Faculty Seeking Funding

Boston University’s Office of Foundation Relations (OFR) exists to help members of the BU community secure foundation support for their research, teaching, and outreach projects.

This website is meant to guide you through the process of seeking foundation support for your work. In most cases, we encourage you to contact a foundation directly to determine if your project aligns with its mission and strategy and to learn more about the process for requesting support.

The entire process—from initial contact to final decision by a foundation’s board of directors—takes six months to a year, on average. You are best advised to start the process very well in advance of the time the funding will be needed.

There are a handful of restricted foundations that should only be approached for funding through or with clearance from Foundation Relations, at the request of either the foundation’s leadership or the university’s. These are foundations that expect funding discussions to center on institutional priorities and that in most cases have explicitly asked that funding requests carry the endorsement of the president and be conveyed through Foundation Relations.

Please read through the step-by-step overview below, and contact us if you have questions not addressed here.

Prepare for Your Funding Search

Philanthropic foundations and charitable organizations are committed to specific missions and agendas, including: improving STEM education in the US, strengthening mainline Protestant churches in the US, preserving the environment and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, discovering a cure (not just a treatment) for Type I diabetes, and more. Increasingly, foundations are also committed to highly specific strategies for accomplishing those missions and even specific ways of measuring impact and progress—their social “return on investment.”

To begin identifying potential funders, you need to answer the following questions as specifically as possible:

  • Need: What problem/need will your project address? Why is it important, and why is it important to address at this time?
  • Approach: How will you address this problem/need? What methods, tools, and approaches will you take? What distinguishes your approach from others’ working in this area?
  • Impact: What will be the outcome or impact of the project? Will it have an effect beyond the University or Boston?
    • Who will benefit from your research? What audience will you engage in your project?
    • How will you define and evaluate the project’s success?
  • Leadership: Who will design, lead, and manage the project? Who will staff the project? What distinctively qualifies you to undertake it?
  • Time frame and Funding: What are your deadlines and financial needs for the project? Will the project require multiple funders?
    • How might you sustain the project after a foundation grant expires?
    • How will the University or institutional resources contribute to the project? Are there connections between your project and BU’s Strategic Plan?

Find Potential Funders

Having identified your project/research idea, you are ready to begin researching the companies and foundations that may have an interest in financially supporting it. If you do not have prospective funders in mind, use the tips below to determine which companies and foundations are funding similar work in your field:

  • Talk with colleagues
  • Look at which organizations fund the professional associations to which you belong and if they have their own funding programs
  • Look at who funds the work of groups pursuing similar or related work and which foundations are acknowledged in the most recent and relevant articles in your bibliography
  • Review articles in research journals (funders are often acknowledged for their support)
  • When attending events, note if funders are thanked for support
  • Explore the online resources listed below:

Boston University also has internal grant programs that are designed to seed or bridge your work between external grants, including:

Foundation Relations has also identified funding opportunities (FOs), which are available on this website.

Once you have identified a prospective funder, closely review what and who the foundation has previously supported to determine how closely aligned the foundation’s interest is to your project and the range of its funding potential. This information can often be found on a foundation’s website, in its annual report, or in any of its other publications, including the foundation’s Form 990 tax return for the past few years, each of which includes information on funding recipients and amount.

These forms can be found through the Foundation Directory Online (available for all BU faculty or staff) or Guidestar (available for public use).

OFR is available to assist with accessing or interpreting any of the information you find.

Write a Letter of Inquiry

Many foundations require a letter of inquiry (LOI) as a first step in the proposal process. After reviewing the applicant’s LOI, the funder will decide whether or not they wish to request a full proposal. Review the specific guidelines to determine whether or not a LOI is requested.

A LOI should be a brief and concise (2–3 pages), but thorough presentation of the need or problem you have identified, the proposed solution, and your qualifications for implementing that solution. Similar to a full proposal, a LOI should include an introduction, the amount of funding requested, a statement of need and your proposed solution, a discussion of methodology/activities, a description of the organization and qualifications for undertaking this project, a list of other prospective funders for the project, and contact information for the prospective project director.

