is the %? Do you ever make exceptions to that rule if it is a collaborative effort and the lead organization may not make a lot per year but has endorsements from other local humane groups for the project?

Response from Carol:

There are various reasons why a grantmaker might not want to meet or exceed your annual revenues in the size of the grant they give.

One question in the grantmaker's mind is whether you have the financial infrastructure to handle a grant of the size you are requesting. Are your books professionally kept? Do you have safeguards in your accounting procedures to prevent misuse of funds? Do you do an annual financial report, whether audited or not, that shows the assets and liabilities, expenses and revenues of the organization? Usually the financial sophistication of an agency grows along with its revenues, and an organization may not be equipped to deal well with a sudden influx of funding beyond the normal revenue growth.

Another question is what the long-term effect of a large grant might be on a small organization. If you got a grant equal to or greater than your normal annual revenues, it might allow you to double the size of your program that year. But, the next year you may be faced with cutting back severely on programs if no grant funds can be found to keep them going. This will probably hurt the morale and image of the organization.

Most grantmakers want to help you start or expand programs that can then be sustained through annual fundraising. So they may look at what they think you can reasonably sustain past the time of the grant. If you can show in your proposal that you have a realistic plan to raise funds to sustain the program for which you are seeking a grant, you may improve your chances of getting the grant you want.

Some grantmakers will help fund operating costs for an organization, but even then the funding is usually only a small part of the organization's annual budget.

Whether being endorsed by other groups or part of a coalition will change the point of view of the grantmaker on grant size vs. revenues is something you should discuss individually with the grantmaker. In your appeal to the grantmaker, keep in mind the questions above and be able to supply good answers to them.

For the most part grantmakers don't have a set percentage of annual revenues they will not fund above, but you can always ask them if they do have a rule like that. If they do, the percentage amount will be individual to the grantmaker--there is no "industry standard" used by everyone.

Finally, when looking at your overall organizational fundraising plan, keep in mind that statistics show that about 83.5% of charitable funding comes from individuals, 12.2% from foundations, and 4.3% from corporations. It's a good idea to focus your fundraising efforts and expectations accordingly.

Response from Jim:

Please see my response to question #1. Foundations come in all shapes and sizes. Some foundations may follow such a rule, but mine, Two Mauds, does not. We tend to give priority to organizations with small budgets, and sometimes our grant makes not only their day, but also their year.

Again, get to know each foundation, its mission, focus, and procedures. Call them up and ask to talk to someone about these things. You need to find out which ones are the most likely to be interested in your proposal, your organization, its overall effort for animals, its location, and other factors. Most of the foundations have websites where they explain their mission, geographical "turf", priorities, and so on; many post a list of past grants made. You should learn enough about a foundation to determine which ones will be a waste of time for you and which ones might be open to your proposal.

What types of programs do PETsMART and Two Mauds fund?

Question from a member:

My question is specific to your foundations. I wondered if you could share a little bit of info about what kinds of programs you fund primarily. Do you have to be a Luv a Pet Partner in order to apply for PETsMART grants? Does Two Mauds fund anywhere in the U.S or is it restricted to certain areas?

Response from Carol:

PETsMART Charities primarily funds in the areas of:

adoptions programs
adoption follow-up programs to improve retention rates for adopted animals
spay/neuter programs
training or behavior modification programs that help make pets more adoptable and/or improve retention rates
identification programs such as microchipping or tagging; or pro-active lost and found programs that help reunite lost pets with their guardians
pet parent education programs to improve the quality of life for pets in homes, and prevent relinquishments of pets from their homes
You do not have to be an Adoption Partner (formerly Luv A Pet Partner) to be eligible for grant money. Any tax-exempt non-profit or government animal control agency can apply.

We do have other special funding programs for groups that are Adoption Partners. You can read about those, and also download our grant application form and guidelines at

Response from Jim:

Please see my response to an earlier question on what our foundation does. Two Mauds is a small foundation with informal procedures. We fund almost exclusively spay/neuter programs in the Appalachian and southeastern states, that is, from Missouri southward and eastward.

