Researching foundation prospects? Pay attention to probability

I have been immersed in statistics this week, so I've been thinking a lot about how best to apply the science of data to help us predict the results of our fundraising efforts and steer us toward the best chance of success.

When it comes to grantseeking, particularly from new foundations, we sometimes lose sight of how improbable it is to get that first-time grant. We may be overly optimistic. But by analyzing a couple of key variables as part of our research, we can dramatically improve our predictive abilities. At some point early in the process, try to ascertain the following:

  • How many grants did the foundation award last year?

  • What was the ratio of renewals to new grants?

  • How many new applications were considered?

Of course, there are a lot of factors in grant decisions, but foundations do tend to be creatures of habit. It’s safe to say that the best predictor of whether you will receive a grant is whether you have gotten one before. But where does that leave those who are going for a first-time grant?

Here’s an example of how to use the data you have collected to estimate your odds.

The XYZ Foundation receives 100 applications and awards 50 grants. So, if we submitted our grant on time, we should have a 50-50 chance, right? But what if the foundation awards 47 renewals and only three new grants. And suppose the number of new grant applications was 50. Our odds change dramatically. When it’s three out of 50, we now have only a 6 percent chance of receiving the grant.

The statistics may seem daunting, but don’t let them deter you. Use this knowledge to plan more effectively. First, expand your initial prospect list. If you started with ten, expand it to 25. Second, balance out your list with near- and long-term prospects. In some cases, the whole process may take 18 to 24 months, so plan accordingly. Third, if you are not successful on the first try, go back the following year. Persistence usually pays off.

As a development director, you no doubt will be called on to predict the likelihood of receiving a grant. By using the right statistics, let’s hope your crystal ball will be just a little bit clearer.