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What You Need to Know to Win with Grants

Back in 2012, I began a four month fundraising experiment, while I was working as the development guy at Justifi, a cool social justice based kiruv project.

What would happen if I reached out cold, to 1000 US philanthropic foundations who give Jewish causes as one of their giving areas.

Could I successfully get five or more new $10,000+ donations for Justifi?

In this post I’ll share with you the lessons learnt from this experiment. With this clarity, you can make up you own mind if this could be worth an investment of your time and effort.

The project, had all elements that I thought would be of interest to potential foundation funders on both sides of the political spectrum who support Jewish causes. Although a kiruv project at its core, it has a social justice slant and a clear leadership focus.

This post is longer than usual. If you’re short on time, you may want to skip to the end where I present my findings and key take home advice.

This is what I did.

I started my experiment with a broad search for potential foundations, using a subscription to

The criteria I used was, ‘Any foundation that gives grants to ‘Jewish’ causes.’

(With the Foundation Center site, you can filter according to different criteria such as grant types, location ect.)

The list of foundations I found numbered more than a thousand. Out of these, about 75% of them stated they were not open to requests for funding. For this experiment, I included these foundations amongst those I reached out to, to see what the outcomes could be.

The combined giving annually for all these foundations was many hundreds of millions of dollars!

Could it not be possible to minimally secure at least a few new five/six figure $10K+ foundation grants?

To help clarify for you the ‘Philanthropic Foundation Forest’ I’m going to share a simple view of the different foundations types I found. For this experiment, I excluded Jewish Federations which is whole other sugya.

Foundations, I found, fit into three types. Each has its own nuance.

1. ‘Wealthy Guy with Foundation’
2. ‘Man with Mission’
3. ‘Someone Else's Money’

1. ‘Wealthy Guy with Foundation’
A ‘Wealthy Guy with Foundation’ is a giver, no different to any other large donor, who uses the tax or other advantages of a foundation to give donations to nonprofits.

On the whole, most of these foundations needed no formal application. You reach out to them in the same way you would any new big potential donor.

The advantage here is you get to see the donor's giving habits from the foundation’s 990 form, which you can view online. Here is a the link to the 990 finder.

2. ‘Man with Mission’
The ‘Man with Mission’ foundation is a way for the funder to channel funds to fulfill their personal mission or vision that they have for the world. Either their own projects or others projects that fit into their giving vision.

The advantage here, if you fit their giving criteria, is that sometimes they are on the lookout for projects that help them achieve their mission.

Even making a cold request could lead to you receiving funding.

3. ‘Someone Else's Money’ 
With 'Someone Else's Money’ foundation the trustees make the giving decisions and are not the original founder of the foundation. In many cases, the founder has died. These appointed trustees now have responsibility to give away his funds.

‘Someone Else's Money’ foundations can be just like the first two foundation types. The opportunity here is that the trustees are quite often free to give away funds, according to their individual or shared giving preferences.

A connection to one trustee may be enough to secure a donation.

Mistakes I made (so you don’t have to.)

First mistake. To think that foundations that say they’re not open to funding requests would be open.

The truth: Foundations that are not open to requests are almost always, not open to requests!

Second mistake. To think that foundations that were open to requests for funding, would actually be open to and interested in funding your project.

The truth: So many of the 25% who say they were open to funding requests were not at all interested in any new requests.

Third Mistake. To think that foundations who say they support ‘Jewish causes’ support Jewish causes. When you delve deeper you see that so many of these foundations support almost none or no Jewish causes at all.

The truth: The sad reality was after trying so many of them, I found is that such foundations have no interest in funding anything Jewish.

Fourth Mistake. To think that those who were open to receive funding requests would give funding on the strength of a great project and grant proposal that fitted their giving criteria.

The truth: I found that in almost all cases, without any personal connection to a trustee, the grant request was worthless.

Although my personal experiment was not a success, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In my last six years of guiding and coaching and consulting Mosdos Torah and kiruv organizations full time, I’ve found more encouraging findings for some organizations I’ve worked with.

Where as my experiment was restricted to a project, albeit with US non profit status, that operated outside North America - my lack of success is certainly not reflective of the success you could see.

There are opportunities for Mosdos Torah to get funding from foundations who specifically limit their funding to projects in a specific city or state and give to Jewish causes.

This is because these foundations have made their main giving criteria, to support (educational/ Jewish/ social welfare ect) projects in their city or state.

Key Take Home Advice

- To save you much time and effort, filter your search criteria to foundation support in your city or state, as this was one of the biggest criteria for actually giving.

- When a project has a non kiruv aspect, this can help to broaden the potential for support. Especially where your project is actually servicing a need in the community.

- When making a search by city or state, there is a good chance to find a connection to the foundation’s main donor or trustee from within your present supporter base.

- The more you utilize your connections, like any fundraising efforts, and see the opportunity as a longer term investment of effort and relationship building, you will be much more likely to see worthwhile fruits from your efforts.

- An additional way to maximize this opportunity is to utilize your board and social networks when trying to make a connection to foundations. E.g You can bring a list of foundations/trustees to your next board meeting and see which of your board members has a connection.

- Even without a connection, it could be worth your time and effort to reach out to the handful of foundations for which your project or organization fit their giving criteria. This could be a valuable new source of funding for your projects.

So you’ve read this far, and you're wondering how much did my personal ‘foundation experiment’ bring in?

The goal was to get five or more new $10,000+ donations. For the investment of time that I had to put in, it wasn't worth it for an outcome less than that. So what successes did I see?

Drum roll….

The one donation I received (: came from a call to a trustee on a 'Someone Else's Money' foundation. We schmoozed and it turned out I was connected to an old friend of his, who had become a baal teshuva!

His initial donation was $2,000. The next year it grew to $10,000!

B’Hatzlacha Raba


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