Martin Teitel's Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal (Emerson & Church, 2006) has been a staple for grantseekers wishing to get an inside view of a foundation's decision-making process. Six years later he has revised the classic work with The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals the Secrets You Need to Know (Emerson & Church, 2012). The new book continues along the same vein, but expands upon the original by adding a section titled "Myths About Foundations" as well as a concluding chapter that offers answers to hard-nosed questions from grantees.
I'll start with "Myths About Foundations" (Part two) that elaborates on some common misconceptions of funders. Two of these include "Charming the foundations will conceal your flaws" and "It's fine to embellish--everybody does it." In "Charming" he states that while marketing and advertising tricks will always exist, successful grant seekers utilize a more value-oriented approach that denotes steadiness and reliability. Regarding embellishment, his advice is "don't lie, don't stretch the truth, don't exaggerate" and recommends calling a new piece of work just for what it is, something experimental that isn't yet up and running. In making the case for such a project, cite your track record, your successes, and your ongoing and already-funded work.
"Thank You for Your Proposal," (Part one) remains pretty much the same as in the 2006 publication, providing useful information on writing a letter of inquiry, how to conduct yourself during in-person meetings with funders, and gives an inside view on how foundation staff and boards decide to fund a project. As the former Executive Director of the Cedar Tree Foundation, Teitel spent several decades poring over proposals, and uses that to share inside tips, such as to "present solutions, not problems" and "don't threaten the funder." The latter stems from a story during the Cold War when he politely declined to fund a university conference of academics talking about the possibility of nuclear war. Weeks later the president of the university called to tell him that "there will be global thermonuclear war, and it will be your fault" and promptly hung up. Teitel says that it is a mistake to lay the responsibility for fixing the problem at the feet of the funder--it won't help you get money.
The "Grant Seeker's Reality Check" (Part three) also remains the same, with sections on the "Six things you can do to help your proposal make the first cut" (here are three: write a compelling summary, list concrete, specific outcomes, and get the proposal in early) and "Eight red flags foundations are wary of" (a few: high staff turnover, first-time filmmakers/writers, and "hired gun" fundraisers).
Perhaps the most intriguing section of the book is Teitel's "Administering the Truth-Detector Test to America's Charitable Foundations" (Part four) where he answers in the most honest way possible pointed questions from grantees. For example he answers true to this statement: "the chance of a local nonprofit securing funding from a major foundation is slim to none." Teitel explains that this is due to scale, and local groups are better served seeking funding from local funders that know their community. He informs grant seekers that it is also true that "rather than helping nonprofits cover their operating costs, grant makers overwhelmingly prefer to make grants that support specific projects or direct delivery of services." The reason is that foundations are under a lot of pressure to show results as well as to fund work that they see as directly helping the community.
The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals the Secrets You Need to Know can be found in all Foundation Center libraries under call number 770 TEI ULT. Other similar proposal writing and grant seeking guides can be found in the previous post Winning Grants as well as in GrantSpace's Knowledge Base Articles on Proposal Writing.
The Foundation Center--New York
This post first appeared in Nonprofit Literature Blog.