Strategies and Tips

Advice from a Foundation Program Officer


  • Understand the foundation’s mission, in many cases it is a reflection of the donor’s intent.
  • Do not “cram your research into the mission.”


  • Applicants should articulate why the project matters. What is the end game? If the project is successful what will be different?
  • Foundations support work that seeks to shift the field, draws attention to a topic that has been ignored, or proposes to address or repair a divide among scholars.
  • Foundations support research on “knotty issues” and work that alters the mindset in a discipline.

Project Team

  • Some foundations prefer to fund teams of researchers. They favor collaborative research because they want to address a lot of areas and interdisciplinary teams are better for that work.
  • The proposal has to demonstrate that the team has done its homework and is thoroughly familiar with the literature and the state of the field. A lot of applications fail here.
  • Know who your referees might be. External reviewers will “savage” a proposal that does not demonstrate knowledge of current research.

Project Design

  • Proposals need to include a hypothesis, experimental design, instrumentation, etc.
  • The proposal has to explain how the project’s components will bring about the desired outcomes.
  • If a conference is proposed, describe the format and the critical audience who will be invited. Projects should be clear about their audience and how best to engage them.


  • Budgets should be reasonable; foundations know what things like articles and conferences typically cost.
  • Many foundations will not fund 100% of faculty time, but will fund grad assistants.
  • Total travel costs should not be the largest item in a budget.
  • Many foundations cap indirect costs, typically at 10-15%.

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