How to Raise Funds For Your Socially Engaged Project, Part I: Finding Foundations & Philanthropists

Pictured: Digital Farm Collective, a project by Creative Capital grantee Matthew Moore (2008 Visual Arts). The author, Stephanie Bleyer, worked with Moore to plan and fundraise for the project.
I support artists across disciplines creating social advocacy artwork. What ties them all together is that they are trying to use their creativity to affect change. I have raised millions of dollars for my clients’ production budgets and engagement campaigns––without the help of crowdfunding, which from my experience, can take over your life. In this three-part blog post, I will tell you how I do it.
A Note About Fiscal Sponsorship
If you don’t have 501c(3) status, you’ll need a fiscal sponsor to receive most grants. If you are unclear whether a sponsor is necessary, call the foundation. I once won a $400k grant for a client, which I applied for through a fiscal sponsor. I later found out that fiscal sponsorship was unnecessary for this grant.  As a result, I lost three percent of the grant to the fiscal sponsor.
In general, be prepared to turn over three to eight percent of each grant to your fiscal sponsor. Having said that, you can (and should) negotiate their percentage. Some will serve as simple pass-throughs; others will do your taxes, manage your books, review your contracts and provide backend support. My absolute favorite fiscal sponsor is Sustainable Markets Foundation. Fractured Atlas is also a good one.
Note: Some government grants will not fund a fiscally sponsored project.
Creating Your Master Proposal
I start by spending six to eight weeks developing a master grant proposal. I’ll comb through questions from dozens of grant proposal guidelines so this master document covers everything that funders could possibly ask. Throughout the fundraising campaign, I will pluck language from this master proposal for LOIs (letters of interest), one-pagers, e-mail solicitations and full grant proposals. Do this work up front and you’ll save yourself tons of time in the long run. This process will also help you think through timing, budget, metrics, partners, marketing, media plans, advisory board, staffing needs, etc…
Finding Prospects  
While I’m creating the master proposal, I assemble a list of 100 fundraising prospects, which I will ultimately pare down. I cast a very wide net to include every philanthropist and foundation investing in the issue area and the art discipline, as well as foundations that are focused on specific geographies, genders or races. The issue funders (e.g., health, education, environment, women’s development, etc.) may not fund art, but they understand the importance of advocacy and communications and are often eager to support creative efforts that can serve as a bullhorn for their cause.
There are a number of ways to find prospective funders. Take a look at the annual reports, 990s and sponsorship pages for your partner groups. If your work is closely aligned or if your project will positively impact that partner, their funders may be interested in your project. Then take a look at who sponsors relevant conferences, events and workshops, and who has funded your competition. Spend some time on the funders’ websites and look up their profiles in the Foundation Center‘s online database (you’ll need to join to have access).
Organizing Your Prospects
I create a spreadsheet and share it with my colleagues via Google Drive. The spreadsheet has four tabs: issue area funders (e.g., environment, health and girls), art discipline funders (i.e., film, visual arts and dance), corporate funders, and individual funders. Once I’ve done this, I plug the following fields into each tab:

•  Organization
•  About The Org
•  Org’s URL
•  Org’s Primary Contact
•  Contact’s Email/Phone
•  Contact Status (what’s the next step for us with this contact?)
•  History of Contact (have we emailed, met in person or spoken by phone?)
•  Relevant Program Area
•  Application Deadlines
•  Notable Application Guidelines
•  Referred by (do we have a personal connection to anyone in the foundation?)
•  Board/Executive Leadership of Note
•  Grantees with Synergy
•  Date of Application Submission
•  Priority Level (on a scale of 1-3 how important are they?)

Building this list and maintaining it is a great job for an intern or research assistant.  (For tips on managing and utilizing interns, check out a blog post I wrote for Working Films.)
Want to learn more about fundraising? Check out Part 2 from this series, which covers writing and submitting the proposal, and what to do after you get the grant. Also, don’t miss Stephanie’s June 9th webinar, “Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign“, in which you’ll learn how to produce effective campaigns for artwork with a social justice focus. Click here to register.

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