Guidelines for Five Impact Areas and Nonprofit Effectiveness

How to Apply

Since 2009, the Boston Foundation has invested the majority of its discretionary grant-making resources in partners and programs designed to move the needle in a set of five impact areas and two crosscutting strategies to impact major issues facing Greater Boston’s people and places. 

 

Because we have limited resources, organizations interested in exploring potential financial support should first contact a member of our Program Staff before completing an online Letter of Inquiry.

Types of Grants

Two principal types of grants are considered for priority investments through our competitive grants process: General Operating Support and Project Support Grants.  These grants fund the core operations of organizations with missions and activities that are highly aligned with the strategies and goals of our five impact areas and Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy. Grants go to nonprofits that show the potential to make a measurable contribution to achieving one or more of the desired results we seek for our community. In addition, most funded organizations will be in alignment with one or more of the approaches that we have identified as most likely to have an impact. Learn more about our five impact areas and Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy.

General Operating Support Grants

General Operating Support grants are usually up to $150,000 or 10-15 percent of an organization’s operating budget, whichever is lower, and may be awarded for up to five years. Applicants for multi-year General Operating Support grants must have a current strategic or business plan that clearly articulates the organization’s goals and presents a clear plan for achieving results. We work closely with nonprofit recipients of multi-year General Operating Support grants and learn together as strategic partners to achieve strong, measurable outcomes for Greater Boston residents.

Project Support Grants

We also make grants to support specific projects or programs that are highly aligned with the strategies, goals and approaches we pursue in our five impact areas or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy. This includes programs that are embedded within multi-service organizations or larger institutions, such as hospitals or universities that, in their entirety, may not be completely aligned with the strategies, goals and approaches pursued under our five impact areas or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy.

Project Support Grants vary in size and duration as well as the percentage of project costs covered, but in general range from $25,000 to $100,000 to be applied to project budgets that include an appropriate amount of overhead. Project Support Grants are most often one-year awards, but in certain cases may be awarded as multi-year grants.

Eligibility

To be eligible for support, your organization must be a 501(c)(3) public charity or operate under the fiscal sponsorship of a tax-exempt nonprofit. In addition, you must be primarily serving the people of Greater Boston, with the exception of regional, statewide or national public policy efforts that may benefit a substantial portion of the Greater Boston community. An eligible organization must be operated and organized so that it does not discriminate in the hiring of staff or the provision of services on the basis of race, religion, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, age, national origin or disability.

In general, organizations are not eligible to receive more than one type of funding from the Foundation concurrently. Nonprofits that are part of a collaborative effort funded by the Foundation may also seek funding for their individual operations or projects.

Organizations that are denied funding through a competitive grants process may not re-apply until 12 months after its most recent denial letter from the Foundation. Organizations that have received a multi-year grant will generally be expected to take at least one year off before submitting another application.

Please note that because of the high volume of applications and our own specific mission and goals, we are unable to fund all of the high quality requests submitted for consideration.

Exclusions

The Foundation does not make grants for capital construction costs, endowments, medical or academic research, scholarships, sectarian or religious purposes, or to support candidates for political office. Except for our Brother Thomas Fellowship Awards for artists selected through a bi-annual nomination and panel process, we do not make grants to individuals. Private non-operating foundations, 509(c)(4) organizations, and Section 509(a)(3) Type III Non-functionally Integrated organizations are not eligible to apply.

Key Criteria

We invest substantial resources to help proven or promising nonprofits that share our core values and are highly aligned with the strategies, goals and approaches pursued under our priority impact areas or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy to deepen their impact or bring their work to scale. To maximize the impact and effectiveness of our investments, the Foundation puts a significant focus on the following criteria:

  • Strategic Alignment: Successful applicants are directly aligned with the strategies and goals pursued under our five impact areas or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy. In addition, organizations in which we invest will address those strategies and goals through one or more of the approaches that we have identified as most likely to have an impact on achieving one or more of the desired results we seek to achieve for our community. Applicants that do not fit this strategic alignment are welcome to apply for Open Door Grants.
  • High-Need People and Places: The Boston Foundation engages in policy, research, grant making and other efforts to positively affect the Greater Boston region and all of its residents. However, with our limited competitive grant-making resources, we have a particular focus on efforts that unlock economic and educational opportunity for underserved residents and neighborhoods, especially within the City of Boston. When a particular strategy, goal or approach specifies Boston, it means that we focus our resources within the City of Boston. When a strategy, goal, or approach refers to Greater Boston, then funding may be directed to populations and activities within any of the cities and towns within our funding area.
  • Collaboration: Complex, long-standing problems require creative, multi-disciplinary approaches that are often beyond the capacity of a single organization to solve. We are most interested in supporting organizations with a track record of collaboration and collaborative groups of agencies working together to address significant community needs. Nonprofits that are part of a collaborative effort funded by us may also seek funding for their individual operations or projects. However, their work and the funding they receive as part of the collaborative effort will be an important part of our consideration of additional support.
  • Financial and Programmatic Capacity: Successful applicants will show evidence that they are stable, have a solid financial and program management team, a strong balance sheet and program plans that give us confidence their work will be sustained beyond our investment.
  • Leadership: Successful applicants will have strong board and executive leadership that is collaborative and knowledgeable about the community and the field in which they operate.
  • Measurable Results: We place a high priority on organizations that are able to clearly articulate organizational goals, present a clear plan for achieving results and track outcomes and impact on the people and communities served. In fact, General Operating Support and Project Support grants are only made to those organizations that can demonstrate their potential to achieve a measurable impact on the outcomes that the Foundation seeks.