Tips when applying for grants

Question from a member:

Can you pass along some tips that make an organization stand out when applying for a grant and make them more attractive to a grant foundation? You had mentioned making sure that you fit the funding profile and knowing the foundation, but I wondered if you had any other tips?

Jim Mason's response:

I respond to numbers and other ways of measuring progress. For example, suppose I have 20 spay/programs; 18 of them are doing 50 to 100 surgeries per year and the other 2 are doing 1,500 to 3,000 surgeries per year. The latter two will stand out. Could a couple of the smaller programs still be making a difference in the numbers killed at local pounds and shelters? Maybe so, but some numbers or other indicators would make them stand out from the others.

Another plus (in my book, anyway) is working with others in the community to solve the problem. The problem, in our case, is killing large numbers of dogs, cats, and other companion animals because the supply greatly exceeds the demand. It is a problem at all levels: local, regional (worse in some, better in others), and national. No one organization will be able to fix it alone. It will take cooperation among humane groups, coalitions with other interest groups, and good relationships with each of the levels of government to fix this problem. If you are doing these things, you are winning points with my board and me. In fact, we chose to fund an organization last year that was way out of our southern territory primarily because they showed us how well they were working with their local government to stop the killing of homeless animals.

We are always looking for innovative programs-- you know, new ways to solve old problems. In recent years, the mobile spay/neuter clinic--a surgical hospital on wheels--became such an innovative program. We fund one that serves throughout the state of Arkansas, 3 out of 4 weeks each month. In Arkansas!! It takes expensive surgical equipment, skills, and services and makes them available in places where they are most needed. Another program that we helped fund does essentially the same thing, but in a major city. Another one is an adoption center in a mall--a kind of "pet store" full of adoptable homeless animals. So what's the innovation? It's a cooperative effort by several local rescue groups to reach a large pool of potential animal guardians rather than continuing to compete with each other over a small pool.

Do leaders of your organization follow the publications of Best Friends, Animal People, SPAY/USA, Alley Cat Allies and the many other major groups? Do you send a delegation to any of the annual conferences on animal issues? What are you doing to keep informed and in step with the larger, national movement? Some groups regard these things as important and do them; others say they are overwhelmed, too busy for such things. Some want to end the problem; some want to ride it. Which would you fund with your own money?

Response from Patty:

I've talked to many granters about this and besides making sure your proposal fits the guidelines, here are the two most commonly mentioned ways of making your grant stand out.

Write your application specifically for each foundation's application requirements. Don't use a generic application for everyone, even if it is beautifully bound with tabs and full color photos. Follow the directions exactly for each grant application. If they say use 12 point type, use 12 point type. If they say no more than 10 pages, stick to that limit. Answer the questions or include the enclosures in the order in which they are listed or asked for on the application. This makes it easier for the granter to score/evaluate your application and gives them some assurance that you will probably follow the spending guidelines as closely as you have followed the grant application guidelines. It also conveys the message that you have singled them out as a granting source and hopefully you will be a good fit!

Make sure your proposal is neat and well written. By well written, I mean more than using good grammar. Make sure you have addressed the questions well. In an earlier answer, Carol Moulton listed the standard parts of most grant proposals: Problem Statement, Objectives, Methods, Evaluation, Budget, Timeline, Organizational Qualifications, and Future Funding. After you have finished a first draft of your proposal, look at each of those areas. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on how well you have addressed each area. Ask yourself, would I give someone money to do this, based on what I'm reading here? What other questions might I have? Then go back and strengthen the weakest areas. Maybe you need to add survey results to the problem statement. Maybe you need a more specific timeline. Maybe your objectives and evaluation don't match...they should!

Here is one final tip, though it is not as important as those already mentioned: try to establish some sort of relationship with the granting agency before you send in a proposal. If they have a booth at conferences, go up and introduce yourself. If they have a newsletter, subscribe. Write a nice letter to the editor about some feature you really liked. Call and ask if it is appropriate to float an idea for a grant. Get some input before you finalize the grant. Thank the organization for their help with a little note after the call. Would you rather give money to someone you've met and talked to a bit, or someone you've never heard of? Granting agencies feel much the same, even if they use a strict scoring guide to evaluate proposals.

