How to approach philanthropic foundations
You hear it whispered sometimes. “They got the money from some bank.” Or “They got the money from this insurance firm.” Or sometimes, “They got the money from this organisation I’ve never heard of!”
The people in those overheard conversations may well be talking about philanthropic trusts and foundations. The reason why they remain a little obscure is because there are so many of them, and they fund a diverse range of activities. As a group, they are hard to come to grips with and hard to keep track of.
If you’re thinking about financial support for your arts project it could well be worth doing your homework on this potential source. There are over 300 charitable foundations in Australia and many fund creative projects.
But if you want to succeed in attracting funding from these organisations, you have to plan carefully, look for the right match and think about how your project helps the foundation’s aims.
First up – what are philanthropic foundations?
Philanthropic trusts and foundations are entities set up to distribute funds for charitable purposes. There are a number of different types; some are set up from the proceeds of a deceased estate. Some are set up by high net worth individuals as a way of giving back to the community.
Some are established by large corporate entities to standardise their grants to community organisations. Some are set up from multiple sources, in order to advance a specific cause.
And they are just as diverse in how they operate. They fund a range of different causes – health, education, sport, research or social issues. They can give out large or small amounts or both. Some give out money regularly, some only every so often. Some support recipients for multiple years, some only for discrete projects. They are all different.
Sounds confusing, right? Luckily they all have one thing in common. They all have clearly defined aims, and they fund projects which help advance those aims. In order to successfully attract funds from a foundation, your project has to match those aims – not the other way around.
Right, let me at ‘em!
Hold on there, tiger. There’s an important box you’ll need to tick before you go any further.
Most trusts and foundations will only fund applicants with deductible gift recipient (DGR) status, as endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). In addition, some will only fund income tax exempt charities.
The process for obtaining DGR and/or charitable status is complex, and if you’re interested in going down this path, you should head to the ATO’s website which will walk you through what’s needed.
Many arts organisations have DGR status. If you’re an individual though, you won’t – so you’ll need to do one of two things:
- Find an organisation with DGR status who will funnel the grant through their gift fund to you. This is a process called auspicing, and many arts organisations will do this for a small fee.
- Register with the Australian Cultural Fund. This is a platform managed by us, which allows artists to fundraise and offer their donors a tax deduction.
How do I find a philanthropic foundation to approach?
As we noted, there are hundreds of such foundations around Australia. The best source of information about which ones are active, what they fund and how often they call for applications is Philanthropy Australia’s Directory of Funders. It’s an invaluable source of information, and organisations can access it for a modest annual fee.
If you can’t access that directory, then it’s time to do some research. Look for projects like yours and check out their lists of supporters. If they have philanthropic funding, the relevant foundations will be acknowledged. Draw up your own list of foundations and head to their websites to find out more.
Which one is right for me?
As JFK didn’t quite say, ask not what a foundation can do for you, but what you can do for a foundation.
Remember that a trust or foundation will have very clear aims. So who it can give money to is governed by strict guidelines. If your project doesn’t align with those aims and comply with those guidelines, the chance of it getting funded is greatly reduced.
So look for a good match between your skills and interests, and those of the foundations you wish to apply to. You may well have to alter your project in order to align it with your chosen foundation’s aims. If you’re prepared to be flexible, you may well find that a revised project works just as well or better with a few tweaks.
Also, remember that most trusts and foundations are charitable in nature, meaning they are set up to progress social causes. There are a few which concentrate specifically on the arts, but most will be working in other areas, such as health or education, or a mixture.
Arts projects often work within a wide range of disciplines; projects which merge arts with childrens’ welfare or remote communities or medical research, for example, can work brilliantly. But a competitive application to a foundation will be a project which advances the foundation’s aims first and an arts project second.
A few more tips please?
- Read individual foundations’ guidelines carefully, including closing dates and requirements for support material. This way you won’t get tripped up on the detail.
- Ring the contact officer to discuss your project. This can be essential as they will be able to give you an idea of whether your application has a good chance of success or will need changes before you submit it.
- Look at the sort of projects which have been funded in the past. Similar, but not identical, projects are a good indication that they are open to hearing about your brilliant idea.
- Create a separate project for each foundation application. Don’t shop around the same idea to different funds. Each are unique and you should treat them as such by preparing a bespoke proposal.
- Most application rounds are highly competitive, so again – do your homework. Who else is likely to apply? What are they likely to be asking for and how will you differentiate your project from theirs?
- Don’t forget, they won’t just give you the money and let you do what you want. There will be milestones to hit and reports to fill out. The foundation will want to know about the impact of their support, so collect lots of documentary evidence about your work. And acquit the grant promptly and accurately.
See this approach in action
Check out our case studies with previous MATCH artists to see how they successfully applied this approach to their fundraising campaign.