Foundation Partners Fundraising Series, Part 3: 3 Steps to Find Out if Potential Partners Are a Good Fit

This PLTW Blog entry is an excerpt from the PLTW Fundraising Toolkit. You can download the full toolkit here.

Once you identify potential foundation partners, you’ll want to spend time researching and evaluating the organizations to ensure they are a good fit for your PLTW program before moving forward.

Get started with the steps outlined below.

1. Conduct initial research on their websites.

Once you’ve identified potential foundation partners, conduct an online search to see if they have websites. Foundations with websites typically share grantmaking guidelines or FAQs that describe the scope, size, and timing of their grantmaking, as well as application directions for grantseekers.

2. Determine your level of alignment.

When researching a foundation, the big question to answer is: “Is there alignment between my district’s and/ or school’s goals and this foundation’s grantmaking?” In order to determine alignment, research the answers to the following four questions:

  • Whom does the foundation seek to support? The focus of this question is around the end user the foundation is trying to help with its funding.

    As part of this step, it may be helpful to research former grantees. We recommend checking the organization’s website for more details. For those organizations that do not list grantees on their website, you may want to try looking up the foundation on Guidestar.org, which is a free tool that allows users to look up the tax forms of charitable organizations. After creating an account and looking up the foundation’s tax form (called Form 990), you may view their grantees and the award amounts under Part XV: Supplementary Information of their tax forms.

    Seeing who else a foundation has funded will help determine the organization’s area of focus, and in turn, help you learn if they have historically had interest in supporting groups like yours.

    After you have some insight into the foundation’s area of focus, we encourage you to spend some time thinking about how the foundation’s goals align with yours. If you see distinct alignment, that’s a strong indicator that you’ll want to continue down the path with the potential partner. If you see little alignment, it may be best to refocus your efforts on other potential partners.
  • What kinds of groups do they fund? Independent and community foundations typically fund nonprofit organizations that qualify for public charity status. When it comes to funding K-12 public education, some foundations award public schools directly, but others may work with a district education foundation or nonprofit organization that works directly with the school system. Based on your research, does the foundation have policies or an interest around awarding grants directly to schools or to a nonprofit that fundraises support for your district or school?
  • How do they award (and how much)? This is a two-part question around the nature of the foundation’s grants and how much funding it typically awards to a grantee. Foundations usually award either program or general operating support grants. Program grants are intended for a specific programmatic purpose. General operating grants are open-ended and allow grantees to use funding however the grantee sees fit. Would the foundation you are researching support program grants like PLTW for your school?

    The second part of this question is around how much the foundation awards grantees. It may be helpful to consult a list of previous grantees to determine a range. Based on your research, would your grant request amount be “right-sized” for the amounts the foundation typically appears to award?
    • Where do they fund? Finally, it is likely that foundations have some sort of geographic focus – whether it’s a country, state, county, city, or a combination of these. Does – or would – the foundation you are researching make grants in your community?

    After answering these four questions, you should have a clearer picture as to whether the foundation you are researching may have interest in hearing more about your district’s and/or school’s goals around starting or supporting your PLTW programs.

    3. Learn about their expectations of grantees.

    Expectations and requirements of grantees can vary widely among foundations.

    Some might require grantseekers to apply via an online application, submit a proposal via email, or participate in a different form of applying for funds. If awarded, you may find that one foundation wants to be very involved with a grantee’s work and requires the grantee to participate in meetings with the foundation and/or all other fellow grantees. They may require site visits and regular communication. Other foundations may simply request one or two written reports during the entire grant period.

    If possible, try to learn how the foundation expects to interact and how much information they would expect – both during the application and grant periods.