Funding for wildlife and other species

Question from Laura:

Our organization has been attempting for years to locate grantors who fund wildlife issues (i.e., wildlife rehabilitation, humane wild animal control projects, wildlife assistance hotlines, etc.). Unfortunately, this has not been an easy task as it appears that grantors who do fund wildlife, focus only on conservation. The grantors that focus on ending animal cruelty seem to gear their funding solely to companion animals. Any suggestions or recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

Additional note from Aimee:

We also got questions from members asking for suggestions about grant funding for small farm animal sanctuaries and other rescued species such as rabbits, ferrets, and sugar gliders.

Response from Jim:

It is true: there is a big void between humane/animal rights activism and wildlife/environmental activism, and you're operating right in the middle of it. Then there is the same dichotomy between funders - both foundations and donors. You would think that you could get support from both movements, but you don't. You fall into a crack as far as funding goes.

The good news is that this dichotomy is breaking down, albeit slowly. And we are seeing more and more foundations dedicated to helping animals coming into being. Many of the new breed of funders are concerned about the plight of all animals, not just horses, dogs, or cats or whatever other animals were special companions to them in life. So keep on the lookout for new sources of funding. In the meantime, you're going to have to build a funding base from individual donors who support your programs.

Sanctuaries: This may get me in trouble with a lot of people, but I believe the foundation community is casting a wary eye toward the sanctuary movement. Everybody, it seems, wants to start a sanctuary. It seems so ideal, so appealing: living among your favorite animals. The reality is: too much work, too many animals to be rescued, too many expenses, too much stress...AND too little help, too little money, too few qualified workers. The founders become overwhelmed and sometimes the stresses fracture the organization. Some have folded and then someone else had to "rescue" their animals. And then there is some fraud out there: a few breeders, dealers, and other exploiters have begun to pose as sanctuaries. As a result, the "good" sanctuaries have tried to organize to establish standards and accreditation, but that effort has degenerated into rival organizations and standards. To us--foundation people--it looks like a mess out there: unstable, uncertain, and too much money going out to sustain the lives of too few animals.

For me, I'd rather put my grant money in pro-active programs like spay/neuter, aggressive adoption, community-wide humane education that are aimed at the source of the problem rather than at the symptoms. Besides, rescue/sanctuary programs appeal to donors in ways that some of the pro-active programs do not. I mean, a sanctuary can put out various appeals telling of (and showing photos of) individual animals saved, but a spay/neuter program cannot. So we give priority to the latter.

Response from Patty:

There is no doubt that there are many especially underfunded areas, including not only those you mentioned, but also farm animal sanctuaries, small mammal care, etc., so I don't know how helpful any of these suggestions will be.

Sometimes corporations have a matching grant giving program for their employees. They will match a contribution which an employee makes (up to a certain dollar limit) to any 501(c)(3). So if you have a newsletter, be sure to ask your supporters to check into that at their place of business.

Local or state funders sometime cover things that national granters don't cover. Here in Arizona, there is an annual publication called "Arizona Guide to Grants and Giving." Many states have such a guide. (Ask your library for help in finding out if such a guide is published for your state.) In the Arizona guide there is a grid that shows which foundations give to what kinds of interests. Then there is a description of the foundations and a list of recent grants they have given. It is all cross referenced, so you can look up an organization which is similar to yours and see who has given them grants in the past. If you find a granter who gives to your area of interest, or even a closely related area, write for a copy of their guidelines. Follow up with a call, stating you have a copy of their guidelines, but you would like a few minutes of their time to discuss your needs, to see if there might be a fit, because you aren't sure after reading the guidelines. Sometimes a funder will get so excited by your work that they may come up with a way to bend the usual areas of focus to include your organization.

