Martin Teitel

Recent Posts by Martin Teitel:

Seven Proposal Writing Tips from a Foundation CEO

In my 35 years as a foundation CEO, I was frequently asked for advice on getting funded. There isn’t enough space here to discuss the ins and outs of creating successful proposals, but I can share with you a few of the dozens of tips you’ll find in my book, The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants.

A Foundation CEO’s Six-Step Formula for Winning a Grant

In my long career as a funder, I loved the satisfaction of helping people who were doing wonderful things for other people. During those many years, I actually saw few proposals that advocated for bad ideas. But I did encounter an astonishing number of funding requests that were cast in the worst possible light.

The Portal Problem—Three Keys to the Funder's Door


In the epic journey from crafting a grant application to depositing the funds, we focus on creating the best proposal we can.

Too often, though, we neglect the very first challenge: getting our proposal onto the desk of the foundation's program officer. If she never sees it, its excellence will be for nought—literally.

To handle the torrent of incoming Letters of Inquiry or proposals, foundations deploy a number of tactics, as I outline in my book The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants.

One method is to use extremely specific and constrained online forms. In addition, foundations employ staff—or interns—to do the basic sorting. It's a rare foundation whose executive director slits open envelopes and reads each proposal.

Given this, there are three tactics you can use to maximize the chances that your proposal will wend its way to a decision-maker.

Two-Pivot Writing

Your essential points, especially the summary and the first sentences of each section, must be written for two distinct readers, and this is no easy task.

On the one hand, you must clearly communicate what you're doing to the initial screener, who may be a young intern or bored clerical staffer.

On the other hand, past this first portal is an experienced program officer who will be screening with a more experienced eye. If you simplify too much for the first pivot, the second-level screener may simply toss your work aside after perusing your unsubtle summary.

Since techniques vary, there is little likelihood you'll know the initial screening method of a given funder. The safest route, in addition to assuming the worst, is to test every word for its power and lack of ambiguity, and ruthlessly carve out jargon and technical language.

This brings us to the second step.

Summary Execution

It's possible—I myself have seen it and done it—that the initial screening will consist of reading only your proposal's summary, whether online or on paper. This means your entire effort could fall by the wayside if the summary is incomplete, unclear, or dull.

Even worse, how far your summary is read could depend entirely on its first sentence!

That means you must do three things:

First, allocate what seems like an inordinate amount of time to creating the summary and its golden first sentence. Your whole funding project could rest on this section, so be as generous with your creativity and attention as you would hope the funder will be.

Second, never create a summary in isolation. Have at least one other person, hopefully more, read your evolving drafts and support you in crafting a crystal clear and compelling opening to your proposal.

Third, follow the basic proposal rules I've written about in my book: create prose that is clear, concise, and compelling. Never fall into sales-pitch language, full of vacuous superlatives like unique, best, first. Rather, enhance with the power of verbs; let the actions you'll be taking tell your story.

Your proposal summary must recite the purpose of the work, and the process used to achieve the stated outcome. The screener must be made unambiguously aware of how the work is connected to the funder's goals. And just as you need to avoid hype, you must make connections to the funder's guidelines evident in your summary without ever parroting the guidelines themselves—this common practice makes you look pandering and insincere.

The Bell-Shaped Curve

Once you've paid careful attention to the two-pivot portal and the creation of a sensational opening sentence and summary, comb through your list of would-be funders with a critical mindset. Which funders are smack in the center of your bullseye? Which ones are a bit peripheral? Now, scratch the latter group off your list.

I know it's hard to restrain yourself, but you need to avoid wishful (and wasteful) thinking.

If you picture a bell-shaped curve, with terrible proposals at one tail and shoe-ins at the other, you might think aiming for the middle is a solid strategy. The trouble is, with so many proposals being sent, even good ones are tossed early in the process. I've had many instances in my career running foundations when very good and even excellent proposals never made it to my desk. I was focused on selecting from among the superlative requests. It's that small pile you want to be a part of.

Many of us who have been fundraisers report to our executive director citing the number of proposals we've sent out. Our goal is to show how hard we tried, shifting blame for lack of success to the funders.

The problem with indiscriminately sending proposals is that yours lands on the remote side of the bell-shaped curve. Worse, the cost of the foundation hiring additional screeners comes 100 percent out of the funds that could have been spent as grants.

