For someone new to fundraising for a non-profit it is not at all obvious how to approach a foundation. Some of us at ISEIF have been in your shoes for more years than we’ve been in our shoes, so we get that. Few errors are fatal here. But here are a few ways that people commonly go astray.
Please read the website. We worked hard on it and it makes us sad when people don’t read it. If the website says we don’t fund what you’re doing, please don’t apply. Your time is valuable to your organization, and preparing applications to foundations that can’t fund you is not a good use of it. Also, magical thinking is not a good financial strategy (though we understand that sometimes it’s necessary when you work at a non-profit, and we love you for your capacity to do it).
If you don’t have a valid 501(c)(3) ruling from the IRS, you’re ineligible here. If you had one and it’s been revoked because you didn’t file your 990’s, you should fix that before you approach us. It’s seriously better if you find that before we do.
Assuming you’re a qualified non-profit doing work that seems to fit within our mission, and you’re wondering whether or not to apply, call us. We say that all over our website, but people still apply without talking to us first. We know it’s intimidating to call program officers, but we promise that we’re the least scary people you ever met.
We emphasize outreach here. So don’t just rely on your technical knowledge on energy and talk about outreach and organizing as if those things will take care of themselves. They won’t. Technical accuracy is hard, and community outreach is hard. Think about your avenue for reaching people. If you have an absolutely perfect idea and no way to tell people about it, we may admire you a lot but we’re probably not going to fund you.
What if you’ve been funded by us and things aren’t going well? Tell us! We’re actually pretty good at figuring that stuff out from the massive amounts of data we force you to report to us. (Kidding!) (Not really!) You might as well tell us that things are not going as expected. While we do actually go pretty heavy on the data, we’re a place that allows you to guess wrong the first time. If you thought you’d reach 10,000 people and you’ve only managed to get to 6,000, we’ll talk about what you did, how it went, why the results are less than you’d hoped for. Then we might even invite you to reapply with a more realistic outreach number. We’re that kind of place. We’re not trying to make our grantees fail. We want them to succeed, and the great majority of them do. Sometimes we’ll tell you that another grantee’s approach seems to be going better than yours. This isn’t to make you feel bad. It’s to suggest that you adjust how you do what you’re doing for a better outcome, so we can continue to fund you. Transparency is best. It saves trouble later.