Also try thinking outside the box. If there is a grantor who funds programs for the elderly, is there a formal volunteer program you could set up for seniors, and then budget not only for the direct costs of the volunteer program, but also for related costs (such as the rehabilitation costs of the animals they would be preparing food for)?

Example: I once wanted to bring Tom Regan to Reno, NV to speak on the concept of animal rights. There aren't many funders who target that sort of thing! But I broadened the program to include a poet who writes about animals, an author who had written about the Native American perspective on animals, etc. and I got a local college interested in the project, as they would be supplying one of the speakers and hosting the event (thus getting room rental fees as part of the grant, to help their budget). Then we applied to the Nevada State Humanities Council together and got the whole thing funded as a series on the human/animal bond throughout history, since the humanities committee funds speakers on humanity issues. Thus I got state funding for a speaker on animal rights. Get creative any way you can, through programs and partners, and find a way to qualify to get funds to help you with your normal costs, as well as the special project costs.

Lastly, work with your local librarian...they can be a huge help in uncovering sources of funding from corporations and others. For some of our local grant givers, the only stipulation is that your organization is a 501(c)(3) based in the community. Then it is up to you to make your need as appealing as possible! Don't hesitate to go after grants that are "only" $ is a chance to establish a relationship with a grant giver, and you never know where that might lead!

How to we evaluate our programs if the community doesn't keep good stats?

Question from Diane:

We are a 501(c)(3) that wants to apply for a spay/neuter grant for stray and feral cats. The problems we run into with some grant applications are that we don't have a good way of measuring our outcomes. We don't have any organization responsible for picking up stray cats and the main humane society only takes owner surrenders. So we have 2 other foster organizations in town that take a small number of strays, but they don't keep good stats. So it is really hard to measure our progress and impact. Do you have any suggestions on how we can show measurable results to a foundation if we don't have the infrastructure in place?

Response from Carol:

PETsMART Charities would like to see evaluations that show whether the number of stray cats coming into shelters have been reduced, but realizes this is often difficult to do for many reasons.

Therefore we will accept a report showing the number of ferals sterilized with the grant money as evaluation, if that is all that is possible.

Another approach that may be acceptable to grantmakers is to work on individual feral cat colonies. With the help of a caretaker, you can document how many cats are in the colony (and identify each as well as possible by description) to begin with. You can set a goal to trap and neuter all of the cats, then check back at 3 or 6 month intervals to see if the number of animals in the colony is the same, reduced, or increased (if new animals have joined the colony). That will give you an idea of the success of your program.

Response from Jim:

You might ask one of the experts at Alley Cat Allies for suggestions on how to measure a feral cat population and the effect of your management program on it. They do have a fact sheet called "reducing your euthanasia rate" which may help. Speaking for my foundation, Two Mauds, I would not be such a stickler for measuring outcomes in this situation. I think I would just ask that you keep records, ear-tip, and educate against dumping. You might check with your city/county police and government to see if they keep records of citizen's complaints regarding feral and roaming cats. This may be one indicator of the size of the homeless cat problem in your community. If you have no other base data, this may have to suffice. Then as your management program goes on year by year, keep checking the public record of citizen complaints.

How do you approach foundations that don't accept unsolicited proposals?

Question from a member:

I have seen a lot of foundations that we seem to fit the profile for funding, but they don't accept unsolicited proposals. How do we ever get on the list to send one in? Is it generally ok to make an initial call to a grant administrator to talk about your program or is this accepted ONLY if they do not say "no unsolicited funds accepted"?

Response from Carol:

Look at the board of directors/trustees of the foundation and see if you know someone who knows one of them. That's about the only direct way in: a person to person conversation. That's one reason you want to have people of influence on your own board. If the foundation is not locally based, however, the chances of a connection are slim.

Another idea with a local foundation is to see if there is a board member at the foundation who you might cultivate to be on your own board! This is only worthwhile if the foundation interest area intersects with your organization's interests at some points; the person is dedicated to animal welfare; and the foundation gives away enough money annually to make it worth your while to cultivate a new board member.

