The Untapped Opportunity of Private Foundations for K-12 School Funding

Why wouldn't you focus on the $600 billion worth of grants given out by the government? Why should you instead concentrate on the $10 billion coming from private foundations?
There are four reasons why schools should focus on Private Foundations:

  1. Government grants are driven by government policy. You'll receive funding as long as you accept to follow the government's priorities. With private foundations, it is the opposite. You set your own priorities, and you propose your key initiatives to a set of prospective foundations. You end up with a set of funding partners that align with and support YOUR funding decisions.
  2. Private foundations may have smaller annual amounts to give out but being more stealthy they receive much fewer applications.
    Less competition usually means a higher success rate.
  3. Private foundations, being less visible, are in short supply of meaningful investments. They will hold on to a good partnership when they find it.
    If you can prove your impact, it is easier to build a multiyear unrestricted funding relationship.
  4. Private foundations are much more responsive in terms of time-to-fund, regulatory requirements, your particular funding priorities, etc.


What is the catch?

Since there is no RFP (request for proposal) you have to go out hunting for right-fit funding opportunities.

As a result, the quality of your research becomes the most crucial part of your grant seeking process.

First, here are the best databases out there: Grant Spy, GrantStation, Christian Foundation Grants, Urban Ministry,, AFI Grants Navigator, Fundsnet, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Foundation Directory Online.
As with most things, 'you'll get what you pay for' and the best and most up to date databases cost the most (some more than $1,000 a year).
Check with your local library for already purchased subscription-based databases.
Many libraries in larger cities provide a committed computer for grant prospecting, and some have professionals available to help.

But how can you hack the private foundation research process?

By using these three searches we've been hitting a 63%+ award rate every month:

⁍ Search by foundation interest keywords (adult teens, K-12 education, early childhood education, summer camps, young girls in STEM...) in your state.
⁍ Search by similar or competing recipient schools (statewide and regionally).
⁍ Search for foundations that are hyperlocal in nature (ie. foundations that fund several causes in your neighborhood such as Taco Bell, Walmart...)

*Remember to sort by total annual funding amount and most recent funding date to start from the most relevant foundations.

Finally, grant writing is above all else extremely time-consuming.
Finding the time to write is perhaps what is holding you back from a ton of funding opportunities.
So here are a few ways to manage the process efficiently:

Choose one of the best online project management tools (Asana, Trello, Basecamp). Typically, the free plan of each of these will cover your needs.
Create a project for each of your school needs (chrome books, facilities upgrade, new classroom, STEM program, summer camp).

Each project will have three categories of tasks:

i. Research: list of foundations that result from your research
Within each of these tasks (foundations), you will list actions relating to more in-depth evaluation (causes, track record, outreach via phone and email...)

ii. Document collection: list of documents needed for each submission
Each foundation requires certain unique and some generic documents.
By listing and hunting down each document separately you'll be able to link up each document with the one or more application it's needed for.

iii. Grant writing:
Once you've confirmed that a foundation is a good fit and you've collected all the required documents for the application submission you can start writing. Break up your writing into several sections (tasks) that will be packaged together before submission.

Final tips:

  • The earlier you submit, the better, as the deadlines approach the pile of applications increases and your chances of success plummet.
  • Always reach out by email and phone to each foundation before starting the LOI or application (except when they explicitly forbid it). Have a list of high-quality questions to help gauge your chances of success and filter out the bad fits.
  • Make sure to match your asking amount with the foundation's historical awards.
  • When applying to a local foundation, make a list of its board members, and circulate the names to your school's key stakeholders. Finding a connection will significantly improve your chances of success.