Guidelines for seeking corporate and foundation funding

The University is always in the midst of a campaign for institutional priorities. Many corporations and foundations are contributors (or potential contributors) to institutional priorities that have been determined by the President, BOV, and cabinet level leadership – not unlike the way that a Dean would determine School or College funding priorities.

Please contact the CFR office before applying for CFR funding to prevent any conflicts and provide a coordinate, strategic external approach.

In general, research grants involving human/animal subjects need to go through the Office of Sponsored Programs before being submitted, same as federal applications. Corporations and foundations requiring that grant recipients be qualified as 501(c)3 organizations must go through one of the university’s affiliated foundations (VCU Foundation, MCV Foundation, School of Business Foundation, or College of Engineering Foundation). However, VCU policies and regulations with regard to IRB approval and use of human/animal subjects still apply.

Basic Elements Needed Before Pursuing Funding from Foundations & Corporations

  • primary contact information
  • description of project and its principal goal
  • proposed objectives, including intervention or research methodology
  • rationale for proposed activities and how it relates to what others are doing
  • expected outcomes - immediate and long-term
  • potential collaborators (interdisciplinary and outside the organization)
  • proposed timetable
  • estimated budget, including amount requested from the funding source and other anticipated sources of support
  • plans for evaluation and dissemination of findings
  • plans for sustaining (or developing) project after expenditure of requested funds

Finding the Fundable "Project" in an Idea

There are two issues under consideration: 1) whether or not corporations or foundations are the right funding source for you, and 2) whether or not your work is a “project.” The two lists below will help you answer both questions.

Are corporations or foundations the right source? When looking for funding for your work, it is important to match your work with the right funding source. Corporations, foundations, governmental programs, and individual philanthropists are all very distinct audiences with distinct interests and goals. Some projects/research will be attractive only to a unique audience, and other projects may be of interest to more than one source.

Foundations want to affect/effect social change. They want to be associated with greatness, with being the one that made the difference. Early on, foundations were conceived of as being the laboratories for government; that is, because they are private entities, they have greater risk-taking capacity than government and can test community problem-solving ideas and methods that government can later adapt. The program Headstart is an excellent example of this.

Foundations often have a specific area or areas of interest in which they want to invest and/or a specific, disadvantaged, population they seek to assist. While there are always exceptions, foundations are less likely to fund general operating support, construction, endowments, or conferences unless these are part of a larger project.

Corporate support can take shape in a variety of forms and is quite different from individual donors. Companies are interested in engaging with academic institutions on partnerships that help to advance their mission and business goals. In some instances, that can also mean bettering their local communities. Companies may be interested in initiatives such as expanding their talent pipeline, research and product development, branding opportunities or tackling a social issue relevant to their business.

Is it a Project? Just as it is difficult to narrow down a topic when writing a book, article, or paper, so it is when conceiving and designing a fundable project. Be careful of ideas larger than you can possibly manage. To give you an idea of the difference between a good “idea” and a good “project,” we offer this distinction: eradicating world hunger is a good idea, but it is not a foundation-fundable “project.” Operating a food bank, a soup kitchen, or a meals-on-wheels program are examples of things that are more like a “project.”

1. To determine if your project is fundable, ask yourself these screening questions: Is it doable?

  • Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
  • Does it have a focused goal?
  • Can you answer the question, “So what?”
  • Can you identify who benefits? Is this an appropriate population to benefit?
  • Does it have measurable objectives?
  • How will you know when you’ve met your goal?

2. These are things that will give your project Bonus Points:

  • Demonstrated institutional support
  • Leverages support from other places
  • Community involvement
  • Involvement of those most affected
  • Novel approach – what sets you apart
  • Is Replicable

In summary, it is important to give some thought to WHAT your project is and WHY it is important. The question of HOW the initiative gets funded is an important one, but it cannot supersede WHAT and WHY. In other words, an initiative is more likely to have funding success if the initiative is strategic and thoughtful. An initiative must be compelling to a funder. If an initiative hasn’t been fully contemplated, then the funding source is moot.