Sometimes the groups who can receive funding are specified in the trust instrument - in which case there isn't much you can do (although sometimes one or more of those groups goes out of business which may open the door to groups not mentioned by the donor)

If the donor is still alive, or if the trust instrument wasn't that specific, it means the board is probably funding groups they personally like. They may be involved with the group, or they may hear about it in the news. So they may someday come to you.

Someone suggested to me that you might just quietly put the foundation on your mailing list for newsletters (not direct mail appeal) and hope that someone there might bother to read it and like what they read.

But the bottom line is, if they say they don't take unsolicited applications and you can't work a personal angle with a board member, don't send them one. Sometimes "no" means "no".

Response from Jim:

Since my foundation, Two Mauds, is small and informal, our views and rules may not apply across the board. I'm in favor of that initial phone call or email message (I think it's called a "query") that tells about your organization, needs, and project. I would rather deal with a lot of those than with a lot of big, fat packages of paper and plastic.

(By the way, those fancy folders and binders and those clear plastic sleeves on each page of paper are unnecessary... not to mention annoying and wasteful. I can't file those in my ordinary file folders in my ordinary file cabinet. I have to dismantle the thing to free the papers that I want to file away. Then I have all that plastic to deal with. I realize that you are trying to present an attractive package that will stand out from all the others on my cluttered desk; it is standing out all right--and looking like a nuisance to me.)

Keep your queries brief and to the point, please. We don't need to hear the entire history of your organization and the details of your battles with local authorities and rival organizations. We don't need to be educated on the plight of homeless animals and the need for aggressive spay/neuter, adoption, humane education, and other programs. Remember, we're in this field too; we work with dozens of programs and hundreds of people; we read dozens of newsletters and activist alerts; we go to conferences; and we stay in touch with leaders and key people in the animal protection movement.

I can't speak for all foundations, but we are always open to new, innovative programs aimed at bringing down the numbers of homeless animals and those killed at pounds and shelters. Our "pool" of organizations is fluid; each year some flow in and others flow out. Keep trying. If we can't fund you this year, we may be able to help you next year.

Working under the umbrella of a larger group trying to get funding

Question from Nancy in NM:

Thank you for this opportunity to learn what grantmakers look for. We are a very new, start-up group interested in providing low cost spay neuter in a small rural remote community. Thus far we have affiliated with a larger more organized group, but we wondered if we should be independently organized (with mission statement, board of directors, bylaws, etc.) in order to attract funding on our own instead of as a small component of larger entity. What would you recommend at this point?

Response from Carol:

This is hard to answer without more detail. Is the larger group providing any financial support?

Even if they aren't providing direct financial support, are they providing you with office services like telephones, copying, desk space, accounting services? Would they continue to do that if you organize your group separately? If not, can you survive the first year or so on your own as you put fundraising efforts in place?

You say you want to provide services in a small, rural remote community. Is that community able to support your program through donations? Or are there other logical communities in which you can fundraise to support the program? You need to have some way to judge your potential for being self-supporting. As we've seen from some of the other questions and answers in this forum, foundations are likely to provide only some temporary, supplemental funding. They aren't the answer to your long-term survival.

But if you have a core group of people who are truly in this for the long-run, that speaks in favor of starting your own organization. Just be realistic about what the challenges will be.

Response from Jim:

Yes, you should start your own organization, a non-profit corporation according to the laws of New Mexico. Then apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status as a charitable organization within the meaning of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Most foundations don't want to deal with "conduit" organizations such as the one with which you are now doing your work. The IRS doesn't like it, and neither do foundation lawyers.

Working under the 501(c)(3) wing of a larger organization may be all right temporarily... say for a year or so until you get your own 501(c)(3) status. But it can work against you in the long run. For example, my foundation, Two Mauds, gives priority to small-budget, volunteer-based, grassroots groups. We want to see a group's financial statements to see the size of their budget. If you are seeking one of our grants and we ask to see a financial statement for the 501(c)(3), what are we going to see? We will see the statement of that large organization that is sponsoring your project. They may have an annual budget that is way out of line with the sort of groups we usually fund.