Getting through the portal can be frustratingly difficult. Don't give up hope. Someone is going to get the grant. Focus all your attention on making sure that someone is you.

The preceding is a guest post by Martin Teitel, MSW, PhD. Martin is the author of The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants, published by Emerson & Church. He worked in public and private charitable foundations and non-profits for 50 years.


Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Winning Foundation Grants

In my decades of running charitable foundations, I read tens of thousands of proposals. Many share the same characteristics I'll touch on below.

Since nearly all foundations are required to disburse some of their funds each year, grants are always made—to someone. Over the years, grantseekers have asked me how they can increase their chances of being among the ones chosen.

Here are answers to the questions I'm most often asked:

1. What are the main characteristics of successful funding proposals?

Let's start with the three Cs: clear, concise, and compelling.

Clear means you eliminate jargon, you write for the actual audience that'll read your proposal, and you leave out all math and formulas, unless you know for certain that recipients of the proposal have technical prowess.

Concise means you don't go one letter over the prescribed limit. You remember that torrents of words degrade their impact. And you know that sharp points get people's attention: use a spear, not a club.

Compelling means you let ideas do the work. You infect the reader with your passion and inspire her with the story of your work. You let the facts do your selling for you.

2. Increasingly I see foundations say they don't accept unsolicited proposals. How am I supposed to get a grant?

Foundations that receive fewer proposals can reduce overhead, freeing up more money for grant making. That's a positive. If you poke around a funder's Web site, you'll usually uncover the letter of inquiry process they prefer (if not require). The LOI is essentially a mini-proposal. It does add a step for you but it's really win-win, since you reduce the labor of finding out if you fit within the priorities and the funder has smaller mounds of paper to paw through.

3. I keep churning out LOIs but still get turned down. What am I doing wrong?

It's entirely understandable that many fundraisers have a standard LOI they send to whatever foundation requires one. This is a mistake. Your funding future with that foundation depends entirely on this crucial step. You can't be too obsessive about customizing your LOI!

Two problems seem to thwart fundraisers when it comes to LOIs: one, they forget the three Cs I cited above and, two, they "bury the lede" as journalists say (you'd think journalists could spell better). In other words, they fail to put the main point of the story first.

LOIs arrive in stacks and are often hurriedly scanned, so they need to tease the reader with a finely crafted sentence that summarizes the project—indicating both subject matter and purpose. This sentence should be the gateway to an excellent, compelling summary paragraph. If you're writing a three-page LOI, you should plan to devote half of your time and creativity to that summary paragraph, because otherwise the excellence of the remaining sections may never be known by that funder.

4. I'm a development person, not an accountant. How can I improve the financial sections of my proposals?

Getting a grant is essentially a financial transaction. You need to meet the funder's general requirements, but you also need to demonstrate that you'll use the dollars provided with care and competence.

Go over your spreadsheet many times to check each number, and have a colleague double check. If the funder asks for a specified span of months or years, provide exactly what is requested, no more and no less. It's a pain to adjust your standard form, but this is what spreadsheet software is for.

In listing sources of support, don't forget non-grant items like material donations and the labor of volunteers. If you're asked to list where you intend to seek support, list where you've applied and where you plan to apply. This is an instance where you can speculate, but avoid the temptation to engage in science fiction—an astute funder will know if you're listing too many funders who are unlikely or impossible.

5. Can I ask why I was turned down?

Sure. That said, many funders aren't exactly forthcoming on this question. To increase your chance of getting a helpful response, do three things. First, use the communication channels that have already been established. If you worked with a program officer, call him, not the executive director or board chair. And if the preferred method of contact is e-mail, don't call!

Second, be precise in how you frame the question. You may want to express gratitude for being considered, along with an interest in knowing how to increase your chance of success in the future.

Third, do not, no matter what, argue or complain, even if it becomes obvious you were misunderstood or that the funder didn't follow their own guidelines. Get the information you need and leave it at that.

6. If I'm turned down, can I try again?

Unless the funder says you can't, by all means. You may have learned about a fixable flaw in your request. You may have been ahead of the funder's learning curve—they could catch up. The funder may need time to get used to your unique strategy or approach. In my career in funding, we supported many organizations that had been turned down at first.