Grants Process

All competitive grants in our five impact areas and Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy follow the same application process.

Letter of Inquiry: The application process for General Operating and Project Support grants begins with the submission of an online Letter of Inquiry (LOI), which we accept and review on a rolling basis. There are no deadlines for submitting an LOI. Organizations seeking consideration at one of four Foundation board meetings (March, June, October and December) should submit an LOI three to four months in advance. Review of an LOI generally does not involve a site visit, but may include a telephone conversation with one of our staff members. We work together as a staff to determine whether or not we will ask for additional materials to advance your request within eight weeks after submission of an LOI.

Advanced Applications: If your organization is invited to submit additional materials after a review of your LOI, you will receive further review and consideration. Organizations that are invited to submit additional materials will be assigned a program officer who will work with you to build your request file. The additional information requested might include deeper program information, budget information and staff biographies. All organizations invited to submit additional materials are required to have a completed, up-to-date Giving Common profile. (To request a Giving Common nonprofit profile or check on the status of your existing profile, please e-mail givingcommon@tbf.org or call 617-338-1624.) Most request files that are complete 10 weeks in advance of the next scheduled board meeting will be presented at that board meeting. Some applications will be held over to the next board meeting to allow time for additional information gathering and review.

Review and Evaluation: As part of a comprehensive due diligence process, the assigned program officer, often joined by additional Foundation staff, will conduct a site visit and may also contact board members, clients, the leadership of collaborating or similar organizations and other funders to become better acquainted with the organization.

Timeline for Grant Decisions: The Foundation’s Board of Directors, which meets quarterly in March, June, September and December, makes grant decisions based on staff review, research and recommendations. While there are no deadlines for submitting an LOI, our staff does need sufficient time to review each request. This means that in general an LOI should be submitted three to four months prior to the next board meeting; staff will determine whether or not the Foundation will advance the request within eight weeks. To build the request file, the staff member assigned to the application will ask for additional materials, which need to be received at least 10 weeks in advance of the next scheduled board meeting. Some applications will be held over to a subsequent board meeting to allow time for additional information gathering and review. Foundation staff will notify the applicant of the Board’s decision and a grant award consisting of one year of support will be paid shortly after each meeting.

Competitive Grants Process:  Timeline

Stage of Process March Board Meeting June Board Meeting September Board Meeting December Board Meeting
1. Letter of Inquiry (LOI)  November February May August
2. Submit Additional Materials (invitation only) Mid-January Mid-April Mid-July Mid-October
3. Grant Decision Late March Late June Late September Late December
4. Annual Review  Next March
Next June
Next September Next
December
    

Annual Review: Funded organizations report annually on progress toward the goals and outcomes established in collaboration with their program officer before subsequent payments on multi-year grants are released. Organizations receiving one-year grants should also report on their outcomes within 60 days of the end of the grant period. Click here for the form.

For instructions for our online forms, please click here.

Tips for Writing Successful Narratives

Provide details. Numbers are more informative than adjectives. How many people are currently being served and how many more people will be served with grant funding? What other funders support this work? How many individual donors do you have?

Be clear and concise.

Create a compelling narrative. Begin with a brief introduction, elaborate on key points, and conclude by connecting each point to a statement of impact. The Letter of Inquiry (LOI) online form and most RFP applications have six different narrative questions, which are good building blocks for a sequential narrative essay. These questions include:

    1. What will happen in the next year? What will happen during the multi-year grant period (if requesting a multi-year grant)? Please describe your organization's programs or the activities of the proposed project.
    2. What additional resources do you need to better achieve your goals?
    3. What do you want to achieve? Describe your proposed outcomes.
    4. With whom do you work?
    5. How will your organization measure and learn from this work?
    6. What will change or what is the impact of this work?

Stories or quotes from clients are welcome and we encourage you to include them in your LOI. The best stories illustrate the impact of your organization or program without being sentimental.

About 200 words is about one-half of a single-spaced page, which should be long enough to make your case, without burdening you or the reviewer.

For More Information

If you have any questions after reading these guidelines, please contact us for additional information and advice. Contact your program officer or email us at grantsinfo@tbf.org with a brief summary of your question. A member of our staff will respond within two working days.