The next thing that happens is that my board members get confused, and that's not good. After a long meeting of pouring over paperwork from nearly 50 organizations, they may not fully process the arrangement you have with that large-budget sponsoring organization. The whole deal may look fishy to them. Given the competition for grant money, my board--any board--is likely to pass over your project and give money to other groups that have their act more apparently together.

How do you know what level of funding to ask for?

Question from a member:

Do you have recommendations on how groups can decide what level of funding to ask for on a project? We would like to submit a grant for a spay/neuter program and have determined a budget, but are not sure how much is realistic to ask for from a foundation. If we ask too much will we get turned down completely or will the foundation offer a smaller amount? Also, will foundations generally fund the same project for more than one year?

Response from Patty:

Many foundations publish a list of grant recipients and the amounts awarded. Some of those lists are available online. In other cases, if you ask the foundation for a copy of their annual report, the awards will be listed there. Before you apply to any foundation, you should be trying to learn as much as you can about the foundation, including their typical grant awards to organizations that are similar to yours.

Keep in mind also that the amount you should request should be realistic, given your objectives. It should also be realistic compared to your current revenues. If your annual revenues have been about $4,000 a year, a foundation will hesitate to give you $20,000, much less $200,000. Foundations know that a sudden large influx of money can cause problems for an organization. An exception might be made for a large expenditure for a one-time purchase, such as a bank of cages. But in general, your revenues, number of volunteers/staff, programs, fundraising, etc. should all grow together, building capacity without chaos or setting yourself up for possible failure.

Foundations differ in whether or not they will give partial funding. One key to good grant applications is research, and finding out whether or not a foundation will give partial funding should be part of your research. Some foundations will not entertain any questions, but many will.

Foundations also differ in whether or not they will fund the same project for more than one year. Some award multi-year grants. Research each foundation. In general, though, most foundations fund for one year and want to see that you have a plan for sustaining the project/program/staffing after their funding ceases. In some cases, you may be planning to build your donor base while you are carrying out a project, and that increased donor base will provide future funding to sustain the project after the grant has ended.

I've mentioned research, as you may have noticed! Remember, a librarian can be a huge help in locating this kind of information about foundations. Don't forget to check for a state grant giving guide, which will tell you typical grant awards, etc. for funders in your state. Local (within state) grants are often the easiest to apply for and receive. Another great source of information is the Internet (see the sites recommended at the start of this forum) but keep in mind that this is one area in which libraries still have more information.

Response from Jim:

Again, start with a query. Contact the foundation and ask them about their grant program and the range of grants typically awarded each year. Ours ranges from around $5,000 to $15,000. Groups often ask for more, of course, but we give what our budget allows.

My sense is that many foundations will give a grant to an organization for more than one year--whether for the same project or for a different project. Some won't; one year and that's it for you. We don't have a hard and fast rule on this. We have funded some for only a year; others for three years. Very rarely do we fund an organization for more than three years.

We do this because we want to encourage organizations to develop a stable and sustainable funding base--that is, a member/donor base. We think that organizations should grow and carry on their program without remaining dependent on foundation grants. This frees us to pass the money around to some other struggling groups with worthy projects.

This may be as good a time as any to launch into my "don't depend on foundation grants" speech. Don't plan on bankrolling your work for animals on foundation grants. There are too few animal-friendly foundations out there; there is not enough foundation money out there to sustain the whole animal protection movement. Develop your own "development plan", your plan for growth in terms of income, members, volunteers, visibility in the community, capacity (animals rescued, adopted, neutered, etc.) and other elements of a good organization. Winning a foundation grant is always "iffy", so don't allow yourself to depend on them. You might as well play the lottery; your winnings will be bigger.

How do groups that are just starting out get funding?