7. Do funder guidelines describe accurately what they fund?

Funder guidelines are a good place to start. But guidelines are sometimes the result of compromises between differing perspectives on the foundation board. Also, guidelines usually stay fixed for years, while the funder's understanding of a given area may evolve with each granting cycle. The one indisputable source of information on what foundations will fund is their grants list. Many foundations list grants on their Web sites. A few will send you a list. For the others, get a copy of their tax return, Form 990-PF.

8. I hate writing grant reports, in part because I doubt that they're read. Honestly, in your years as a funder, did you really look at our reports?

Many funders read reports, at least quickly, and there's no way to know in advance who does and doesn't. If you stiff funders on the report, they may think: "We gave these people $100,000 and they couldn't be bothered to write seven pages? Fat chance we'll give them another penny."

Put antipathy aside and keep your side of the bargain when you signed the grant contract. Individuals who work for nonprofits are often motivated by principles like honesty and trustworthiness. The funders who support your work should see the expression of these sentiments as much as anyone.

Martin Teitel
© 2013, Emerson & Church Publishers.

Martin Teitel is the author of The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals the Secrets You Need to Know. He has worked in the world of nonprofits for 45 years, 30 of them for grantmaking foundations, including a 12-year stint as CEO of the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston. Teitel has a PhD in philosophy from the Union Institute, Cincinnati, and a Master's in Social Work from San Diego State University. He is a field education supervisor for the Harvard Divinity School.

More Insights into Private Foundations: Interview with Martin Teitel

Martin Teitel spoke with his publisher about the topic of his new book, The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Mr. Teitel's additional thoughts with you.

Why do foundations seem to be such "black boxes"?

Grantmaker True or False: Three Frequently Asked Questions about Private Foundations

Excerpted from The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants

What to Do After You're Funded

After you've been told the fabulous news of your winning a sizable grant award, and the champagne in your Dixie cups has gone flat, I (the head of a foundation myself) recommend you do three things:

Sweaty Palms: Surviving In-Person Meetings with Foundations

Excerpt from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next

I am a great believer in shoe-leather philanthropy. People in the granting field can learn so much more by leaving the abstract world of proposals and meeting the people who are seeking funds. And for me, anyway, meeting grantees is the most fun a grantmaker can have.

While it's perfectly possible to receive a grant without ever meeting the funder, and many grantees would be happy not to endure the stress and possibly tricky questions emanating from an in-person conversation, there are good reasons to have that meeting.

First of all, some funders really can't get comfortable with a new grantee or a new idea until they've interacted beyond the piles of paper. Basically, all you need to do in a meeting is explain yourself. And you should thank your lucky stars you have a chance to do so, instead of the funder's tossing your proposal into the dreaded tall pile.

Second, there are some ideas and some pieces of nonprofit work that really have to be seen to be appreciated. Funders and grantseekers don't always agree on which projects those might be, and we'll get to that point a little later.

And finally, some grantmakers are required to meet people they fund, so you really won't have a choice.

Whether the funder meeting is at your place or theirs, there are a few basics to start with—some of which might seem painfully obvious. But my long experience demonstrates that some people need to be, well, reminded.

If you want to meet with a funder, here is Rule #1: Do. Not. Ever. Call. The. Funder. At. Home. If this seems rudimentary to you, my all-time record for outrageous, manners-impaired behavior is held by the man who called me at home at 7 a.m.—on Thanksgiving morning.

He was in town, kind of bored visiting his parents I think, and wanted to know if he could come over. I admit this is rather extreme, but over the years a number of grantees have felt welcome to contact me at home, and a few have showed up on my front porch.

I've thought and thought about this, and I'm just not able to come up with any reason for a person to ever penetrate the professional-personal barrier uninvited.

The second painfully obvious rule is about something that happens all the time. Don't give the funder short notice (15 minutes or even a week) that you want a meeting. Leaving aside my internal book of manners, it is simply impractical to expect a busy person to find meeting time on limited notice.

This is one that happens to me at least monthly: I get a call from someone who says he's "in town," and can he come by. Usually, my answer is no, even if it's someone I want to meet. Think about it—do I want to hand over tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone who demonstrates that he's not able to manage a simple calendar?

I'm going to leave the rest of the elementary rules for you to figure out for yourself, such as don't show up without an appointment, don't arrive late, and don't venture to the offices of a foundation in a high-rise in New York in torn jeans and a T-shirt (none of these examples are made up). In general, what this comes down to is, make a shining impression of your organization and you'll be just fine.

