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. Before you get started, though, one important note:
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.
In addition, a handful of centrally managed foundations should be approached for funding only 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.
How long will it take?
The grant-seeking 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 require just a few months to review a proposal and decide whether to fund it, every funder’s timeframe is different and may depend on how often its board meets. That said, the earlier you start developing a plan to engage funders for your project, the better.
Unless you’re 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 your field and develop more compelling, and ultimately successful, proposals.
How do I get started?
Philanthropic foundations and charitable organizations are committed to specific missions and agendas—anything from improving STEM education or strengthening mainline Protestant churches in the United States to preserving the environment and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa or 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 these questions as specifically as you can:
- Need: What problem or need will your project address? Why is it important, and why is it important to address now?
- Approach: How will you address this need? What methods, tools, and approaches will you use? What distinguishes your approach from others’?
- 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?
How do I find potential funders?
Once you’ve identified your project or research idea, you can start researching the companies and foundations that may want to support it. If you do not have prospective funders in mind, use these tips to determine which companies and foundations are funding similar work in your field:
- Talk with colleagues
- Consider the organizations that fund professional associations you belong to and see if they have their own funding programs
- Look at who funds the work of groups pursuing similar or related work
- Check for foundations that are acknowledged in the most recent and relevant articles in your bibliography
- Review relevant articles in research journals, where funders are often acknowledged for their support
- At events, note if funders are thanked for sponsoring them
- Explore the funding databases listed on our site
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 projects the foundation has supported before to determine whether its interests are closely aligned with your project and how much funding potential it has. You can often find this information on a foundation’s website, in its annual report, or in any of its other publications, including the foundation’s Form 990 tax returns for the past few years, which include information on funding recipients and amount.
How do I reply to a Request for Proposal?
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is an invitation from a funder to submit applications on a specified topic with specified purposes. Unsolicited requests, however, can be 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. The same foundation may be receiving similar proposals at the same time. Recognizing that each circumstance is different, we will discuss with you how 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.
How do I 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 to request a full proposal. Review the foundation’s specific guidelines to determine whether you need to submit an LOI.
An LOI should be a brief, concise (2–3 pages), but thorough presentation of the need or problem you have identified, your proposed solution, and your qualifications for implementing that solution. Like a full proposal, an LOI should include:
- An introduction
- The amount you’re requesting
- A statement of the need and your proposed solution
- Your planned methodology and activities
- Your organization and qualifications for undertaking this project
- A list of other prospective funders for the project
- Contact information for the prospective project director
You can find a lot of guidance on writing LOIs online. See our writing tips to get started.
Foundation Relations can help you draft an LOI or give feedback on one you’ve written. If you would like our input, please complete our faculty questionnaire.
NOTE: If the foundation requires a budget more detailed than just the amount you’re requesting, please coordinate with your departmental administrators to ensure accuracy.
How do I write 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 your full proposal, carefully review the guidelines and deadlines for the foundation’s grant program. If you have any questions about the requirements, please 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:
- Executive summary
- Statement of need
- Description of the proposed project
- Organizational background and qualifications
How do I prepare a budget?
Your proposal will likely need to include a budget. It’s important because it gives 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 a comprehensive spreadsheet, including projected expenses and revenue, with a detailed narrative that explains each item.
These resources may help you develop your budget:
- Developing a Budget (BU Sponsored Research)
- How to Prepare a Grant Proposal Budget for a Nonprofit (the balance)
- Introduction to Project Budgets (GrantSpace 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.
How do I submit my 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.
What about stewardship and reporting?
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. (For example, the grant agreement may require an official University signature). We may coordinate thank-you letters from the president, dean, or other officials 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 requirements for narrative and financial reporting. 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.
An important note: 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 before submitting a letter of inquiry or proposal.
Funding requests to the following foundations are restricted:
- Barr Foundation
- Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
- Cohen Veteran’s Bioscience
- Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
- Arthur Vining Davis Foundations
- Karin Grunebaum Cancer Research Foundation
- Hartwell Foundation
- William Randolph Hearst Foundations
- Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine
- W. M. Keck Foundation
- Henry Luce Foundation
- Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
- John Templeton Foundation
- Vertex Foundation
- Walmart Foundation
- Bob Woodruff Foundation
- Yawkey Foundations
Please contact Tristan Barako, AVP for Foundation Relations, to coordinate your request.
About 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, BU’s Industry Engagement 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 Industry Engagement must be part of any discussion involving a company or corporate foundation. Foundation Relations always coordinates with our colleagues in Industry Engagement when approaching a corporate foundation.
Grant or gift?
Foundations make grants (or support sponsored projects) as well as gifts (or prizes and awards). These different kinds of funding have different mechanisms and obligations. Sponsored Programs provides comprehensive definitions that determine how we treat the funding, and this table lays out a simple explanation of how grants and gifts differ:
|You ASK for 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.|