Question from Angela:

Most of the organizations that offer grant money will only offer the money to proven facilities. But what of those of us who are just beginning, who are in it for the long run, but have no funding to even BUILD the facilities?? It isn't realistic to hope that some magic rescue fairy is going to bless me with everything I need (although that would be nice!). I am currently setting up some long-term fundraising projects, but they won't be enough to bring in the money I will need to build the needed facilities in the foreseeable future. It's so frustrating to have a dream and not know how to accomplish it, but I do realize that major corporations only fund proven projects because they are PROVEN, and new places are a gamble.

Are there any places out there that offer money to people who are just starting out? What practices should a start-up shelter/sanctuary/rescue begin in order to appeal to grantmakers after they have proven themselves? If anyone else has any suggestions for fundraising & management, I would love to hear from you too!

Response from Carol:

You sound unhappy at the idea that an agency has to prove itself to get funding. But that's like graduating college and being offered a job at starting level wages and asking, "why do all the high paying jobs only go to people who've proven themselves?"

Because that's the way life is!

So play the game - start proving yourself today. The key to your answer is in your question about practices that will help make you attractive to grantmakers:

Find out the basics of non-profit management so you can run a competent, professional operation from the get go. Go to all regional, state federation, or national humane conferences you can possibly afford and learn all you can about the programs you want to run. Learn the techniques of fundraising as well - there are many more sources for money than the few foundations that fund animal welfare. Information on all these topics can be found in books, on the Internet, and in courses in most any community. One example is this forum you're participating in right now - good for you!

Show that the money you do get is handled well, and used as effectively as possible. Be accountable for your activities - report to your donors on what you have done with the funds you've received. Don't shun small gifts - they are what you build on for the long term! The million dollar gifts will come in time, but the reason fundraising is known as "Development" rather than "Gold Rush" is because it is a process done over time, not a lottery hit. Those "proven facilities" you refer to are probably organizations that have been around, working hard, for 10 to 50 years or more. Plan for the long term.

Meanwhile, there are foundations that will support small, start-up groups. The mean annual revenue for PETsMART Charities grants in 2001 was $ 137,242. That means fully half the organizations we supported had a lower annual revenue than that.

I believe DJ&T, PETCO, The Bernice Barbour Foundation, and others also give to small groups - some even prefer to give to small groups and turn down applications from well-funded groups.

The catch is - they give rather small grants. For reasons explained in the answer to an earlier forum question, the grants you will get as a small group will be in proportion to your revenues.

Really, you are building an organization, not a facility. The facility will be a byproduct of the organization. Very few organizations that have nice facilities now started out that way, and many moved from bad to better to best facilities over the course of their growth.

Frustration is understandable when you have so many plans and dreams that seem a long way from fruition. But hopefully you will also find some joy in the process of building your organization - growing your programs each year, increasing the financial support you receive annually, and most of all, constantly increasing the number of animals you can help.

Response from Jim:

Foundations are reluctant to fund facilities for a brand-new group probably because they have - and we have - gotten burned. We have funded beginners on the basis of their zeal and big plans only to have them collapse the next year. Should I go into some of the reasons why they collapse? That would be a book, so let's just say because of human frailties and flaws.

Pardon the inappropriate analogy, but it's like breaking into show business: To get a paying part, you have to show a record of acting. Go ahead and act and build a record. Lots of people help animals without spending money on land and facilities. Organize a rescue and adoption program using foster homes. Organize a spay/neuter program by getting local veterinarians to accept a voucher system. There are lots of things you can do for animals without investing in facilities. Once you get your "act" moving and showing measurable results, you should be able to attract more funding. You may have to start with some small stuff and work your way up to that Big Dream.

Do grantmakers fund positions?

Question from a member:

We are an all volunteer group that would like to hire an Executive Director, but don't have the extra funds to do so. We are solvent, have a good membership base, and pay our bills on time but don't have any left over after animal expenses. It seems most grant foundations won't fund for a position. Is there ever a case where they will fund for a one year position so that an organization can use that time and that person to develop a stable funding plan?

Patty Finch's response:

There are foundations that fund positions. One such foundation in Arizona is the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust (Only funds projects in AZ and IN, with the exception of grants for the 911 tragedy.) For instance, last year they funded an executive director and office for the Arizona Trail Association. By the way, they are an organization that does fund wildlife rehabilitation, etc. I just use this as an example of how local (state or community) funders are often more flexible than national organizations.

