Boston University Foundation Relations 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 centrally managed 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.
The grantseeking process can take several months or even years, and successfully positioning your project for support can be a long-term process. While a foundation may only require a few months to review a proposal and determine whether or not to fund it, timeframes vary by funder and may depend on when and how many times a foundation board meets. That said, the earlier one begins to develop a plan to engage funders for a project, the better.
Unless responding to a Request for Proposals or similar opportunity put forth by a foundation, you may need to engage a funder through letters of inquiry, concept papers, and other forms of dialogue to be invited to submit a proposal. While these conversations can increase the time it takes to secure funding, they also provide an opportunity to better understand the funding landscape in which one works and develop more compelling, and ultimately, successful proposals.
Preparing for Your Funding Search
Philanthropic foundations and charitable organizations are committed to specific missions and agendas, such as improving STEM education, strengthening mainline Protestant churches in the United States, 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?
Finding 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:
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.
Form 990s and 990-PFs
The 990 is the tax return for a public foundation (more commonly called a public charity) and 990-PF is the tax return U.S. private foundations file. This public document provides fiscal data for the organization, names of trustees and officers, application information, and a complete list of grants made during a particular year. More information about how to read these forms can be found online.
Foundation Relations is available to assist with accessing or interpreting any of the information you find.
Requests for Proposals
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is an invitation from a funder to submit applications on a specified topic with specified purposes. Unsolicited requests, however, are submitted on any topic of interest to the funder. If a foundation officer approaches a faculty or staff member and requests a proposal on a certain topic, these are solicited requests.
In general, we ask that you notify Foundation Relations before you respond to an RFP. Often there are simultaneous requests of the same foundation. Recognizing that each circumstance is different, we will discuss with you ways in which we can, or even should, be involved. Sometimes, we will simply provide you with any insight we have to help with your proposal, including the foundation’s historical relationship with the University and its typical grant size.
Writing 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:
- How to write a LOI to a foundation (the balance)
- Write the Letter of Inquiry: A Step in the Right Direction (Foundant for Grantseekers)
- What should be included in an LOI? (Foundation Center/Grant Space)
Foundation Relations 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.
Preparing 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.
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 Sponsored Programs. As steward of the University’s externally-funded research portfolio, Sponsored Programs 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. Foundation Relations and Sponsored Programs 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 Foundation Relations 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
Online Tips for Writing your Proposal:
- Writing Your Proposal (BU Sponsored Research)
- Proposal Writing Short Course (Foundation Center)
- How Do I Write A Grant Proposal? (Grant Space)
- How to Write a Grant Proposal: Summary to Budget (the balance)
- How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal in 11 Steps: From Cover Letter to Budget (the balance)
- Grant Writing 101: Resources for Grant Writers (GuideStar)
- Grant Writing 102: Tips from Successful Grantwriters (GuideStar)
- Writing Knockout Proposals (GuideStar)
Developing a Budget
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:
- Developing a Budget (BU Sponsored Research)
- How to Prepare a Grant Proposal Budget for a Nonprofit (the balance)
- Introduction to Project Budgets (Grant Space Webinars)
Once your proposal is written, we highly recommend that you request feedback from multiple sources, including colleagues and, if appropriate, mentors. Foundation Relations 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.
Submitting 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.
Centrally Managed (Restricted) Foundations
While we do not want to pose 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 Foundation Relations prior to submitting a letter of inquiry or proposal.
Funding requests to the following foundations are restricted:
- Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
- Arthur Vining Davis Foundations
- Atlantic Philanthropies
- Barr Foundation
- Cohen Veteran’s Bioscience
- The Hartwell Foundation
- The Hearst Foundations
- Henry Luce Foundation
- Karin Grunebaum Cancer Research Foundation
- S. D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation and Stephen Bechtel Fund
- W. M. Keck Foundation
- Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
- Yawkey Foundations
Please contact George Kosar, Director of Foundation Relations, to coordinate your request.
Grant or Gift
Foundations make grants (or sponsored projects) as well as gifts (or prizes and awards). These different kinds of funding have different mechanisms and obligations. The table below provides a simple explanation on how grants and gifts differ and Sponsored Programs provides comprehensive definitions of the terms to determine how we treat the funding.
|You ASK of a gift.||You APPLY for a grant.|
|Gifts are often—but not always—used by a nonprofit for GENERAL PURPOSES.||Grants usually fund a SPECIFIC PROJECT or PROGRAM.|
|You STEWARD a gift by (1) thanking the donor and (2) showing that the gift was used according to the donor’s intent.||You REPORT on a grant by demonstrating that the grant funds were spent according to the application’s budget and timeline.|
|Gifts usually come from INDIVIDUALS.||Grants come from INSTITUTIONS.|
Corporations and Corporate Foundations
Foundation Relations develops and maintains partnerships between the University and many corporate foundations and we are a first stop in pursuing corporate foundation funding. That said, Boston University Corporate Relations builds strategic long-term relationships with industry, creating road maps that identify areas of mutual opportunity. Philanthropic funding from industry, including that through a corporate foundation, is part of a holistic corporate relationship and Corporate Relations must be part of any discussion involving a company or corporate foundation. Foundation Relations always coordinates with our colleagues in Corporate Relations when approaching a corporate foundation.
Stewarding your grant begins as soon as you receive the award notification. In coordination with Sponsored Programs, Foundation Relations may review the grant conditions and send any required paperwork back to the foundation to accept the award (e.g. the grant agreement may require an official University signature). We may coordinate thank you letters from the president and/or dean to express the University’s appreciation for the organization’s support. We also encourage individual faculty to send their own letters of thanks.
The grant agreement will likely stipulate the funder’s narrative and financial reporting requirements. Foundation Relations may track reporting deadlines and remind the principal investigators before a report is due. Timely submission of reports is an important demonstration of the University’s gratitude and an important vehicle for keeping the foundation aware of the project’s progress. We also encourage principal investigators to communicate with funders to convey important developments or challenges throughout the grant period.
Good stewardship helps maintain good relations between the University and its key funders. Keeping them engaged and aware of the good work we are doing with their funds better positions the University to receive their support in the future.