Seeking Foundation Support
How do I get started?
Should I contact the Office of Foundation Relations or the Office of Sponsored Projects?
How do I determine whether my project will appeal to foundations?
How can the Office of Foundation Relations help me?
What approvals will I need?
Who contacts the foundation?
How do I actually apply for funding?
If the foundation provides no specific guidelines, what should my proposal include?
Do foundations allow indirect costs?
How long does it take to get foundation funding?
What are my obligations if I receive funding?
What are RFPs and Limited Applications?
Talk with your department chairperson and your dean about your ideas and how to carry them forward. Determine what institutional support there may be for your project; often foundations want to see that the institution has made its own commitment to the project being proposed. Also, your department chair and dean will need to approve any applications for outside funding. Once you have a sense of what internal support will be available, you will be in a better position to seek external support.
Contact Sponsored Projects if you wish to approach a federal or state funding source (such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts).
Contact Foundation Relations if you're interested in exploring private foundation support for your project or research, or for developing a new program or initiative. In addition, many foundations have well-defined topical interests that may align with your project. Depending on the nature of your project, you may work with both offices.
If you are based at the Dartmouth Medical School, the Thayer School of Engineering, or the Tuck School of Business, please start by consulting our colleagues in these affiliated offices.
Foundations vary widely in their priorities and areas of focus, and many periodically review and revise their programs in response to changing conditions. Our Funding Resources page offers links to sites where you can learn more about foundations and how they operate.
While foundations seek projects that address their identified focus areas, they may favor programs that also exhibit one or more of the following characteristics (though this list is not exhaustive): multi-institutional collaboration; interdisciplinary programs; college-community partnerships, especially if in conjunction with local or regional K-12 schools; creative and economical uses of technology for teaching and learning; service to underserved populations; or access to higher education for non-traditional students. Foundations often wish to support projects that will have an impact beyond the initiating institution and/or projects that will develop new solutions to persistent problems. Foundations may also seek reassurance that the initiating institution will commit its own resources to the proposed project and that there is a plan in place to continue the project, if appropriate, when the foundation’s support is exhausted.
You may find it useful to review some examples of projects at Dartmouth that have won foundation support.
Our office maintains relationships with many foundations. In those cases, we can share our direct knowledge of the foundation and frequently we can provide information or insights not available through its web site. We can guide you on the best way to make contact and we can help forestall potential conflicts or awkwardness if others at the College already have proposals before the foundation.
In general, we can assist you in identifying appropriate foundation prospects and strategizing your approach. We may be able to put you in touch with others at Dartmouth and elsewhere who are involved in similar projects or related research. We can also keep your focus area in mind and contact you if we notice that a particular foundation initiative dovetails with your project. The decision to approach a foundation is best made in consultation with your chair, dean, and our office. As you move forward, our staff can consult with you on writing the proposal, preparing the budget, and reporting on your results.
You will need to complete a Proposal Routing Form for any proposal submitted to an external funding agency, including a foundation. Forms and instructions are available on the web site of the Office of Sponsored Projects. You will need, at a minimum, the approvals of your department chair and dean, especially if your project will require time released from other obligations, additional lab or office space, or other additional resources.
This varies depending on the foundation. We can work with you to determine how the project can best be presented and by whom. The initial contact might be a phone call, a letter, a proposal, or a meeting. Members of our staff may have personal contacts (program officer, colleague at another institution, faculty member, board member) who can advise on the most effective approach and give additional guidance regarding the funding process.
Each foundation has its own procedures and most maintain web sites providing guidance to applicants. Study these carefully, but contact our office as well because these can sometimes be out of date.
Often the first approach is a 1-2 page succinct presentation of the project in a letter of inquiry. On the basis of this letter, the funder may invite submission of a full proposal -- the specified length can vary from one page to twenty pages. Some foundations outline detailed requirements for the proposal, while others provide only a general description of what it should include.
There are a number of proposal-writing guides available. One good resource is the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization that offers a wide variety of resources for dealing with foundations. They offer free, on-line courses, including a Proposal Writing Short Course and Proposal Budgeting Basics.
Keep in mind that foundations often want their grants to make a significant impact on society, a geographic region, or a discipline, and they want to bestow their grants where the funds will yield the greatest results. When thinking through your proposal, consider the following questions:
• What is the issue to be addressed? Frame your project in the context of a larger issue (global, regional, national, societal) and show how your project will address that issue or otherwise move the field forward. Is the timing propitious?
• Why is Dartmouth the ideal place to address the issue?
• What will have changed by the end of the project?
• How will you accomplish those changes?
• What do you need (time, money, facilities, people) to do it?
• How will you gauge your success?
• Why are you sending this particular proposal to this particular foundation? Can you make any special appeal to this particular source?
Facilities & Administration Costs, also called indirect or overhead costs, are costs arising from the normal operation of the College and not directly attributable to the project being proposed for funding. Some funders, especially government agencies, allow the College to recoup such costs, usually at a rate that has been negotiated between the College and the Department of Health and Human Services. When such costs are to be recovered, they are built into the proposal budget from the outset. Most foundations, however, prohibit use of their grants for indirect costs and the very few that allow it generally set their own rate.
It is usually a long process, months rather than weeks. Funding decisions are often made by boards of directors that meet infrequently and need to receive materials at least one month prior to a meeting. You should contact your department chair, dean, and the Office of Foundation Relations well in advance of your need for funding.
Your obligations will be spelled out in a letter you will receive with the grant. Typically, you will be required to provide narrative and financial reports periodically during the grant period. Some foundations provide very detailed reporting instructions, others do not. In the absence of specific directions, your report should track with the proposal you submitted, the better to show that you accomplished the activities and goals you described there. Between reports, it’s a good idea to maintain informal contact with the program officer responsible for your grant.
A foundation issues a Request for Proposals, or RFP, to solicit proposals that address specific problems that the foundation has identified as priorities. The requirements for the proposals may be quite detailed and may even specify the approach to the problem that the foundation wishes to support. The RFP may also require proposals to meet other criteria such as dollar amount, time limits, or institutional collaboration. When the Office of Foundation Relations receives RFPs, it distributes them as appropriate within the institution. Some RFPs limit the number of applications that will be accepted from each institution. The Office of the Provost has developed procedures for responding to such Limited Application RFPs.
Still have questions?
Contact us at 603-646-1257 or at Foundation.Relations@Dartmouth.EDU.
Last Updated: 12/8/10