Foundations are increasingly granting well-publicized and generous special awards in the areas they want to promote. Yet few nonprofits bother to apply for these awards. And among the applicants, far fewer succeed.

My recent survey of 153 Chicago-based nonprofit organizations that have applied to special awards programs uncovered several obstacles in the pursuit of foundations’ prizes. First, nonprofits have difficulty finding out about the awards in the first place. Fundraising databases...

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