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Foundation Operations: Grantmaking-> Establishing a Grantmaking Program-> Guidelines

What should go in our grant guidelines?

A foundation's grant or application guidelines are one of its most important documents. How the foundation describes itself in those pages – its mission, purpose, program areas, grantmaking approach, and funding processes – is how grantseekers (the foundation's main and most important audience) will perceive the foundation's goals and learn to structure their requests for funding. If the grant guidelines are vague or confusing, the foundation may receive vague and confusing proposals in return.

Grant guidelines typically include the following components (click on the underlined words to see examples from other health foundations; you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to access some of these documents):

  • Statement of the foundation's mission and, often, its vision and values;

  • Description of the grant programs or funding interests, purpose, and priorities;

  • Eligibility requirements – what type of organizations applicants must be and any geographic requisites to be eligible for consideration;

  • Funding restrictions – a list of what the foundation will not fund, such as individuals; scholarships; financial assistance; conferences or fundraising events; capital campaigns;

  • Review criteria or the process for making decisions;

  • Application deadlines;

  • How to apply – what type of application process the foundation uses. Many foundations are now using a two-step application process where eligible candidates interested in requesting a grant are required to first submit a brief letter of inquiry or intent (typically 2-3 pages). Other foundations may request a full proposal as a first step. Some foundations use an application cover sheet to help staff quickly identify the request and find needed information; and

  • Letter of intent or proposal instructions – the specified length and what the application should include; the required attachments (such as a copy of the applicant's IRS final determination letter for 501 (c)(3) status; project budget; operating budget; audited financial statement; list of board and staff members; annual report); and the submission information – how many copies of the application should be submitted, to whom, and to what address.

In some communities, regional associations of grantmakers have developed common grant application forms so applicants don't have to re-create information each time they apply to a different foundation.

Foundations can also help grantseekers by including a “frequently asked questions” section in their grant guidelines or on their Web site. Other funders are starting to utilize an online eligibility quiz.

 

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