Now let's look more closely at the dynamics of visiting funders in their offices.

It may well happen that one of the foundations you've applied to will contact you, asking you to come in for a meeting. The only possible answer to this, unless you're holding a winning lottery ticket when the call arrives, is yes.

You might be slightly flustered—after all, thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars could be at stake. So here is your checklist of issues to try to raise—you don't want to simply book the date and time, if it's possible to stay on the phone a bit longer.

You should ask, what's the purpose of the meeting? This might seem obvious, but finding out what the funder wants to know is vitally important. The response might be that she wants to have a general conversation about your proposal, but she might have something more specific in mind, like going over your budget, and it would be nice to be prepared.

Your second question is, who should come to the meeting? Again it might be obvious, they are calling you. But if you're in a small organization, you might want to bring a board member or a person from your community. Or on the other end of the scale, if yours is a big group that works in a technical area or in science, you might want to bring along a staff scientist or other expert. Usually a huge delegation is a bad idea, but sometimes more than one person can strengthen your hand.

I have met with some volunteers, board chairs, and community people over the years that have really impressed, and sometimes moved me. It doesn't hurt to ask about including others, if the funder isn't far away or if your bank account can deal with a bit of travel. Once the meeting has been set up, confirm it a week in advance. Recently, I received an e-mail from a grantee, who at my invitation was coming from another state. She reconfirmed the date and time, mentioned who was coming, listed the things they hoped to discuss, and politely invited us (there were two people from my foundation in the meeting) to mention any other concerns we'd like addressed.

This is perfect. Her e-mail created the meeting's agenda, and the grantee did a good job of maintaining control of the gathering without making me feel overpowered.

OK, so the time comes and there you are in the foundation waiting room. What is in your hand? And, no, I don't mean a briefcase. The only correct answer is, something to hand the funder that she hasn't seen before.

Not another proposal, unless that is the stated purpose of the meeting. And be wary of gifts—most of us in foundations feel a bit uncomfortable picturing the perp walk when we're indicted for taking bribes. (If you are a local group that has T-shirts and caps, that might be OK, or perhaps a cookbook your organization has produced.)

Especially if this is a first meeting, keep the geegaws to a minimum. What will suffice is a literature packet in a nice folder—maybe some newsletters and other publications. Please, just don't show up empty-handed. It is poor sales behavior to do that.

In some respects this meeting is a dress rehearsal for the board meeting: in this case you're playing the part of the staff person and the staff person is the board member, asking those probing questions.

It isn't easy to generalize about meetings with funders because the ones I've been in (from both sides of the transaction) vary. But some aspects of the meeting are fairly common. You are in the funder's offices for two reasons.

First, you want to give the foundation staff an opportunity to look you over. You want them to see that you're competent, that you know your stuff. You put a face on the verbiage, a voice to the issue.

Second, you're there to provide information for the staff person to use in figuring out if they want to take your proposal on—or later in the game, how they might handle your proposal in their board meeting.

When you sit down in the funder's conference room or office, and exchange the usual pleasantries that we use to start the social engine, always begin with the same question: "Do you have some things you'd like to cover about our proposal, or would you like me to start with a few brief remarks about our work?"

There is a power dynamic here, and this question handles it. You take the initiative in framing the meeting in terms of the funder's needs, not yours. If you talk on and on before the funder gets to ask his list of questions, you might have to walk out the door having missed a great opportunity to fill in the blanks and correct misconceptions.

Therefore, your first task is to set up the agenda in terms of the funder's needs, because that person's needs are what count in this meeting. If the foundation staff person doesn't begin with questions, then you should give a presentation consisting of three things.

First, give a brief summary of your proposal, kind of a verbal LOI (letter of intent). There might be someone in the room who hasn't read your proposal, and in any event you want to refresh the memory of those who may have read 12 other proposals that morning. And based on my experience, let me remind you that you must be fluent in all the details of the proposal.

Second, describe anything that is new. Explain that you're updating the proposal since it was sent in, and offer to send this information in writing or even—please forgive me for saying this—rewrite the proposal. Unless you are meeting the day after the proposal arrived in the foundation's offices, you should always include an update—everyone likes to feel they have the most current information.

Third, offer to discuss or clarify any points in the proposed project that the funder is interested in. You are gently working here to elicit what the funder feels is weak or controversial about your proposal. You're looking to provide answers, but you aren't there to hold a debate.

