The Gates Foundation is Just Not That Into You

Dear Executive Director and/or Well-Intentioned Board President:


We need to talk.


First off, let me say that I am so proud to be a part of your organization. As a grant professional, nothing gives me more joy than working as a foot soldier for you and your team as you battle social problems and fight systemic barriers for the voiceless. I have been in this industry a long time and I can unequivocally say that angels walk among us, of which you are one. Thank you.




Stop asking me if we can get “that Gates Foundation money”. You are never, ever going to get that Gates Foundation money.


And while we’re on the subject, I listen to NPR as well. I too make a mental note of the foundations who proudly support Fresh Air. They don’t want to give you money either. Neither does Jeff Bezos, your hometown celebrity golf tournament, nor that one foundation that you heard gave someone $1,000,000,000 that one time.


According to Foundation Center, as of 2014, there were 86,726 foundations in the United States. About 86,600 want absolutely nothing to do with you. It’s not you, though, it’s them!


Let’s look at the major criteria we at DH Leonard Consulting look for in a potential funder for your nonprofit:


  1. Regionality: Do you know that every major foundation database allows you to search by city and state? That’s because your location is the number one reason your application won’t be considered. If you live in Florida, that foundation in Minnesota won’t even look at your request.
  2. Mission: For the most part, a foundation honors the mission and vision of its trustees or legacy. They want to give to a certain cause or fix a certain social ill. If your organization’s mission doesn’t align with that cause, then move along.
  3. Requests for applications: Most foundations won’t even accept your application without an invitation. Yes, I agree, fundraising is “friendraising”, but the odds of your organization being able to infiltrate long-standing and insular relationships is slim to none. (It’s like hitting on someone with a wedding ring.)
  4. A well-designed program: Do you have great activities but a shoddy evaluation plan? Are you duplicating services rather than collaborating? Then you won’t get the grant. At least not from the big guys. Seriously, just look at the Gates Foundation’s data requirements. A poorly conceived program won’t impress national funders and will not stand out in a crowd of thousands.


How do we know this? Because we have been doing this for a long, long time. We have intimate knowledge of what it takes to win grants. There is a reason our team evangelizes on the importance of assessing your grant readiness. Your time and resources would be best used shoring up the weaknesses in your current programs and infrastructure. Instead of having a DH Leonard Consulting team member try and fit a square peg into a round hole (i.e. make your program fit into a funder’s criteria), let us help you shore up your evaluation methodologies, guide new partnerships, and consult on building relationships. Gates Foundation may be sexy, but you know what keeps the lights on? Increasing that reliable $10,000 award from a local family foundation to $25,000.


That’s a grant strategy that brings success.  



Your Grant Professional Certified


  1. Jennifer McBride November 8, 2018at9:05 am

    So well said!! Managing expectations and helping leaders stay realistic sometimes feels like the largest part of our jobs.


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