There is a large private philanthropy universe that provides foundation grants. U.S. Foundations gave approximately $45 billion each year to thousands of charitable causes. The most famous and largest foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives over $2 billion a year in global giving.
There are around 60,000 foundations in the United States. Many foundations have been created by wealthy individuals and families, who wanted to donate their funds to various causes. Some foundations have been created by corporations to give back to their local communities. The largest proportion of foundation giving is targeted toward health and education. However, giving varies by foundation purpose and location.
Foundations are designated as non-profits by the Internal Revenue Service. Tax exempt status allows foundations to have investment profits that are not taxed. Foundations use investment income to give foundation grants to non-profits and select individuals. By law foundations must give a portion of their income every year, which is typically 5%. The remaining money stays invested.
Because of the recession economy that made headlines in 2008, foundations lost large portions of their assets and endowments. However, foundations continue to give and research indicates that foundations are slowly recovering from the economic climate.
The Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) is one the largest sites devoted to foundation giving. The site has a database of foundation funders and also publishes research on trends in giving.
Foundation grant applications are different from federal grants. Every foundation has its own application process and there are few standards in foundation giving. Many foundations are not receptive to receiving unsolicited grant proposals. These foundations give only to pre-selected applicants and new organizations must be invited to apply. However, many foundations are open to receiving applications. The majority of foundations have web sites with application guidelines and instructions on applying.
There are some foundation grants for individuals, which are usually scholarships, art grants, or research grants. These grants help individuals complete school or engage in an innovative project. A select number of foundations also give awards or leadership grants to The MacArthur Foundation gives fellowships to individuals who excel in their field. One cannot apply for this fellowship, but are anonymously nominated.
How to Apply for Foundation Grants
The first step is to search for foundations that give to your geographic area or cause. Free searches exist on GuideStar.org and FoundationCenter.org. Even plugging in key words in a search engine will yield foundation web sites.
Most foundations have web sites that have the application guidelines and sometimes forms. Other foundations use online systems, which requires free registration to apply.
Deadlines among foundations vary greatly. As a rule of thumb, it is best to apply to corporations at the beginning of the calendar year (January). Foundations typically give disbursements either in December or June, therefore, application deadlines are 60-90 days before deadline.