It isn't advisable to ask if the funder likes or favors your proposal, or if they're going to recommend it. When people feel pushed, they tend to push back, which is just the dynamic you want to avoid. Assume your proposal has some life for that staff person; why else would you be in their office at the moment?

Once you've had the meeting and said your goodbyes, go over your notes carefully. When you send your thank you note for the meeting—which in all instances you should do—it's also fine to recap the to-do list you took away from the meeting. So you might say, "Thanks for seeing us last Tuesday. We are going to be sending you the revised budget and a copy of our strategic plan, as we discussed, by the end of this week."

While debates rage in the manners columns of daily newspapers, in my opinion, thank yous sent by e-mail are fine.

Site Visits

More rarely, the funder will come to see you. It's too bad site visits are so infrequent, because funders learn best out of our offices. When you get that call or e-mail announcing a visit, don't panic. Follow the suggestions above—try to pinpoint who is coming, what they want to get out of the meeting, and who in your organization they want to meet with.

Yes, do discard that stack of empty pizza boxes, but don't stress your staff with your nervousness or make them all dress as if they're going to a high school prom. Confirm the meeting and your expectations in advance, and once again, be ready with that packet to hand to the funder as part of your greeting.

If as is sometimes the case a meal is involved, you might be asked to suggest a local restaurant. Be prepared with a few choices, which you can describe in diplomatic terms, like, "There's a good basic local seafood place two blocks away, and an Italian place around the corner that has white tablecloths at lunch."

Most people who are picking up the tab appreciate having the price range flagged in advance. And speaking of the tab, I know that some of my esteemed colleagues operate with different standards than I do, but in most cases, it is always the putative funder who pays. You might offer to pick up the check if you feel that's called for, but don't insist.

Also, be cautious about who comes to the meal. I was once at an organization's office in New York City and mentioned it was lunchtime. The two people in the meeting with me said great, and promptly invited all the other employees, 17 of them, to join us.

Leaving aside what that meal did to my budget, I didn't get any actual work done during the confusing and raucous meal ... to the group's detriment.

Assuming your organization runs programs or services, most funders will want to see what they might be funding in action. Over the years, I've met cowboy poets, participated in street demonstrations, cooked meals for homeless people, and collated mailings with volunteers.

One of the great blessings of my work has been meeting the people who dedicate their lives to helping others, often around their kitchen tables or in shabby walk-up offices.

One big mistake grantseekers make—often because they've failed to do their homework to find out who is visiting them—is to mute the power and passion of their work. There's no doubt that taking a funder into the community means you can't control what happens. Someone may say something embarrassing. But we're adults and we can handle the unexpected.

I know that time and again I've fallen in love with groups because they let me meet their community people, volunteers, or those whom they serve. If you happen to meet the rare funder who will give you more than an hour and is interested in the realities of your work, take the risk and let your program shine.

In closing, let me suggest two ideas to help you induce funders to meet with you. I regret I don't have more.

First, make the offer to come by and meet the funder, or invite her to visit with your organization. Do this even if you don't want to, or you don't think the funder will accept.

A polite invitation can't hurt, most especially in the context of acknowledging a letter from a funder that says that your Letter of Inquiry has been accepted and you're being invited to submit a full proposal. Just make sure your invitation for a visit is clear and brief. And only send one.

The second technique that has worked with me is to illustrate what a site visit might look like. In these days of $99 color printers, you can easily produce a letter showing the smiling faces of your volunteers or the beautiful setting around your program's field office, or the faces of the people who benefit from your group's efforts. A few times when I have been wavering about seeing people, framing this picture in my mind has helped to tip the balance in the grantee's favor. It can't hurt.

While there are the occasional difficult people seeking grants, I've found over the years of working as a grantmaker that the people asking us for support are inspiring, enjoyable folks who in many ways are motivated by an idealism that I share.

Busy funders, including me, are often difficult to meet with, yet the overwhelming majority of grantseekers are interesting and engaging people who should put their strongest asset forward: yourselves.

Martin Teitel
© 2006. Excerpted from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Martin Teitel is executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation, a private foundation headquartered in Boston. Previously he served as senior fellow and executive director of the CS Fund, a philanthropic foundation, and also Western field director for a public charity, The Youth Project.