I just want to emphasize one more time that your librarian can be your best ally in obtaining a grant. For instance, look at the resources available at Michigan State University libraries. University libraries are usually the best, but any librarian should be able to help you a great deal. You will note on the MSU web page that MSU has a "Michigan Grant Makers" guide and "Michigan Community Foundations". Most states have something like this. You will also see on the list "Lansing Area Grant Makers" and "Local Service Clubs". All these are local sources that are much more likely than a national foundation to fund a group. There is less competition and they WANT to fund projects which will benefit THEIR community. With a spay/neuter grant, for example, you can demonstrate how your project will ultimately save local tax dollars. Local grant givers are also more likely to be interested in capacity building, e.g., funding a director position. They also LOVE local coalitions. A local coalition is your best ticket to success.

Some local grants are small, such as those from a local service club. But each local funder is also a potential source of new volunteers, resources that can be shared, mentoring, and so on. A "show me the money" attitude is short-sighted. Try to establish partnerships with every funder. Most can put you in touch with resources beyond the financial help, such as telling you how to get a free checking account, suggesting possible new board members, or maybe a recent retiree who might be willing to take on the directorship!

Jim Mason's response:

Yes, but rarely. We have done this only a time or two where the organization had a great track record and stability. If the organization has a good, dynamic core group--a real team pulling together--and a get-up-and-go spirit, I would do it again. The bottom line is: a foundation does not want to throw precious money away--money that could go to another organization and directly help animals. So the foundation does not want to gamble; it wants its money to create concrete results, not just create a job for someone. If I do this again, I might pay out the grant in installments conditioned on the achievement of agreed-upon goals. Another approach might be to offer a "challenge grant", in other words, matching funds; if you can raise half the amount needed, we will match it.

Funding an umbrella organization for a coalition

Question from a member:

We are in a situation where all the local groups are working together on a spay/neuter program for the first time ever. We have the local humane society, rescues, and the vet association on board. However, none of the groups feels comfortable with the other being the designated grant recipient so we are setting up a neutral, umbrella 501(c)(3). This new umbrella will not have any money in it when we start applying for grants, but all of the existing non-profits have proven track records. Would you fund an umbrella organization with very little funding if the partner organizations have good accounting and track records?

Response from Carol:

It's wonderful that you have several groups working together in your community. Grantmakers like to see collaborative programs. If you start a new 501(c)(3) to handle the funding, though, you'll have to deal with all the same issues as any new organization: who is in charge (who is on the board, who has fiscal responsibility, who is keeping the books, what are your accounting procedures, etc.) If you don't quite trust each other to be the fiscal agent and handle the funds, then presumably you also wouldn't trust each other to handle the funds even if it comes in a check written to a new 501(c)(3). So presumably you'll have to get a separate bookkeeper, bank account, etc., all of which are costs your member groups will have to pay at first, until fundraising kicks in.

Foundation funding likely won't cover those overhead costs. Donations from individuals could be used, but consider whether you want this new coalition 501(c)(3) to be fundraising from individuals in the community. The member groups might see that as competition.

My suggestion is you look for a non-profit group that is not part of the coalition - probably not even in the animal welfare field, and ask if they would be your fiscal agent for this project. Look for a reputable non-profit that has a general interest in making your community a better place, that might be able to see a spay/neuter program as a move in that direction.

Response from Jim:

It may be Friday the 13th, but you have made my day! All local groups working together on a spay/neuter program? Sounds like a quantum leap to me. Congratulations to you all, and may your example be followed and repeated a thousand times across the country this year.

So the answer is YES... all other things being equal, of course. I would want to look at the board and bylaws of the umbrella organization. I would want to see a good system and good procedures for decision making. I would want to look at all things to ensure that the umbrella organization functions effectively so that the grant money goes to work and makes a difference for animals.
Kindness to animals builds a better world for all of us.