Dymistifying the Family Foundation

“Panel of Grantmakers Shares Tips on the Approach”
By Susan Fields, CFRE

Any fundraiser who has researched a grant is familiar with the frustration of encountering a foundation that indicates “unsolicited proposals not accepted” in their guidelines. The sense of exclusivity surrounding many grantors makes nonprofits wonder what is necessary for their organization to be recognized in this complex and competitive arena. Although Family Foundations represent approximately 63% of all private foundation giving and contribute more that $20.6 billion to charities each year, many of them are an enigma in the world of philanthropy. This is particularly true of smaller grantmaking organizations which comprise almost half of the 38,000 Family Foundations in the United States and report less than $50,000 in giving annually. In this discussion panelists representing three distinctly different nonprofits shared their expertise on approaching Family Foundations for support:

Jarrett Jucas – Executive Director, Stonewall Community Foundation
Tuhina De O’Connor - Director of Donor Services, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Hana Sun – Program Officer, Cricket Island Foundation


“Treat the first check you receive from a foundation
as the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Jarett Lucas, Stonewall Community Foundation




“If your proposal is denied, ask for a follow-up meeting with the
foundation to request feedback and show that you are open to

Hana Sun, Cricket Island Foundation




Sharing your organization’s challenges with potential donors is an essential tool in building an ongoing dialogue.
Tuhina De O’Connor, Director of Donor Services, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors




What binds a family around the dinner table is often the same thing that binds their philanthropy
Program Moderator
Dara Major, Principal, Dara Major Philanthropy Consulting



Key Takeaways from the discussion:

• Establish connections. The best way to approach a foundation that does not accept unsolicited proposals is to develop a relationship with a person inside the foundation who will herald your cause. Circulating a list of the funder’s trustees and staff members throughout your organization is an excellent way to find people who are capable of opening previously closed doors.

• Send a letter. When networking fails to produce results, the second best method of approach is through a letter requesting information or an interview. Never send a proposal as it will be viewed as having flouted the funder’s guidelines. Your written communication, however, can serve as a means of engaging foundation representatives in a dialogue regarding acceptance of your organization as an applicant.

• Expect a Site Visit. The recent trend toward younger family members becoming actively involved in philanthropic leadership roles, has resulted in the expectation on the part of grantors to witness first-hand the successes and challenges of programs they are already supporting or planning on funding. This means that foundation representatives are likely to express interest in visiting your organization as well as maintaining other forms of ongoing contact.

• Do your research. Determine if your program is a match with the foundation’s values and parameters as well as its giving capacity. Check their tax returns on the Foundation Center and Guidestar websites for this information.

• Build your credibility. If your organization has never received a grant, apply for community-based funding through a local giving circle. A track record of support will make you far more appealing to potential investors.

• Communicate often. Once your organization has received the grant, touch base with the grantor at least three to five times annually to keep them abreast of your nonprofit’s successes, challenges, and the lives that have changed as a result of their generosity.

• Be detail-oriented in your approach. Family Foundations are uniquely different in their expectations, capacity, and grant making style—with decisions often based on the personal values of Board members. This will require a highly individualized method of researching, approaching, and maintaining the relationship once a grant is approved.

Become A Member

AFP NYC offers a variety of valuable member benefits to help you further your fundraising career.