Do This, Don't Do That: How to Get Your Proposal Funded

Excerpt from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next

In my role as executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation (Boston, Massachusetts), I've noticed over time that certain questions come up again and again, because they're on the minds of many people who apply to many foundations. I'd like to deal with two of those questions here: How can I get my proposal read? and Are there common mistakes proposal writers make?

Six Things You Can Do to Help Your Proposal Make the First Cut

  1. Write a compelling summary. What if you knew that huge sums of money, perhaps a month or two of your organization's payroll, were riding on 200 or 400 words? Wouldn't you pay scrupulous attention to that writing? Your proposal will only get read if the summary provides a reason for the program officer to dig deeper. Fuss over the summary until it sparkles.

  2. List concrete, specific outcomes of your work. People want to know exactly what they are going to get for their money. That's why so many of the things we buy come in transparent packaging. Your proposal should be a clear container that shows exactly what will result from the funder's investment. Concrete, measurable results provide core reasons for funders to support you.

  3. Connect each step of your work with your goals. Many proposals fail to show how specific actions will lead directly to meeting goals. Strong proposals are like railroad bridges—they have steel girders connecting every point. Most often, proposal writers fail to make those connections because the relationship between what they want and what they do seems obvious to them. It needs to be spelled out.

  4. Present a budget in standard format that is legible and patently sensible. People who have never used a spreadsheet as well as those who live and breathe spreadsheets can be equally injurious to explaining your money plan. Spreadsheet jockeys need to be kept from creating dense forests of tiny numbers. But also don't let someone take their maiden spreadsheet voyage creating the budget that will be vetted by a foundation's experts. And make sure everything in the proposal is accounted for in the budget. Conversely, omit items in the budget that are not fully explained in the proposal narrative.

  5. Get the proposal in early. Ostentatiously beating the deadline gives the impression that you can plan well and get things done. The reality of foundation deadlines is that if your proposal arrives early, it will stand out, because most proposals arrive at the last moment.

  6. Offer to meet. Once. Let the funder know you would be glad to come by and talk about your work, and, if appropriate, bring other staff or board members. If the funder says OK, set up the meeting on their terms. If they're reluctant, let it drop, so you don't provide a reason for the funder to stop taking your calls.

Let's now move on to some of the common pitfalls of proposal writers.

Five Mistakes Too Many Grant Applicants Make

  1. Talking mainly about problems, not solutions. Grantseekers sometimes confuse writing proposals with authoring pamphlets meant to educate and mobilize the public. Your proposal should show that you're familiar with the details of the issue, but most of a good proposal will focus on exactly what you're going to do about the problem.

  2. Describing specific problems with general solutions. A proposal will succeed to the extent it provides a clear picture of what will be done about the issue being addressed. Too often proposal writers pour their hearts into the details of the problem, and then resort to vague generalities about their actual activities.

    This lack of concrete action in a proposal might result simply from the proposal writer not having a clear picture of what's being done by others in his or her organization. Much worse, it might mean the group needs to slow down the fundraising until they have done a better job of strategic planning.

  3. Prolific use of buzzwords and jargon. Some proposal writers confuse density with erudition. What sells the work to funders is clear, simple prose that tells a story or paints a picture. Vague claims, fuzzy or trendy language, and obscure terms don't impress funders—quite the contrary.

  4. Budgets that don't add up. It seems so obvious, but enough proposals arrive on the desks of foundation executives with math mistakes to make it worth pointing out how much these careless errors undermine credibility. The budget should not only add up, it also has to support the logic of the proposal's narrative. Therefore a $100,000 budget to reconstruct 16 flooded houses won't make sense, nor will $700,000 to hire two new staff.

  5. Parroting the funder's guidelines without linking them to the work. It's difficult to understand why so many people think that pasting phrases from the funder's guidelines into their proposal will unlock the money box. If the funder says they seek to support people working to improve the health of city children, don't tell the funder that your organization exists "to improve the health of city children."

    All successful proposals need to fit within the foundation's guidelines, but detailing how and why they fit is the key to success, not simply showing you have read the funder's Web site.

Martin Teitel
© 2006. Excerpted from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Martin Teitel is executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation, a private foundation headquartered in Boston. Previously he served as senior fellow and executive director of the CS Fund, a philanthropic foundation, and also western field director for a public charity, The Youth Project.