Foundation Source Access is a new online meeting place designed to introduce nonprofits to funders who cherish their privacy. Think of it as eHarmony for the family philanthropic set.
Family foundations tend to be smaller, younger, but sometimes more flexible than the grand old names in philanthropy. That can make them a good fit if you have an innovative nonprofit project in search of funding—but only if you can find them. Many private foundations don’t accept unsolicited grant applications and are short on paid staff to field inquiries. “These are the philanthropies you never hear about,” acknowledges Andrew Bangser, president of Foundation Source, which manages nearly 1,000 of the nation’s 80,000 private foundations.
The new platform, launched in early 2011, “expands their universe of potential grantees,” Bangser says. The website is intended to provide funders with access to “critical information they need to make good decisions for allocating resources.”
Designed to incorporate blogs, forums, photos, user ratings, and Facebook and Twitter feeds, the site has a familiar feel for anyone who uses social media. That includes most Foundation Source clients, who tend to be first-generation philanthropists. “Many are individuals who made money starting their own business or running a hedge fund. They approach philanthropy the same way they approached their other successes,” Bangser says. That includes being tech savvy and accustomed to online networking.
Nonprofits can post an online profile of their organization, including third-party ratings from organizations such as GuideStar or Charity Navigator. They can also list multiple projects, with detailed information about the issue being addressed, anticipated outcome, and budget needed to move forward.
Posting was free to nonprofits when Foundation Source Access launched, attracting more than 700 organizations to the site within three months. By mid- 2011, nonprofits can expect to pay a modest registration fee. For small nonprofits that don’t employ professional grant writers, Bangser adds, this can “dramatically reduce fundraising costs.” Like the Common Application for college, one proposal reaches the whole pool of potential funders. “Nonprofits that work hard to update their site and keep it relevant will be the ones that donors will notice,” predicts Michele Demers Gluck, director of the Foundation Source Access website. We expect to see the cream rising to the top.”
For philanthropists who want to learn more about issues, Foundation Source Access also offers content pages and blogs focusing on specific causes, such as education, global water and sanitation, or response to disasters. Along with a public forum, there’s also a private discussion area where foundation folks can talk among themselves in what Bangser describes as “a trusted network.” Already, he says, likeminded foundations are starting to pool resources. “When our members meet face to face, they get interested in funding each other’s projects. Now, we’re seeing that happen online,” he says, with typical grants in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
Could online matchmaking change the game for philanthropy? Not necessarily, cautions Henry Berman, CEO of the Association of Small Foundations. Its 3,000 member foundations have assets ranging from $1 million to $500 million, but are typically staffed by only one or two people. “Most of our members do research that involves shoe leather. They’re engaged in their communities and learn firsthand about the issues that interest them,” says Berman. Although he agrees that technology tools are increasingly useful for foundations, “so far, no one has figured out how to transmit the firmness of a handshake.”
Nonetheless, many nonprofit organizations seem eager to try out this new platform. Diane Daley says she “wears many hats” as marketing and volunteer coordinator for Share Your Care Adult Day Services in Albuquerque, N.M. She registered two projects soon after Foundation Source Access went live. So far, her organization hasn’t received any nibbles from potential funders. But help could be just a click away: From the page view that only foundation clients can see, every project page features a prominent “make a grant” button.