Know your project
What do you want to do? Who will be involved? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Who will benefit? To what larger field of inquiry does your project belong? (Hint: think beyond your academic discipline.) Getting your ideas straight early will streamline the funding process. Our program development questions may help. Or call us for a conversation. We can help you think about outcomes, budget, and other essentials that will create a more compelling and competitive project.
Foundations are mission-driven organizations that fund programs to further their objectives. Most foundations prefer discrete projects over open-ended operations, endowments, buildings, or equipment. Typically, large foundations seek public impact from their giving. What problem are you helping them solve? What will they be able to say about your work and how it aligns with their mission?
Find a foundation
We’re happy to research funders for your work. Tell us about your project and we’ll produce a short list of the best prospects we can find, with information on programs, past grants, and application strategy. Get started by contacting our office for a conversation or with our online research request form. You can also search on your own, using Foundation Directory Online or Pivot, two databases Duke subscribes to (see Funding Resources for links and directions). The Office of Research Support (ORS) maintains a helpful database of requests for proposals (RFPs). You’ll definitely want to look here if you’re a postdoctoral student or if you’re seeking a fellowship, as our office generally does not work on those projects.
Check for fit
Look for a foundation whose objectives and strategies match your project. Pay special attention to geographical restrictions and types of work supported: research is very different from intervention. Look beyond subject headings. Does the foundation fund projects like yours?
Develop your proposal
Our team can help you develop your proposal with helpful edits. We can also advise you on timing and strategy—what to highlight, what to de-emphasize. Sometimes we know how the foundation works and who will be reading your proposal. We may even have past successful proposals on hand.
Compose your application
Don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to collect attachments, get letters, etc. Read and reread the directions. Every foundation is different. If you’re using the same information for multiple applications, customize it for the funder in front of you. If your proposal will be submitted online, check into the online system early. Sometimes crucial application instructions (word limits, attachments) are hidden behind the log-in. We’re happy to help you with this step too, particularly if you need letters of support. Also, see our Grant Writer’s Toolkit for assistance finding commonly used Duke information and attachments.
Take the time to ensure Duke support
Loop in your grants manager and line up your administration behind you. It never hurts to have support higher up, and for some foundations, it’s essential. Remember that this takes time. At a minimum, you must turn in applications to the Office of Research Support five business days before the external deadline. If you’re working with our office, you’ll want to build in time for edits. If you’re submitting by mail, pay attention to postmark versus received deadlines. If you’ll be submitting online, it’s smart to turn your application in early and stay out of the last minute rush.
Drop it in the mail or hit submit. Give yourself and your colleagues a round of applause.
If you get the grant: great! Be sure to let us know. We can help you with follow-up: reporting, stewardship, and next steps in your new foundation relationship. If you don’t, count it as a learning experience, not a defeat, and don’t write that foundation off your list just yet. Most foundations receive far more submissions than they can possibly fund, and many rejected applicants go on to funding success.