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  • Writer's pictureTeri O'Connor

Breaking the Foundation Barrier

You may have asked yourself a hundred times, “How are other schools getting grants from foundations and corporations?”, “Why can’t we seem to gain access to these resources?”, “Are some schools just lucky?” and many other questions like these.

Over the past ten years foundations have given millions of dollars for extraordinary causes, and supplemented the mission of thousands of worthy nonprofits. In fact, gifts from foundations have received so much attention, that many Christian Schools have begun to think of grants as the way to rescue their school. They have been sold on the idea that they can survive and grow on “other people’s” money. Much like the person who buys lottery tickets rather than working hard to qualify for a better job, schools who stake their futures on this promise of “easy money” are often left disheartened, disappointed, and sadly, sometimes bankrupt.

The truth is that foundations must be just as fiscally responsible for the funds they donate as corporations who invest in a new project, in some cases even more so. Much the same as corporations must answer to shareholders, foundations have an obligation to donors in how the money they have given is spent. No foundation trustee wants to admit that funds were given to a school project which never got underway, or was never completed. For this reason, foundations generally like to give gifts in the latter stages of a campaign. Most foundations enjoy providing the “icing on the cake” or “capstone” gifts, those that put the recipient over a predetermined goal, or matching gifts which will inspire others to give more generously.

This is a well-known nuance of working with grant writing to foundations. Please beware of any organization or entity that tries to sell you a bill of goods based upon foundation monies to fund the needs of your school. Foundation grants are simply a way to supplement the development work that is already being done, not the answer to avoiding donor solicitation.

Since foundations are obligated to their own donors to be fiscally responsible with the funds given to them, there are some key success indicators that will be reviewed prior to consideration.

Is the school currently in a campaign to raise funds for this project?Has the board committed their own resources to the project?Does the school have a donor base sufficient in size and capacity to raise the amount needed?Have donors agreed to commit resources to the project?Does the school have a strong image and presence within the community?

In some cases, foundations will provide matching funds at the beginning of a campaign. In these instances, a school must provide a clear and specific plan for how funds will be raised. One way to demonstrate responsibility to foundations and be considered for these inaugural funds is by having a feasibility assessment done prior to the campaign.

An assessment study will not only determine financial feasibility, but will also demonstrate a school’s readiness to conduct a campaign. It will answer questions regarding the strength of the school’s image, its ranking as a charitable priority by donors, the opportunity to include volunteers and community members in the campaign, as well as a number of other key success indicators. While a study will provide a demonstration of commitment for grant consideration, the larger bonus will be that the school is able to determine donor support for the project, and will know if it is ready to begin raising funds.

Remember, foundations want to be ensured that a recipient of one of their grants will indeed be able to complete the project that the money was given for. Therefore, foundations commonly do not give to non-profits until approximately 80% or more of the goal has been raised. It is in this way that they are able to ensure that they are good stewards of their donors resources and that those they partner with will also be as responsible.


O'Connor, T. (2006). Breaking the Foundation Barrier. Christian School Education Magazine (CSE). Colorado Springs: ACSI

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