Online Tips for Writing your LOI:

OFR can help in drafting an LOI or provide feedback on what you’ve written. If you would like our input, please complete our questionnaire for faculty.

NOTE: if the foundation requires a budget more detailed than a summary amount requested, please coordinate with your departmental administrators to ensure accuracy.

Prepare a Proposal

A foundation may require the submission of a proposal as the first step in soliciting support or may invite you to submit a full proposal after responding favorably to your LOI.

Please contact Foundation Relations or the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) as soon as you have determined that you will be submitting a proposal or making a formal request for funding to any foundation.

In most cases, funding from private foundations will be administered as a grant (sponsored program), not as a gift, and proposals will need to comply with the approval and submission procedures administered by OSP. A document relating the difference between gift solicitations and grant [sponsored program] proposals is available online. As steward of the University’s externally-funded research portfolio, OSP is responsible for ensuring that all research proposals and projects adhere to the University’s academic and research policies and meet its obligations to external sponsors, as set forth in the BU Sponsored Programs Handbook. Foundation Relations and OSP work together to ensure that proposals to private foundations and organizations are coordinated, effective, and compliant.

Before writing the full proposal, carefully review the guidelines and deadlines for the foundation’s grant program. Should you have any questions about the requirements, please feel free to contact OFR for assistance.

The proposal will vary in length depending on the funder and will often be accompanied by various institutional documents. Unless a foundation requires you to use a specific format, the proposal will generally include: an executive summary, statement of need, description of the proposed project, organizational background and qualifications, budget, and conclusion.

Online Tips for Writing your Proposal:

Part of the proposal will likely be a budget. The budget is an important component of a proposal, as it represents a financial picture of the project. A well-crafted budget can add greatly to the grantmaker’s understanding of your project. Depending on the funder’s guidelines, the budget may be a simple one-page statement of projected expenses, or an entire spreadsheet, including projected support and revenue and a detailed narrative that explains various items of expense or revenue.

Online Tips for Proposal Budgeting:

Once your proposal is written, we highly recommend that you request feedback from multiple sources, including colleagues and, if appropriate, mentors. OFR can help in drafting a proposal or providing feedback on what you’ve written. If you would like our input, please complete our questionnaire for faculty.

Submit the Proposal

Foundations often require a variety of institutional documents in addition to the proposal and budget. In many cases, a cover letter from the president or senior university official will be required to accompany a proposal. We can draft and obtain signatures for these letters and can provide institutional documents that may also be requested.

Before submitting your proposal to a foundation, please contact OFR and OSP.

Restricted Foundations

While we do not want to serve as a barrier to your approach to a foundation, there are a small number of University-level foundation prospects that Foundation Relations manages. Clearance to apply for funding from these foundations must be requested from the Office of Foundation Relations prior to submitting a letter of inquiry or proposal.

Funding requests to the following foundations are restricted:

  • Atlantic Philanthropies
  • Barr Foundation
  • S. D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation and Stephen Bechtel Fund
  • Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
  • Arthur Vining Davis Foundations
  • The Hartwell Foundation
  • The Hearst Foundations
  • W. M. Keck Foundation
  • Henry Luce Foundation
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • Yawkey Foundations

Please contact George Kosar to coordinate your request.

While OFR should always be contacted before soliciting a foundation, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) must always be contacted—and the processes it administers must be followed—when a BU investigator is submitting a grant (sponsored program or project) proposal, regardless of the nature of the funding agency. OSP proposal submission procedures are here. This document details the difference between gift solicitations and grant (sponsored program) proposals.

As steward of the University’s externally funded–research portfolio, OSP is responsible for ensuring that all research proposals and projects adhere to BU’s academic and research policies and meet its obligations to external sponsors, as set forth in the BU Sponsored Programs Handbook.