There's an old saying in the nonprofit world, "If you've seen one foundation, you've seen....one foundation." Foundations vary so widely that there's virtually no research on the question of what percentage of proposals they fund. We'll give you what we have in a minute, but first consider a question that's more relevant to your success.
How many grant proposals submitted by well-run, well-governed nonprofits that perform a valuable service with effective programs actually get funded? Our guess: most of them.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you a legal nonprofit?
- Do you have a compelling mission?
- Do you have strong leadership?
- Do you provide high-quality programs that meet a real need in the community?
- Do you have a successful track record of effective program delivery with measureable results?
- Do you have a strong organizational and financial infrastructure?
When you look for funders are you looking for funders that:
- Fund in your area of interest and the population you serve?
- Fund in your geographic region?
- Provide the type of support you need?
If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions consider taking these Candid classes:
OK, now back to the original question about the percentage of grant proposals that get funded.
One source that got close to answering this question a long time ago is Foundation Center's Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates, 2004 Preview (pp. 14-15). Based on responses from 878 grantmakers, in 2004:
- One-third received fewer than 50 proposals; 38 percent of them funded at least half of the proposals.
- 6 percent received more than 1,000 proposals each; 11 percent of them funded at least half of the proposals.
- Overall, 35 percent funded 50 percent or more of the grant requests they received.
- Corporate foundations receive a higher volume of proposals, compared to independent and community foundations.
- Foundations that reported giving of less than $1 million funded a larger share of their grant requests than foundations with giving of $10 million or more.
So, if you're only applying to the largest, well-known foundations, expect a lower success rate because you're one among thousands of applicants. Focus on mission and geographic alignment with prospects. And follow all of their rules.
By far, the most frequent reasons that foundations reject proposals are:
- They don't have enough funds to accept every request.
- The request falls outside of the funder's giving interests.
- The applicant didn't follow application guidelines.
One simple piece of advice we often give is, "If you don't qualify, don't apply."
See also our related Knowledge Base articles:
- How do I find foundation grants for my nonprofit?
- Why do some foundations give only to pre-selected organizations? How can I approach them?
- How do I approach a foundation and build a successful grantee-funder relationship?
- Resources on proposal writing
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