According to the online Business Dictionary, a charitable organization (also known as a "charity") is an "Incorporated or non-incorporated tax exempt body which (1) is created and operated for charitable purposes, (2) employs all its resources to those charitable activities that are under its direct control, (3) does not distribute any part of the income generated for the benefit of any trustee, trustor, member, or other private individual, and (4) does not contribute to or associate with political organizations." In addition to taking individual donations, charities often look for foundations or other funding organizations that fund charity organizations. The process of finding and attracting large funding organizations can be time-consuming, but it doesn't need to be difficult.
Finding and Landing Charity Funding
Hit the books. Go to your local library and ask if they have a "foundation library" -- a list of all foundations in the area that fund charitable organizations. Take your notebook and pencil and take detailed notes -- a separate page for each potential funding organization in your area.
Make contact.Pick your top 10 to 15 potential funding organizations (depending on the length of your list). Make sure their mission statements match your charity's needs. Read their websites to ensure that you are a good match. Call and ask for a meeting. Tell them who you are and why they should be interested in you. You'll have about two sentences to really make a connection, so be succinct.
Prepare for your meeting. Create a one-page flier about your organization, including your contact information. Use a large, easy-to-read font and keep it brief.
Attend your meeting. Keep the conversation open and short, and do not run longer than your allotted time. Some large organizations may only give you between three minutes and15 minutes to introduce yourself. Some smaller organizations will feel more laid-back, and may even keep you for 30 or 45 minutes to talk about your common interests.
DON'T come to a final agreement on funding during this introductory meeting. This is an opportunity to draw out their questions and concerns about your project. You may even learn something!
Go home and write a thank-you note to the person who met with you immediately. Get it in the mail the same day or the next day. This will draw their attention and make you stand out. Email is not a valid substitute.
Research the foundation's guidelines for proposals and deadlines. Some organizations, especially smaller ones, may not have published guidelines and accept applications on a rolling deadline. Larger organizations may have specific awards and only accept applications at certain times of the year.
Write a short proposal for a Planning Grant, asking for a small amount of money -- in the hundreds or low thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the organization. Address the funding organization's questions and concerns, which you should have ferreted out in your meeting.
Design the outline of a project that fits well with the organization's mission statement. A planning grant allows an organization to gain a vested interest in your charity and to feel a sense of ownership. In addition, larger organizations are more likely to give a small amount to a new charity than they are to trust an untested charity with a large sum.
Print and mail the proposal. Print the proposal on high-quality, professional paper. Write a short cover letter (ideally less than three-quarters of a page, and no more than a page) and print it on your letterhead, if you have it. Mail the hard-copy proposal, and also email a completed copy to the organization -- PDF format is best.
If your small proposal is accepted, create and implement the project as outlined in your proposal. Keep excellent records -- a project diary, all receipts, and all correspondence. Report to the funding organization using their guidelines. This is your chance to show them that you are a responsible organization.
The Big Guns
Now it's time to ask for that magic sum of money that would fulfill all of your needs. One or several foundations/organizations have a vested interest in your charity and you've planned well for the future. Using the same organization(s) that granted you Planning Grants, apply for larger sums for particular projects that match well with the organization(s) mission(s). Again, do your research. Larger foundations may have yearly awards that closely match your needs, or repeating annual funding.
Once you've exhausted your local resources, consider larger national funding sources. Follow the same process as above -- first a small Planning Grant, then ask for a larger allotment.
GuideStar and The Foundation Center are an excellent source of funding options, but you may have to pay a monthly fee for access to the information. You'll want to be established and have a track record when approaching large national organizations.
Consider international funding sources. Do your homework, and hire a good lawyer, since international policy is a complex topic for even the most savvy person.
Consider alternate sources. For example, Gifts in Kind International provides a vehicle for charitable organizations to receive gifts of goods rather than monetary donations. Don't overlook valuable sources of assistance because they "think outside the box."
Ellie Maclin is freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She contributes to online and print publications, specializing in topics such as historical places, archaeology and sustainable living. Maclin holds an M.S. in archaeological resource management from the University of Georgia, as well as a B.A. with honors in anthropology from the University of North Carolina.